Bessie Wallis Warfield was born in 1896 (or possibly earlier, records are scarce and there are all kinds of theories about her having been a year or two older) in Pennsylvania. Her parents were traveling there, either to help her father’s illness or to cover-up her mother’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy, depending on who you ask. Let’s just say there are a lot of rumors about Wallis dating back from the very beginning. Wallis’s mother was a fun-loving lady named Alice Montague and her father was some boring guy who was sick a lot. They were from Baltimore and Wallis grew up there. Her father died not long after her birth, and her mother was broke. Wallis was in a difficult situation; her father’s family had some money, and her mother’s family liked to pretend they had once had money. Like all good WASPs, Wallis believed her family was super fancy and important. But this is America, so no one’s family is fancy or important unless they’re really fucking loaded or multiple members are involved in politics at the national level. Wallis drank the kool-aid and developed a life-long belief that she was super special and somehow suitable to marry into royalty. But Wallis and her mother were broke.
She had a rich uncle who would sometimes give them money, and other times wouldn’t. Wallis and her mom stayed with him and his mother for a while, but had to move out when he started making moves on Alice. Given that this was the turn of the century, the only job Alice, could get was as a seamstress. And she didn’t make all that much. She remarried when Wallis was 10 or 11, but her second husband died a few years later.
From an early age, Wallis liked being the center of attention. One time she went to a kids party and demanded to wear a red sash on her dress instead of blue so boys would notice her. When her mother got married, Wallis threw a fit and ruined the cake, digging into it in search of a prize she believed was inside. Wallis was always very determined to get her way and earned her share of both friends and enemies. Wallis dropped the “Bessie” in her early teens because ”so many cows are called Bessie”. Before she had used both names; having two first names is common among Southern WASPs.
Anyway, as a girl Wallis was sent to boarding school, paid for by her rich uncle. There she got into all kinds of weird fashions (she wore feathers in her hair, men’s shirts, bow-ties, and a monocle) and liked to sneak out and meet boys (this involved slipping out a second-story window). She made friends, but in many ways she always felt like she was on the outside looking in, because her family wasn’t rich and she didn’t have the same lifestyle as the other girls. She was known to be “fast” which I think meant she liked a good party.
One story had her and a friend being assigned to memorize two pages for her German class. They were told they would each have to recite a page when they were done, without being told which one. Wallis told her friend it was ridiculous and agreed to do one page. Her friend wasn’t sure how they’d handle it, and sure enough the teacher called on Wallis to recite the page the other girl had memorized. Wallis distracted the teacher by complimenting her scarf and going into a long conversation about where she’d gotten it. When there was a pause, Wallis said “Shall I begin?” and began reciting the page she has actually memorized. Her friend was then asked to read another one. They got away with it. Her best friend at school was Mary Kirk, who would later play an important role in her life. Together they made a scrapbook on the then Prince of Wales, with pictures they cut out of newspapers. He would later play an even more important role in her life.
At sixteen, Wallis was offered the chance to be the heir to her rich uncle, provided she move in with him and not see her mother anymore. The rest of the family thought her mother was “corrupting her”, being a woman who had actually worked for a living. Wallis refused and after she finished highschool she went to stay with her cousin, Lelia, in Florida. Like all good Southern Belles (apparently at this point in time Baltimore was considered part of the South; it sure as hell isn’t now) Wallis knew how to cook and sew and nag a man into an early grave. Wallis knew there wasn’t much money left, and she needed to get married as soon as possible. It’s not like she could go to college or get a job or anything, the best solution was to get married.
While in Florida, Wallis met Navy Pilot (this was back when flying was new and exciting) Earl Winfield Spencer (not to be confused with Princes Diana’s father, who was an actual Earl). They got married in 1916, and then lived happily ever after…. Wait, actually not. He turned out to be an insane drunken rapist who liked to fly his plane around drunk. But we’ll get to that next time, with another chapter of Wallis’s life story.
Wallis’s marriage to Earl Winfield Spencer (known as Win) started off with him yelling at her because there was no alcohol in West Virginia. Seriously. You see, that was where they went for their honeymoon (why, I don’t know…), and it was a “dry state” which meant Win couldn’t buy any booze. So he had to make do with the booze he had packed in his suitcase.
Wallis, being underaged at the time, didn’t have a lot of experience with alcohol. By the time she and Win moved to Florida, she knew a lot more. Win, who was a pilot, liked to take a flask up with him while he flew. So did most of his buddies. While living on the Navy base with Win, Wallis witnessed two plane crashes, and developed a lifelong fear of flying. If you were married to a drunk pilot, you’d probably feel the same way.
As a Navy wife, Wallis travelled quite a bit. First to Florida, then Boston, then California, and then Washington D.C., which was close to home. During this time, she also discovered Win was an abuser. When he was drunk he liked to push Wallis against the wall, shake her, and lock her in the bathroom. He also liked to rape her sometimes, though this was when forced sex between spouses was not considered rape. In his official biography of Edward VIII, Philip Ziegler helpfully suggested that if Wallis had been “more sympathetic” to Win, he wouldn’t have abused her and everything would have worked out fine and dandy. But, it didn’t, and Philip Ziegler is kind of a douchebag. When Wallis tried to tell her family what was going on, they basically told her to stop falling on doorknobs. She didn’t have much of a choice. If she left Win, she would be cut off from her family and forever branded a “used goods”. Wallis committed herself to maintaining the illusion of a happy marriage. She made friends, and went to parties, and borderline stalked Charlie Chaplin for a while in California.
Things came to a head when, one night in Washington, Win beat her to the point that she was scared for her life. So she slipped out of the house the next morning and went to stay with her mother. Win left Washington shortly after that alone. Wallis spent the next year or so living with her mother in a small apartment outside Washington. She took up with diplomatic and political circles and found herself very popular with men. She fell in love with Felipe Espil, a diplomat from Argentina. He was several years older than her. They would go dancing and to parties. Wallis and Felipe shared a love of antiques and romance novels. He was Catholic, and had a bright future ahead of him, though he needed a wife with money and connections. Wallis was still married and had neither. Eventually, Felipe told her that there was nowhere their relationship could go, and Wallis understood.
She went back to Win. She didn’t have much of a choice. She couldn’t get divorced without pissing off her family and she couldn’t just stay separated forever living with her mother and unable to marry again. Win was stationed in China at this point, and like most abusers he promised he had completely changed and wasn’t going to hurt her ever again. That lasted for about a day and a half. In China, Win was more violent than ever before, kicking her once in the kidneys so hard she has to be hospitalized. Supposedly years later she still had a scar on her lower abdomen from a time he cut her. It was widely believed she got pregnant at some point in China, but either because of Win’s abuse or a back alley abortion, she never had any children. There was also the widespread story that she hung out in brothels where she learned weird sexual stuff, which is almost definitely untrue. Those rumors are so silly and xenophobic. Wallis also lived in Florida and no one ever claimed she picked up sexual techniques there.
Wallis left him again, this time in the middle of the night. She stayed in China, traveling to Peking and Shanghai, and for a while she stayed with her friends Katherine and Herman Rogers. According to the internet, they had some kind of threesome situation going on. There’s not much in the way of proof for that, but it seems possible. Apparently, years later, when Katherine Rogers had died, Herman remarried. Wallis attention-whored herself at the wedding, tried to ruin the bride’s dress, and crashed their honeymoon with her drunk gay boyfriend. Though there’s no solid proof for that one either, just the word of the bride in question, years after the fact.
After spending a lot of time in China (and having lots of boyfriends, which was used as more proof of her evil whoring ways), Wallis got sick and had to leave. She realized she needed to leave Win for good once she got home, and sought a divorce attorney. Divorce was hard in the 1920’s, and Wallis had to move for a year to qualify for one in Virginia, where they were easier to come by. Apparently she couldn’t afford to go to Reno. So she stayed in a hotel in some small town in Northern Virginia for a year, leaving sometimes to visit New York and stay with her childhood best friend Mary Kirk. She tried to get a job, first selling tubular steel, which didn’t work because she couldn’t do math. Then she wanted to be a secretary, but she needed to go to school for that and didn’t have the money. She was a woman, with no education or work experience and this was the late 1920’s, so she had no luck.
While in New York, she met Ernest Simpson, who was married (but told women it was only a technicality though actually his wife was in the hospital). He said he was getting divorced, and she was getting divorced. He proposed, and she turned him down. Then she took a trip to Europe and while there, Ernest moved to London. Wallis was an anglophile, so the prospect of living in London was very appealing to her. So she decided to marry Ernest. He was well off enough she wouldn’t have to worry about money, though not rich. And at thirty-two, she was considered over-the-hill, so she felt like if she didn’t marry Ernest she would probably die alone. So, in 1928 she married Ernest Simpson at a London courthouse, and became Wallis Simpson.
In 1928, London was a great place to be. When Wallis Simpson moved there she wanted to be a part of everything and get the kind of life she’d always dreamed of. Ernest had a decent income and good connections. Servants were a status symbol, so Wallis convinced Ernest to spring for a maid and later a cook. But as the depression began, Wallis found her tastes were getting beyond what Ernest could afford and he often lectured her about over spending. Wallis wrote her Aunt Bessie with various sob stories in the hopes of getting some money. But her aunt wasn’t exactly rolling in dough, either. But, money or no money, Wallis wanted to get involved with the upper-class. She had a great connection in Benny Thaw. Benny had been in the Navy with Win, and he and Wallis had been friends in California. Now he was living in London too, and he married Consuelo Morgan.
Consuelo had two younger sisters, identical twins, who were both famous in London society, Thelma and Gloria. Thelma was Lady Furness, married to a British lord, and Gloria was the widowed mother of Gloria Vanderbilt, who at the time was partying her way through Europe. Both had royal connections, Thelma was involved with the Prince of Wales, and Gloria was involved in a rather scandalous relationship(officially, they were just really good friends)with Nada Milford-Haven, an exiled Romanov married to one of Queen Victoria’s great-grandsons. They also both hung out with a lot of those minor European princes. You know, the kind Barbara Hutton liked to marry.
Wallis immediately honed in on their social circle, and using all of her talents at charm and flattery, managed to get an invitation to Thelma’s house for a party the Prince of Wales would be present at. The Prince of Wales was the oldest son of George V, known as Edward in public, and David in private. He had a lot of middle names (like six or seven) and even more titles. Thelma was, at the time, his favorite girlfriend. Because he totally had more than one. Like many royal men, he loved married women. I don’t know what it is with royals, but whenever they fall deeply in love with someone one of the parties is either married or the wrong religion, or there’s some other type of conflict. Victoria and Albert being the obvious exception. It’s some subconscious thing, you know, always wanting what you can’t have.
So, anyway, Wallis and David met at a party in 1931 at his girlfriend’s house. Wallis was sick, but being a royal fan, went anyway. She spent her entire time on the train practicing how to curtsy. When they met, she was stressed out and told him he was boring and then started sneezing. They did not see each other again for two more years, during which time Wallis tried to get further “in” with the Morgan sisters and their inner circle. Eventually, in 1933, she was invited to meet David again, and managed to get an invite to a weekend at his country house, Fort Belvedere. For the unaware, rich people in England in the 1920’s and 30’s always had country houses and loved inviting all their friends to stay over for weekends to show off how big and nice their place was and how much money they had. Usually, there was also lots of drinking involved.
Her first weekend at Fort Belvedere, Wallis walked into the wrong room and discovered David had a dark secret that few people knew about. He liked to do needlepoint. Instead of finding this feminine and weird, Wallis was intrigued by his love of needlepoint, and eventually tried to get him to make her stuff. The two of them actually had a lot in common. They both loved kitsch (when they were married they had a collection of tacky ceramic animals and owned multiple plaid couches), were nosy and gossipy, and hated commas. I mean really hated commas. I have a book of their letters and there’s like one comma in the whole thing. Wallis was interesting in what it was like to be royal, and David was interesting in what it was like to not be royal.
Throughout the rest of 1933, Wallis and David became much closer, and Ernest was thrilled because apparently having your wife get involved with a royal is something to be proud of. I would think maybe he was just weird, but I have read about so many men who were married to royal mistresses and didn’t seem to mind all that much. Though they later denied that there was any hanky-panky until after their marriage in 1937, we now know that was a lie. You see, there was a commemorative bracelet for the third anniversary of their first time. So we know they first had sex on December 3, 1933. And it was in a bathtub. The bracelet was very specific. So people can stop accusing her of playing the Anne Boleyn card, I guess.
Thelma was still in the picture, but she obviously didn’t know what was going on. In January 1934, Thelma’s sister Gloria had to go home to fight for custody of her child. Apparently her late husband’s family did not approve of her and Nada’s friendship. The whole case was quite the scandal at the time. Thelma decided to go to New York to support her sister. During the time she was gone, Thelma was paranoid about David hooking up with his other girlfriend, Freda Dudley Ward. So she invited Wallis out to lunch, and asked her to spend as much time with him as she could and make sure he wasn’t off with Freda. Wallis was happy to do it.
Thelma didn’t know what was going on until she got back several weeks later. She was invited to the Fort, and left early after noticing Wallis and David acting really close and whispering in each other’s ears the whole time. Wallis even slapped his hand away when he tried to eat some lettuce with his hand. Not long after that, both Thelma and Freda were unceremoniously dropped. By summer 1934, Wallis and David were falling in love. They created their own words, and nicknames for each other and other people. They went on a trip together touring Europe and he started giving her lots of jewelry. Really nice stuff, we’re talking about. And she tried to make Ernest pay to insure it.
People always wonder exactly what it was he saw in her. Basically, from what I’ve read, it had to do with her not treating him special. In fact, she was sometimes downright mean to him. But he was used to being fawned upon and treated different from other people, and under those circumstances it’s hard for someone to believe anyone actually loves them. Wallis didn’t do that and she called him on it when he did something stupid. They also had a lot of chemistry. Friends recalled how even decades into their marriage, they could stay up half the night just talking about different things. Now, on Wallis’s part, I think she was genuinely charmed by him and loved him beyond the royal thing and beyond being a golddigger.
But she definitely loved the lifestyle, too. Her letters also seem to indicate she did not think their relationship would last or go anywhere. After all, he had had plenty of girlfriends before, and she was still married. She also hadn’t had the best experiences with men in the past. She also thought David was kind of selfish and immature (like a lot of royals), not that she wasn’t selfish too. She wrote to him “the lovely things you say to me aren’t of much value unless they are backed up by equal actions” after he got drunk at her house or picked a fight with her husband or something. From the same letter “I am not writing a lecture only your behaviour last night made me realise how very alone I shall be some day.”
As their relationship continued, Wallis’s marriage to Ernest started to fall apart. He was out-of-town a lot anywhere, but even when he was in town, Wallis didn’t want to spend much time with him. She wrote to her aunt about how difficult it was trying to make time for two men. As 1935 began, Wallis started receiving media attention in the United States. Britain at the time had an agreement with the press not to print personal stuff about the royal family. I can only imagine how much the current royals would love to bring that back.
Wallis starting getting calls and letters from pretty much everyone she ever knew back in the U.S. and they all wanted to know if the rumors were true. Of course, up until their engagement became public knowledge Wallis always denied to people who weren’t close friends that there was anything going on. But with all the jewelry he bought her, and all the times they were seen publicly together, no one believed that.
Throughout 1935, Wallis was alternately thrilled and stressed, torn between loving her new lifestyle and despairing the fact that she was expecting everything to come crashing down any minute. There was also an entertaining story about her being involved with a third guy who sold used cars or something. It was in the files from the guy the royal family paid to follow her around. But all he seemed to have was that supposedly she knew this guy and he claimed (to someone, it’s not specified who) that he and Wallis had a thing. Either way, no one seemed to have known or said anything about this at the time which make me think not much happened. Plus he supposedly said that Wallis bought him expensive gifts, which wasn’t her style at all. She didn’t even have that much money to throw around.
Things came to a head in January 1936 when King George died. He had been ill off and on for years, but his death wasn’t entirely expected. He was kind of helped along, but that’s a long story I already covered with my rant on Queen Mary. So George was dead and David was king, reigning as Edward VIII. Wallis wondered what was going to happen next and if she would still have a place in his life. Meanwhile, her marriage was all but over and her picture was in every magazine in the United States.
In January 1936, Great Britain had a new king. King Edward VIII, known as David to his friends and family, was forty-one, unmarried, and incredibly popular with the people. On ascending the throne, after his mother curtsied to him and he yelled at the servants to set the clocks back thirty minutes because of he was sick and tired of Sandringham Palace having a different timezone than the rest of the world, he called Wallis Warfield Simpson at her London apartment to share the news.
With her boyfriend on the throne, Wallis was incredibly uncertain about her future. Her marriage to Ernest Simpson was over in many ways, and she was now expecting that David would not be able to continue his relationship with her. She also anticipated that he might marry someone else and she would no longer have a place in his life. The royal bride of choice for Queen Mary and many others in the House of Windsor was Princess Fredericka of Hanover. Fredericka was a granddaughter of Kaiser Wilhelm, and thus a second cousin once removed of David, and was in her late teens. She actually looked about thirteen. David was not interested in her, or any of the other inbred jailbait girls his mother found by scouring the foreign branches of their tangled family tree. It was actually widely believed it would have been better for David to marry a girl from the English aristocracy, but he wasn’t interested in any of them either.
If he had been, considering his remaining feelings for Wallis, the whole situation might have turned into Charles/Diana/Camilla: The Prequel. But, it didn’t, which is a good thing because that wouldn’t have ended well for anyone involved. As it was, Wallis was convinced things weren’t going to end well for anyone no matter what happened. For a time he was consumed with royal business and Wallis was unsure if she just wasn’t going to be seeing him temporarily or for good.
She wrote to David in February with an undertone of concern and stress about something:
“I am sad because I miss you and being near and yet so far seems most unfair. Some day of course I must learn to be always alone for I will be in my heart… One can be awfully alone in crowds-but also perhaps both of us will cease to want what is hardest to have and be content in the simple way. And now I hear your machine which generally was a joyous sound because soon you would be holding me and I would be looking up into your eyes. God bless you and above all make you strong where you have been weak.”
The possibility of marriage had been discussed between them in some way or another by this point, but more as a dream than as a realistic goal, even though the inscription on one of Wallis’s rings indicated they were informally engaged in some fashion in fall 1935. But now that he was King, David began to regard the idea of marrying Wallis much more seriously. Wallis herself was seriously considering filing for divorce with Ernest, partly because of her own affair, and partly because he’d taken up with her childhood best friend Mary Kirk. Wallis didn’t regard the possibility of marriage to the King (and becoming Queen) all that seriously. I don’t even think she wanted to be Queen that badly; she preferred the lifestyle of a royal mistress. But at the same time, she wanted to continue her relationship with David and this was the 1930’s and they couldn’t just live together without there being public outcry. For the time being, Wallis just wanted things to stay as close as possible to how they had been.
In March, Wallis left London for a shopping trip to Paris with a friend. While she was gone, Ernest took it upon himself to go down to the royal residence and ask the King what exactly his intentions were with Ernest’s (soon-to-be-ex) wife. His response was rather surprising. “Do you really think that I would be crowned without Wallis by my side?” Whether he actually believed that being King meant he could marry whoever he wanted, or he was bluffing, we’ll never know. If it was the former, he was pretty damn naive. I think he knew there were going to be serious obstacles, but didn’t particularly care how he got past them as long as he still had Wallis. Royal history has demonstrated time and time again that monarchs can’t just marry whoever they fancy. Though the royals never know anything about royal history except for why their parents don’t get along with certain people.
Wallis was actually pissed about the whole thing; she felt by meeting up and making decisions about her future behind her back both David and Ernest were treating her like a object. Which is actually how most men treated women in the 1930’s, but clearly Wallis expected better. She was also pissed off about David transferring several hundred thousand pounds (about twenty-five million dollars in modern American money) into her personal bank account to insure that she would be taken care of after her divorce in case he wasn’t around to do it. She felt like she was being bought and was terribly offended about the whole thing. Not enough to give the money back, mind you, but she was still both upset and offended. But she went ahead with the divorce anyway, as she had decided she’d “outgrown” Ernest and wouldn’t be happy with him anymore.
That summer, Wallis got herself a lawyer and began working for a divorce. In Britain at the time, getting divorced required that one party be “at fault” and be caught cheating. If both parties were cheating, no divorce would be granted. Of course, Wallis and Ernest were both cheaters, but Ernest decided to take the fall (as was the custom of the time; a woman being at fault would damage her reputation while it didn’t really matter for men) and checked into a hotel with Mary and ordered breakfast in bed, presumably while loudly bragging about how much he enjoyed extra-marital sex.
It was all a set up and people did it all the time back then. But if Wallis and Ernest were caught, which would involve anyone finding evidence of her adultery or evidence she and Ernest had been in collusion over him being seen with Mary, the divorce would not be granted and they would be stuck legally married until one of them died or they moved to someplace with better divorce laws.
While her lawyer was hammering out the details, Wallis and David rented a yacht and sailed through the Mediterranean. They stopped at various towns in France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey, where there were official visits that Wallis went along for. They even shared the same bedroom (and bed) during a long train ride in Turkey. Yet they still expected the British press to keep their mouths shut about the whole thing. Your average British citizen had never even heard of Wallis Simpson. Meanwhile, in America, photos were published of the couple running around in swimsuits, holding hands, hugging, and staring into each other’s eyes longingly. One reported called it “the greatest story since the Resurrection” and it gave bored housewives something to gossip about.
They weren’t actually acting that shockingly for royals during the time period. A similar scandal had recently broken (with a similar ending) in Romania, and while they were traveling in Greece, Wallis and David hung out with the Greek King and his married mistress. In Turkey, they made an official visit and Wallis was treated like a consort. But still most of Britain didn’t know who she was.
After talking with the Greek royal mistress and seeing the press outside of Britain, Wallis became deeply concerned. She realized that she and David would probably not ever be able to get married, and that if there relationship became better known in Britain the scandal might ruin his reputation and popularity with the people. She also had not gotten over her paranoia that he would wake up one morning and decide he wanted someone else instead of her, like he had done before with… Well, I’m not going to list all of his various ex-girlfriends, but there were quite a few.
After their vacation, in September, Wallis stayed in Paris while David went ahead to England as he had royal stuff to do. While in Paris, she wrote him a letter saying she was going to stop her divorce from Ernest and wanted to go back to him, and therefor break-up with David. The way the whole letter was worded was kind of odd and I think the whole effort may have been a bit half-hearted. Particularly since there’s not much evidence Wallis felt she could repair her marriage at that point and Wallis’sworst fear seems to have been dying alone. Surprisingly, Ernest does come off as the kind of spineless loser who would dump his girlfriend to repair his marriage with someone who had cheated on him and previously wanted him out of her life. Ernest was still writing her lovey-dovey notes into fall 1936, and after the Abdication he wrote David a nice note wishing him the best and apoligizing for how everything turned out. And the apology wasn’t even a sarcastic “sorry you’re stuck with my bitch of an ex-wife” kind of apology either.
David wrote back to Wallis’s break-up letter (and talked to her at length on the telephone) and convinced her that he was madly in love with her and that wouldn’t be changing soon and that he was certain he would work things out and make her happy. There’s also an off-repeated story that he threatened to kill himself if she ever left him. I’m not sure I buy that because though David did have a lot of issues (reading about him I’ve become increasingly convinced he was bipolar) he tended to keep pretty calm when Wallis was around. The source for that story was some gossipy friend of Wallis who told all kinds of tall tales.
So anyway, Wallis dropped her plans to stop the divorce and carried on. She continued to be extremely stressed out by newspaper clipping her American friends sent her and the inevitable prospect of being mobbed by the British press. She told her Aunt Bessie she felt like she could never set foot in America again because of the publicity. She moved to Ipswich where the wait for divorce court was shorter to get a divorce hearing. This spawned the greatest royal headline ever: “King’s Moll Reno’d in Wolsey’s Hometown”
Wallis “lived” there for about two weeks total, long enough to get a divorce there. At her hearing, everything went according to plan. The only problem was that under British laws of the time, they would have to wait six months for her divorce to be finalized, during which time they’d check out her story to make sure that her situation with Ernest was as she claimed. Meanwhile members of the foreign press had travelled to the U.K. just to follow her around. This was before the paparazzi of today and usually famous people were allowed some level of privacy, but Wallis was a special case. As she left the divorce court, she covered her face with a jacket to avoid being photographed. Now, Wallis should’ve known to expect a scandal (this wasn’t the first one to get media attention and when you’re involved with someone famous you should expect attention) but she was completely shocked by everything. And at this point the whole thing was still being kept under wraps by the British press.
But things came to a head in November. The British press broke their silence (certain members of The Firm who had turned against David allowed the story to break) and Wallis was mobbed. The thing that actually set it off was a misunderstanding. Some Bishop or something made a statement in his sermon condemning King Edward VIII for his immorality. The press assumed he was talking about Wallis and covered the story a such. He was actually talking about David’s lack of church going. Despite being head of the Church of England, David wasn’t into the whole religion thing all that much. But the press (and everyone else who knew about her) thought he was talking about Wallis.
With the story broken, the public were divided on the issue. David was still fairly popular and had a lot of sympathy in some circles; Wallis was much more controversial. Some people wrote letter to the Palace sympathetic of her, others threw bricks at her window. Even Camilla was only pelted with bread rolls. Now, I don’t feel like I can, without making an entirely separate (and incredibly long) post accurately convey the political situation at the time or what various sectors (the people, the government, the British dominions) thought about the situation or explain in detail what happened to result in the end of the reign of Edward VIII. It was not as simple as him being told it was Wallis or the throne and choosing Wallis. It was also not as simple as David not ever wanting to be King and using the situation with Wallis as a convenient excuse to get out of it.
It also did not involve him getting kicked out (or asked nicely to leave) for being a Nazi. The vast archives of documents about the abdication released in 2003 include all kinds of papers, some full of innuendo, but no references to either David or Wallis being openly pro-Nazi. It’s also worth noting that the one person high up in the government who supported David’s cause the entire time was Winston Churchill, and in 1936 he was the one guy who actually knew what to expect from Hitler. Almost everyone else in the government, who wasn’t as anti-Nazi as Churchill (and didn’t know either of them as well as Churchill did), was against David and Wallis. Though it did not help that both the British fascist groups, and (a few) communist groups were on their side. Also, while the popular story now is that Wallis was a Nazi spy (no records or evidence for that one) at the time they weren’t sure what type of spy she was, only that she was supposedly up to something.
But, what I will say was that at some point in October/November 1936, David brought up the possibility of him marrying Wallis to Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, and asked him to look into it. When the issue came to a head in early December, Baldwin lied about all of the people (and Dominion governments) being against the marriage even though opinion was much more mixed. David was also unpopular with the government because of his taking up the cause of the poor and refusing to keep his mouth shut on the issue and his belief the government wasn’t doing enough. Now, David’s concern for the poor was kind of shallow (like Prince Charles’s concern for the environment) but the press and people were a bit less cynical in those days and seemed to think he wanted to help. He also had a habit of not doing the paper work the monarch was expected to do, which pissed off even more people.
Anyway, back to Wallis. In late November, sick of being harassed by the press and terrified what was going to happen, Wallis left for France. She told David not do anything rash without consulting her, advice that went right out the window a few minutes after she left. From France, Wallis tried to call him and keep in touch, but the phone lines were no good and they could barely hear each other. The journey was made more fun when the flask of one of her travelling companions broke and the whole car was left reeking of booze. They travelled mostly by night to avoid the press. She ended up staying with her friends Herman and Katherine Rogers in their villa, which had a gate that was locked to keep out the press. Wallis was stressed out and miserable, and even started to feel sick. She lost a lot of weight, and wrote to David in 1937 that she “looked 100 and weighed 110” because of the stress.
More so than the Abdication, or even the issues with the royal family, what really broke Wallis was the media attention. It’s not unlike the various sex scandals we’ve had in recent years. You have a somewhat normal woman who no one’s heard of who overnight becomes the topic for international speculation. Though Wallis had been in tabloids before, it wasn’t taken very seriously and though Wallis was worried she was able to distance herself from it because the people writing these things were so far away. Now she had cameras in her face and knew that everyone believed she was a slut and a golddigger. Wallis was the kind of women who was obsessed with knowing what people thought about her. She later subscribed to a clipping service so she’d see whenever her name appeared in print. If she was alive today she’d be googling herself every day. The idea that everyone was talking about her and she had no control over what they were saying must have been horrifying.
Upon hearing the now widespread story that the King was giving up the throne, Wallis was pressured by her lawyer to run away to China. Not really getting the point, Wallis then called David up and asked him how he would feel about that. He reacted by telling her if she went to China he would follow her there. Her lawyer told her she should just leave and tell him she didn’t want to see him again. She called him up to discuss this idea and he disagreed with her lawyer and told her to stay put. Her lawyer wanted her to release a press statement indicating she didn’t want to marry David anymore. Wallis was unwilling to go that far and instead released a statement that she was “willing to withdraw from the situation” which basically meant she wasn’t going to hold him to his promise to marry her anymore. Or something like that, the whole thing was very vague. When Wallis finally decided she was leaving, and called David to explain the situation further, he told her it was too late and that she could leave if she wanted to and it wouldn’t make any difference.
Anyway, on December 10, after being told there was no way he’d be able to marry Wallis and stay on the throne (which wasn’t exactly the case but he wasn’t willing to fight for his rights the way his supporters wanted him to because he thought the situation would cause too much drama), David agreed to abdicate in favor of his younger brother. On December 11, the reign of Edward VIII came to an end and he made a speech to the people explaining, basically, that he could not handle the pressure of being King without Wallis by his side. The whole speech is on youtube, if you want to hear it.
He left Britain shortly afterwards for Austria, where he would stay until Wallis’s divorce was finalized. Apparently their lawyers had told them that now that everyone knew they were involved they couldn’t be in the same country without the judge convincing himself they were having pre-marital sex and canceling Wallis’s divorce. Wallis was torn between being mad at him (and a lot of other people) and being sad and miserable about the whole situation. Either way her friends later indicated she was not a pleasant person to be around during this time period.
But she was nice enough in her letters to David, rightly feeling he was under enough stress and did not need her anger and missing him terribly. From her first post-abdication letter:
“My heart is so full of love for you and the agony of not being able to see you after all that you have been through is pathetic. At the moment we have the whole world against us and our love…”
At the beginning of 1937, Wallis Warfield Simpson was probably the most controversial woman in the world. Time Magazine had named her their “Man of the Year” for 1936, and everyone had an opinion. While the words “slut” and “whore” were only whispered in private, other terms like “adventuress” and “scarlet woman” (Molly Weasley’s term of choice) were perfectly acceptable judgments. Not that everyone was against her: she had a fan club in the Midwest as well as a group of women who wanted to kill her in Scotland. But even the people who liked her (or were indifferent to her) speculated about her past, her personal life, her sexuality, her politics, and even her gender.
Meanwhile, in England, George VI and Queen Elizabeth were preparing to move into Buckingham Palace. George VI had spent most of his life as Prince Albert (Bertie to friends and family), he chose to reign as George because apparently the royal family didn’t think five (two of whom were ridiculously unpopular) were enough. Edward VIII had become the Duke of Windsor, and Bertie was King now. And he wasn’t all that happy about it. Now, his wife, Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) despite her protests probably did want to be Queen and seemed to enjoy the title when she got it. But Bertie was not interested in the throne, and he was pissed at Wallis, who he blamed for his unexpected sucession. Though they had been close as children, there had been a lot of tension between David and Bertie over Wallis. Bertie felt that David belonged on the throne and not himself. First he blamed everything on Wallis, though he grew to detest David almost as much during the early months of his reign. Bertie had had a difficult childhood and had health problems, a bad stutter, and was left-handed. For turn-of-the-century royals, the solution for left-handedness involved beating it out of you. Fun fact for all my fellow lefties out there: Queen Victoria was left-handed and it’s a common trait among royalty. The current Queen and her grandson Prince William are lefties.
Bertie was pissed at his brother for misrepresenting how much money he had in order to get a royal allowance. He thought David intentionally lied to him. I’d say it was more likely David didn’t know exactly how much money he had. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a royal who kept good track of how much they were worth. In general, they only find out how much money they’ve got when they run out. Despite usually knowing very little about their own finances or finance in general, members of the British royal family always think they’re poor. Anyway, David’s family were pissed at him. His mother, Bertie, and Elizabeth were the most angry. His brother George (not to be confused with Bertie) and sister Mary were actually on his side, or at least sympathetic to him, but were too afraid of pissing off their mom to defend him. Mary visited him for a few days in February 1937, with news (not good) from the family. George met with him in winter 1937 for some skiing.
David was staying Austria with Wallis’s friend Kitty, Baroness Rothschild (of those Rothschilds). Wallis had written to Kitty on December 18th 1936 to “be kind to him. He is honest and good and really worthy of affection.” But Wallis’s feelings changed a bit as she started to suspect David of something or other, perhaps because of something printed in a contemporary article:
“The Duke of Windsor, as midnight tolled in the Year 1937, clapped Baron Rothschild warmly around the shoulder, kissed the Baroness (“Kitty”) Rothschild heartily and ran off to ring up Mrs. Simpson in Cannes.”
Wallis became convinced that Kitty Rothschild was being too kind and giving David too much affection and convinced herself they were engaged in some kind of torrid affair. It is again worth noting that David had only a few weeks earlier renounced a throne to be with Wallis. Kitty, for her part, quickly became fed up with David and considered him aloof and selfish and wished she hadn’t agreed to let him stay with her. But Wallis persisted in mentioning Kitty in her letters: “I can only pray to God that in your loneliness you haven’t flirted with her. I suspect that.”
Supposedly, during their telephone calls and in conversations with friends, Wallis indicated that she suspected he was doing a lot more than flirting with her and apparently that idea distressed her greatly. Even more than her fiancé’s family and the international press. To be clear, during his first few months in Austria David had actually…
1. Decided that people were being way too mean to the Jews (they were; it was the ‘30’s) and setting out to write a book defending them. He got about ten pages in before he saw something shiny and was distracted.
2. Found Jesus. He started going to the local Anglican church in Vienna and praying for himself and Wallis constantly. This lasted until a Church official helpfully explained to him that he was an “everlastingly damned sinner” and as such Jesus was not interested in him. Said Church official then suggested Satan as a viable alternative.
3. Gone skiing. Wallis told him to be careful and informed him that if he died in a skiing accident she would be really mad at him.
4. Rudely ignored his hostess because he was afraid that if he spent any time alone with her Wallis would consider that cheating and dump him.
5. Called his brother to give him helpful “advice” on how to be King. This ended when Bertie had mutual friends inform him that he was not helping and Bertie was not going to be answering his calls from then on.
6. Discovered there were these horrible things called taxes that non-royals have to pay and set about finding a way to get out of having to pay them. This would become one of his most passionate hobbies.
7. Cried on the phone to Wallis about how mean his family was and listened to her cry about what a cheating bastard he was.
8. Done some needlepoint.
Wallis, meanwhile, spent most of her days inside crying and trying to avoid the press. By March, Kitty Rothschild had left Austria and Wallis’s complaints turned more to the royal family. David and Wallis had nicknames for Bertie and Elizabeth. Elizabeth was Cookie, or Mrs. Temple, and Bertie was Mr. Temple or “your feebleminded brother”. The Mr. and Mrs. Temple came from Wallis’s feeling that Elizabeth in particular used her children for attention whoring, like a stage mother. Or at least that’s my guess given the malice clearly intended. The then Princess Elizabeth was Shirley Temple. Elizabeth, for her part, hated Wallis even more than Wallis hated her. There were a variety of issues at work (a whole book was written about why Wallis and Elizabeth didn’t get along) but the main conflict started when, before David was King, Elizabeth had walked in on Wallis doing an impersonation of her at a party at Fort Belvedere.
As the separation went on despite their mutual stress and all of the sex David was(n’t) having with Kitty Rothschild, there letters were mostly affectionate:
Wallis to David, January 1: “I couldn’t bear hearing you cry-you who have been through so much and are so brave. My baby it is because I long to be with you so intensely everything becomes so magnified. Darling I love you. Come to me soon.”
David to Wallis, January 27: “God bless WE my sweetheart and hold tight. I love you so dearly and want you desperately.”
Wallis to David, February 6th: “Darling-I want to leave here I want to see you touch you I want to run my own house I want to be married and to you.” (she didn’t like commas or other forms of punctuation very much)
David to Wallis, February 18th: : “I’ll write again quickly and till then know that I love you love you Wallis always more and more. I know that I can make you happy for all time my sweetheart and that is a terribly big thing to say. Still I say it.”
Most of the letters are kind of sappy (particularly his) and rather immature, but I have read so many historical letters that were down right creepy that there’s no point commenting much on it. These two actually come off like a normal couple most of the time. They had nicknames for everyone (rather like the Bushes) and tons of their own words. Wallis called David “lightening brain” because he was kind of ditsy and forgetful.
In early April, Wallis and David’s beloved dog, Slipper, was bitten by a snake and died. Wallis totally lost her marbles, and insisted a priest be brought in and a funeral held. She considered it the crowning cherry on the shit sundae that 1937 had been so far. David, though distraught over losing his dog and missing Wallis was a lot less miserable. He seemed to alter from stress and pain, to joy and happiness. He wrote that he had been happy for the first time in his life and felt in many ways as though a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. But he missed his family and home country. He had been told he would be able to come back and move into Fort Belvedere in a few years (not going to happen) and was trying to figure out what to do until then. Wallis’s divorce was granted on May 3, and she immediately called up David, and he got on the first train to France. Queen Mary was very upset he had done that; by running to stay with his newly single girlfriend he was allowing the public to speculate that they were having pre-marital sex, which anyone who’s studied British royal history knows isn’t something royals have done ever.
Wallis and David put off their wedding until after the coronation on May 12, and decided to wait until June 3 since Wallis thought May weddings were bad luck. June 3 was on a Thursday. It was also George V’s birthday so perhaps it was intended as David’s final act of rebellion against his awful father. The only member of either family to attend the wedding was Wallis’s Aunt Bessie. Prince George and Princess Mary had wanted to come (George was going to be Best Man) but didn’t come after their mother told them not to. David’s former best friend and cousin Louis Mountbatten had switched sides during the abdication crisis and was now claiming to be Bertie’s best friend. He originally wanted to come to the wedding but backed out last minute out of fear for alienating the royals back at home. He spent the rest of his life claiming he hadn’t been invited.
The wedding took place at Chateau de Cande, the fancy French home of Herman Rogers’s friend Charles Bedaux (who was not a nice person) which Wallis and David had been able to get on short notice. The wedding feast consisted of cake, lobster, and fried chicken served on a picnic table.
A few days before the wedding, David and Wallis received a “rotten wedding present” from Bertie. He informed them that Wallis would not get the title of H.R.H. and would not be royal. Traditionally, if a woman marries a man who is an H.R.H., she becomes an H.R.H. too. But not Wallis, because she was not suitable to marry into the British royal family. What’s interesting is that her not receiving the same title as her husband makes their marriage kind of a morganatic marriage, where a royal man marries a commoner woman and she doesn’t get the same title as him. When David was on the throne, he was told that he couldn’t have a morganatic marriage (where he married Wallis and she wouldn’t be Queen) because no such thing existed for British royalty. What’s also interesting is their reasoning for not giving Wallis an H.R.H. (beyond not liking her) was that as a divorced woman she might do it again and they didn’t want her divorcing David and running around Europe still calling herself H.R.H. because it’s not like they could just take it away once she got it. Except where they could; when Princess Diana divorced Prince Charles she lost her H.R.H. and the same thing happened when Andrew and Fergie got divorced.
An interesting fact is that before their wedding Wallis and David signed a pre-nuptial agreement (royals don’t normally do that) so she wouldn’t get his money if they got divorced. It was her idea (he was naive enough that if she had been a golddigger she could have taken him for all he was worth) because she was sick of people calling her a golddigger. Or maybe it was just to settle who would get the dogs; I never can remember these things. Right after the wedding, Wallis and David took off on a train to Italy and Austria for their honeymoon.
While they were on their honeymoon in June 1937, David and Wallis, now Duke and Duchess of Windsor, were faced with deciding what to do with the rest of their lives. They believed they would be invited back to England to do royal stuff within a few years, but what to do until then?
Their friend Charles Bedaux suggested arranging a pseudo-royal tour of housing developments. In Nazi Germany. Now, with hindsight, it’s apparent how stupid going on that trip was. But at the time, to David and Wallis, who perhaps weren’t the brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree, it sounded like a good idea. It would be something to do, and a way for Wallis to get some level of recognition as a royal wife, which wasn’t going to happen in Britain. On the internet, the going theory is that they took this trip because they were just so in love with Nazi stuff they had to see it for themselves. But there are some problems with that theory. First of all, the trip wasn’t their idea. It was suggested to them by others and they went along with it. Second of all, they had also considered going on a trip to Soviet Russia, which was probably an even stupider idea considering what usually happened to royalty in Soviet Russia. But after the negative attention they got because of the Nazi Germany tour, the idea was scrapped.
Also, I really don’t think they had Nazi sympathies and have yet to see and solid proof to the contrary. In all of the letters they wrote to each other there are very few mentions of Nazis at all, and what there is pretty negative. When it comes to the various second and third hand accounts, usually dating from years after the fact, it’s really up to individuals rather or not they believe them. It is worth noting that there are similar second and third hand accounts of Nazi sympathies involving other members of the British royal family, and that includes the present Queen’s parents and husband. Of course, there’s nothing to most of these allegations, but it’s interesting how stuff like this gets much more attention when it involves the black sheep of the royal family. But then again, I wouldn’t know, I wasn’t there. I’m trying to stick to documented facts when it comes to Nazi stuff. I will say that being raised in a royal family and being brought up to believe in the concept of monarchy might make someone inclined towards fascism or at least less likely to be against it.
Anyways, David and Wallis had decided to go to Nazi Germany to tour housing developments in October 1937. While there, they met with Nazis, toured Nazi buildings, and were generally given a feel for Nazi life. They even got to meet Hitler who told them about how he totally didn’t want a war with anyone and was just misunderstood. Wallis found the whole trip kind of boring. She made small talk with some Nazis but none of them seemed particularly interested in what she wanted to talk about.
After their Nazi visit, they got some angry responses from Britain. Not because they were in Nazi Germany hanging around with Nazis, but because they were taking attention away from the good royals back in Britain. It didn’t help that David’s fangirls had formed a society in his honor called the Octavians and were planning an annual pilgrimage to his place of birth to celebrate his accomplishments and complain about how The Firm had wronged him. I’m really not making this up. Imagine how poor Bertie must’ve felt. His only fangirl was his wife. One of the less angry responses was from Winston Churchill, who was one of the only people who knew what was coming when it came to Hitler. Though he had advised against the trip, he said that it had gone pretty well and praised them for not acting quite as stupid as they could’ve acted.
David and Wallis were once again with nothing to do. Charles Bedaux suggested a trip to America touring his factories, but it didn’t happen after pretty much every person who knew David and Wallis told them not to do anything else that idiot suggested. So instead they rented a house on the French Riviera and had some relaxation time. They threw parties, and attended parties, and fell into married life. As to what to do all day, they shopped, played games, and generally had fun. The concept of David getting some kind of job was floated around, but royals really look down on people who work for a living. They regard them much in the same way Middle America regards prostitutes, though they have spent the better part of a century trying to convince people they don’t feel that way. Even though personally he wasn’t adversed to the concept, David’s family and the British government would have seen it as undignified. Plus, they weren’t exactly hurting for cash.
Wallis went to a lot of fashion shows, which she enjoyed, and took to circling things she wanted in Vogue magazine for her husband to buy her as gifts. Despite not being exactly happy with how things had turned out, to the point of fighting with David about it quite a bit, Wallis enjoyed the first few years of married life greatly. She was no longer as concerned about David changing his mind about wanting to marry her, though the idea of him regretting abdicating the throne was always on her mind. And for the first time in her life, she didn’t have to think about money. David had also turned out to be a more affectionate and respectful husband than either of her other two had been. He put up with her problems, as well as her efforts to fix his own. One of them was that, growing up in a royal family where people nod along to whatever you say, he didn’t know how to keep his mouth shut at dinner parties. So Wallis would kick him under the table whenever he said something that people not born with his particular brand of privilege might find offensive. That way he would know to stop talking.
Another problem David faced being in the real world (or the rich white people vacation real world at least) was his complete inability to do basic tasks like packing a suitcase and filing papers. Poor guy didn’t even know how a paperclip worked. Wallis found this more amusing than frustrating and arranged to hire a small army of servants so her poor husband wouldn’t be forced to do anything himself. She would still helpfully remind him sometimes: “Remember, darling, you’re not King anymore!”
During the early years of their marriage, Wallis figured that since her husband was British she needed a fake British accent to make it official. By all accounts, this accent was incredibly annoying, possibly even more than Madonna’s. As a young girl she probably spoke like any other Baltimore girl of her generation, but once she started traveling during her first marriage she played up her “Southern” accent. That lasted until she decided to be British (after she’d been kicked out of Britain) which lasted until she settled on a New England accent modeled after her favorite actress, Katherine Hepburn. Regardless of accent, her voice was alleged to have sounded like “rusty gates”, “a bird”, or “a cat being strangled to death” depending on who you asked.
Starting in 1939, there was a war going on. Long story short, at the outset of the war, David and Wallis came back to England so he could get an assignment to help the war effort. He was given a choice between a job in France or in Wales. He chose Wales, but they sent him to France anyway because the Queen didn’t want them in the U.K. at all. A contemporary news article described his visit home:
“Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor, went home, taking with him his still unroyal, still beloved Duchess. Once the news would have been the biggest in all Britain; last week it was just another parenthesis in the sad story of war. The Kelly was scheduled to dock at Portsmouth at 6:30 one evening. At 6:45 the blundering Ministry of Information announced that the Duke had landed. But not until 9, more than two hours after the news hit the wires, did the Duke set foot on the red carpet which covered the very jetty from which he had left England exactly two years, nine months before.
Next morning the couple drove (Duchess at the wheel) to Major Metcalfe’s grey stone house in Ashdown Forest, about 40 miles south of London. In the car were two paperbound books: Winston Churchill’s Step by Step, Dr. Ivan Lajos’ Nazis Can’t Win. Beaming like newlyweds, they received newspapermen. The Duchess was bright (“looked even better than when she left”) in a gold dress, a gold and black checked coat, the Duke proper (“looked several years younger”) in gray double-breasted flannels and a maroon-and-white tie.”
But then they went back to France, where David was to supervise British troops. There wasn’t a lot of fighting going on yet; it was mostly sirens and the occasional bomb getting dropped. Wallis joined the Red Cross and spent her days gathering and packing supplies for soldiers. Once things started picking up and bombings increased, she worked in an ambulance delivering blood. Her servants had to leave to either join the service or be with their families and Wallis considered herself the “busiest” she’d ever been taking care of her household as well as trying to help the war effort. In 1940, the Nazis invaded France and Wallis fled to the South of France while David remained at his post. Though it was later claimed (in several books and on wikipedia) that he deserted his post, he had been given permission to leave and was planning on staying. The fact that he had permission to leave is incredibly well documented; yet it has done nothing to stop the haters from claiming he deserted and commited treason in the process. David decided to leave a few weeks later when Wallis started to get worried and demanded he join her at their house on the French Riviera because she was convinced he would get captured or killed if he remained in Paris.
When Italy declared war on France, the Windsors got papers to go to Spain, while the non-royals were left to suffer. Though they have since been accused of generally being selfish during the war, the worst of their behavior was during the summer of 1940. While they didn’t do much that was really “wrong”, considering all the horrible things most people in Europe were going through they didn’t act very decently.
Wallis and David arrived Madrid after a difficult trip in June. While in Madrid, some Nazis took an interest in them. Basically, Hitler had this crazy idea that if he invaded Britain he might be able to get the Windsors to act as puppet King and Queen. The British government heard about this and decided to try and get the Windsors to come to Britain. They wanted them to come to London, but they still wouldn’t receive Wallis or acknowledge her as David’s wife. They also wanted them to get on a plane, which Wallis wasn’t going to do because she was terrified of flying. Once she became aware of the gravity of the situation, Wallis agreed to go, but David refused because he felt like his wife was being disrespected.
Winston Churchill then called up George VI and Queen Elizabeth and asked them if they would receive Wallis. He explained that he really wanted to get the Windsors out of Spain and that the whole situation would be helped along a great deal if they would pretend they didn’t hate Wallis for just a few weeks. They said no. He then told the Windsors that it would be the mature thing to do to come anyway and ignore the slight. They also said no.
While both sides were acting like four-year-olds (except for poor Churchill who had to manage both a war and the inbred clusterfuck known as The Royal House of Windsor), David was approached by a Spanish spy working for the Nazis. He basically explained to him all the “wonderful” things Nazism had to offer. Sort of like a missionary, except instead of Jesus he was talking about Hitler. David refused, and said that he was a loyal British subject. It’s worth noting that the spy in question, when interviewed years later, recounted it happening like that, which goes against the now widespread theory that he was “in on” whatever plans the Nazis had. The Nazis then tried a combination of bribery and blackmail which also didn’t work to convince him to do anything.
The Nazis then decided the whole thing would work a lot better if they kidnapped Wallis and David and then tried to brainwash them. To do this they needed to keep them in Spain long enough for their agents to get ahold of them. Which didn’t work, because Wallis and David soon left for Lisbon to await further information from Britain. The Nazis then needed to get them back to Spain. They tried to scare them by throwing bricks through their windows and firing gunshots outside where they were staying. They did succeed in scaring them, but instead of going to Spain they finally agreed to go to Britain. Before they could get there, the government gave them an assignment to go to the Bahamas where David would serve as governor. He didn’t want to do it, and Wallis really didn’t want him to do it, but he wasn’t in a position to say no and so Wallis and David found themselves on a ship called “Excalibur” like King Arthur’s sword, headed to a smoldering Caribbean island in the middle of July. Wallis cried and complained to one of her friends that she “didn’t pack for that”.
When we left off, Wallis and David were on a boat headed for the Bahamas, where he had an appointment as Governor General. After a stop off in Bermuda, they arrive in Nassau on August 17, 1940.
Wallis was not happy. It was really hot, and this was before air conditioning. Wallis considered herself delicate when it came to hot temperatures. When they got into Government House, their residence during their tenure, they discovered it was not in good condition and had some bug problems. Wallis didn’t feel it would do at all, and wanted the British government to fork over some money for renovations. Meanwhile, The Firm had sent over some tough regulations on how Wallis was to be treated and how she was not a member of the royal family. David was going to complain on her behalf, but Wallis talked him out of it and encouraged him to instead complain about how bad their accommodations were. Money was set aside for the repairs (not enough in Wallis’s opinion) and the Windsors stayed in other people’s houses while Government House was renovated.
Now, Wallis was very interested in Marie Antoinette (as well as Anne Boleyn, and other royal ladies who ended up getting decapitated) and in some ways during her first few months as Governor’s wife she began to emulate her. Wallis insisted that a swanky celebrity hairstylist be flown in from New York to do her hair. She also tried to go to the U.S. as much as possible, and wanted David with her when she did. Once they went to her hometown of Baltimore, the place she’d dreamed of getting away from as a child, and people lined up for miles to greet her. Wallis constantly complained to her friends and family back home about their “exile” in the Bahamas, and compared it to Napoleon being exiled in St. Helena. She even found time to slip up to New York for a facelift, which were both dangerous and unattractive in that time period.
After Government House was renovated, the interior design and comfort level matched more with what Wallis had become used to. But there were still bugs. Wallis and David slept with a mosquito net over their bed, and Wallis regularly found roaches crawling around all over the place. She’d never lived in a tropical climate before and found that she really didn’t like it.
By the time they got there, they already had some enemies. The local Anglican Church sent out a press release to let the Windsors know that Jesus doesn’t actually love everyone and thus they were not allowed to join the church. Eternally damned sinners, and all. Within their first few days they also managed to pick a fight with a major local newspaper editor and a few monarchist businessmen.
In 1940, the Bahamas had a population of about seventy thousand people, most of them black or mixed race. Despite popular belief, the Windsors were not that racist. You know, for rich White people living in the 1940’s. But, of course, by twenty-first century standards, they would be considered very racist. But, again, we’re talking about rich White people in the 1940’s. Being that this was part of the “British Empire” and the whole situation reeked of colonialism, the white population of the Bahamas basically ruled over the black population. Obnoxious rich guy, Sir Harry Oakes, commented on their arrival:
“He will learn that the best way to govern the Bahamas is not to govern the Bahamas at all. If he sticks to golf he will be a good Governor and they’ll put up statues to him. But if he tries to carry out reforms or make and serious decisions or help the (insert plural racial slur here) he will just stir up trouble and make himself unpopular.”
David, always the multitasker, managed to both play golf and make himself unpopular. At the time Nassau was controlled by the “Bay Street Boys”, a group of White business men who were like the colonialist mafia. They held significant political power and basically did everything they could to keep the non-White population down and make themselves rich. David, who for the first time in his life had actual political power, thought that the “Bay Street Boys” weren’t particularly nice and set about trying to take away their political power. He fired them from his executive council, and dissolved the House of Assembly (the Bahamas legislature) and ordered new elections in the hopes of getting some different people in. That’s one of the disturbing things about British colonialism. The British royal family wants to send away their black sheep so they don’t have to deal with him and he ends up in an Executive position where he has significant power over thousands of innocent people. If he had been the mentally unstable Nazi fanboy he’s often accused of being he could have really done some damage.
Wallis, meanwhile, remembered that things hadn’t worked out all that well for Marie Antoinette. She also realized that there were people living in the Bahamas who actually had it worse than she did. Wallis was automatically head of the Red Cross as the Governor’s wife, and she set to work at hospitals helping tend to the sick. While there she met a nurse who worked was trying to start a clinic to help malnourished children. Wallis gave her a large donation and fundraised from all of her rich friends on her next trip to America. She also opened the first STD clinic in the Bahamas, addressing the kind of unpopular cause that Buckingham Palace usually ignores. When the infant welfare clinic opened, Wallis worked there every Wednesday, bathing, feeding, and changing sick babies. She genuinely went far beyond what was expected of her while the press continued to focus on her Marie-Antoinette-like demands. Though The Firm usually sends out a camera crew every time a princess shakes hands with an orphan, Wallis’s charity work received little to no coverage.
When America entered the war in December, 1941, the Bahamas lost their biggest source of income; American tourists. But Wallis wrote to her Aunt Bessie, “I am glad we are going to be in the war which is better than being outside.” The economy did suffer, and their was widespread starvation and poverty beyond what there had been before. But in May, 1942, they got a contract with the U.S. government to build an air force base, which created thousands of jobs and stimulated the economy. Beyond her other charity work, Wallis became involved with the canteen for soldiers and helped out by cooking and cleaning. Many men stationed there wrote home about being served a boiled egg by the Duchess of Windsor.
In August, 1942, David’s brother Prince George died in a plane crash serving his country. George had been his favorite brother and they had lived together for several years before George got married. They had fallen out after David and Wallis got married and had not seen each other for nearly five years when George died; the last words between then had been angry. David fell into a very deep depression because of his brother’s death, and Wallis tried in vain to cheer him up. It was the only time during their years together she felt at a loss to console him. He was forced to snap out of it by impending duties and obligations. It took him several months to get back to normal. George’s death was one of the few things that forced the royal family to see the reality of war.
Earlier that year, Wallis had written to Queen Mary about how awful she felt about being “the cause of any separation that exists between mother and son” and suggesting Mary contact one of their friends who would be in London to hear what David was up to. The letter was basically an attempt to guilt Queen Mary into not hating her as much. It actually worked to some extent; Mary obviously didn’t write back, but in her next letter to David she told him she “sent a kind message to your wife” and her judgement of Wallis seemed to have moved from “evil adventuress” to just “adventuress”.
To help the war effort, Wallis published a cookbook to raise money for British soldier. Eleanor Roosevelt, who had published a similar cookbook, wrote the forward. Eleanor wasn’t exactly Wallis’s biggest fangirl; she preferred Queen Elizabeth and distrusted Wallis. But they managed to work together for the good of the Allies. I’m sure the money raised did a lot of good; but the cookbook is evil. It is full of recipes to make the most vile and disgusting foods ever devised. Things no sane human being would willingly ingest. Satan himself must have played a role in its creation. I have heard that most cookbooks from the 1940’s are full of horrible and disgusting food items, but hers has to have been one of the worst. I do not have a copy on me, so I cannot post a recipe tonight, but I distinctly remember one recipe that involved canned green beans, ketchup, evaporated milk, and a canned cheese-like substance now banned everywhere except prison and school cafeterias. I once borrowed a copy from a friend who collects vintage cookbooks. I could not find a recipe in it that sounded worth making; I finally settled on this fruit dessert things and it tasted terrible. I had to throw it out; no one would eat any of it and I was sure I had done it right because it wasn’t something that could easily be screwed up. Fergie published a cookbook in the ‘90’s and that one is actually pretty awesome, but stay away from Wallis’s unless you run one of those websites that publishes bad vintage recipes. There are a few anecdotes and stuff, but nothing particularly entertaining. Wallis writes about how she likes frozen food and hanging out at supermarkets because of all the “interesting” people you find there.
During her time at the Bahamas, Wallis gave an interview to Adela St. Johns, a reporter who had promised to write nice things about her. Adela didn’t exactly do as she was told, and her and Wallis didn’t get along. But the interview included some real gems. She made repeated melodramatic comments about her life, and repeatedly refers to her husband as a saint. One good quote:
“You know, when I first met the Prince of Wales, and he fell in love with me, I was not exactly young and I was not exactly- shall we say inexperienced? Believe me, I would much rather have been the mistress to the King of England than the wife of the Governor of the Bahamas!”
Given she was usually fairly guarded when reporters were around, Wallis may have been a touch tipsy when she said that. Adela was nice enough (considering her dislike of her subject) in the actual article, but she often expressed her true feelings in private: “I always got the impression Wallis Warfield Windsor could play tackle for the Green Bay Packers.”
On the dark and stormy night of July 8, 1943, a man named Harry Oakes was murdered. He had been bludgeoned repeatedly on the head, and then set on fire. Harry Oakes was the richest man living in the Bahamas. He was a Canadian millionaire who had moved to the Bahamas to avoid taxes and exploit the locals. He was also known for his extensive charity work, but he was still definitely a colonialist type. There were stories he had been involved in some shady business dealings, but no one was entirely sure.
It was important the Governor be immediately informed. The next morning, Wallis and David were awoken with a knock to their door early in the morning. Wallis was still half asleep when her husband got out of bed to answer the door. She heard him have a conversation with his equerry in the door way. The only word she could make out was “murder”.
The obvious suspect was Harry Oakes’s son-in-law, Alfred de Marigny. Alfred de Marigny liked two things: money and teenage girls. He was born to poor French aristocrats, and used his charm to marry two wealthy women in quick secession and took money from them in the inevitable divorces. Harry Oakes had a daughter named Nancy, who was a pretty teenager from a wealthy family. When she was in her mid-teens, she and de Marigny had had a flirtation. He was in his late-thirties at the time. Her father had thought he’d put an end to it, but two days after she turned eighteen, Nancy ran off with him and they got married in New York before returning home to her shocked parents. Naturally, Harry Oakes was not happy about it. He tried to pressure his daughter into getting a divorce, and shortly before his death he’d sent her and her mother away to the United States to try and get her away from her husband for a while.
There were other suspects. Oakes’s business partner, Harold Christie, was a possibility. But as Harold Christie was richer and more powerful than Alfred de Marigny and his motive was more complicated, he wasn’t as seriously considered at first. There was another issue; David, who in his position as Governor of the Bahamas had some authority over the investigation, hated de Marigny’s guts. While Wallis was someone you definitely wouldn’t want to cross, David was not a hateful person. Most of his worst behavior was motivated by selfishness or ignorance rather than a genuine desire to hurt anyone. Even people like Stanley Baldwin, Alec Hardinge, and Alan Lascelles, who really screwed him over, he never spoke of with much malice. His hatred of de Marigny went back to before Harry Oakes was killed.
David felt Alfred de Marigny was an “unscrupulous adventurer with an evil reputation for immoral conduct with young girls”. You know, a Humbert Humbert type. It didn’t help that de Marigny was rude and disrespectful to Wallis. It certainly went both ways. Alfred de Marigny is often used a source for books and documentaries trying to prove the Windsors were Nazis. Not only did he accuse them of Nazism, he also said they were involved with the Mafia in all kinds of illegal activities, and hinted that they were involved in killing Harry Oakes because he wouldn’t go along with their plans. Alfred de Marigny also suggested they intentionally framed him for murder because he knew too much.
What made it impossible for the investigation to properly do its job was that everyone involved in the government and police believed Alfred de Marigny was guilty from the moment they realized it was murder. He had an ability, like Casey Anthony, to just seem guilty to everyone with a passing familiarity of the case. David’s main mistake (beyond pre-judging de Marigny guilty) was when, instead of trusting the local authorities or calling in the Scotland Yard, he hired a Miami police officer who had once worked as his bodyguard to handle the case. David originally told him that he thought it possible that it might’ve just been a suicide (Oakes had seemed very depressed and irritable in the days before his death) which presumably would involve Harry Oakes hitting himself repeatedly on the head and then setting himself on fire. It was only after that theory was totally disproved that de Marigny was accused.
There’s little evidence David intentionally set out to frame Alfred de Marigny. He really believed the man was guilty. He did have motive, means, and possibly (depending on who you believed) opportunity. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he was guilty. It was certainly enough to convince David and Wallis at the time, though. His motives were clear; Harry Oakes wanted to break Alfred and Nancy up, and had even threatened to financially cut off his daughter if he couldn’t. And while de Marigny probably wasn’t the pedophile David accused him of being, he did like underaged (but not pre-pubescent or pubescent) girls and had a reputation for going after other teenage girls before Nancy Oakes. As such, David (and many other people) considered him thoroughly immoral. This was not entirely hypocritical; jailbait had never interested David even when he himself was jailbait.
There was eventually a trial, and the whole story was a media sensation. It involved everything Americans love reading about: murder, exotic locations, impropriety, royalty, and lots of money. While it perhaps wasn’t quite O.J. Simpson level notoriety (there was a war going on, after all), at the time it was a big deal. Alfred de Marigny was acquitted, with the condition that he leave the Bahamas and go live somewhere else. Apparently the jury didn’t buy him as a murderer but still felt he was a horrible person who should go away.
What got him off, and what is still the main bone of contention, was a fingerprint on a screen near where the body was found. The fingerprint belonged to Marigny, but some investigators and experts believed the fingerprint had been planted and pressed on to the screen off of something else. This is also the main evidence for a conspiracy. It seems like I am going on about this case, but it is pretty relevant, and I am not even going into half the conspiracy theories associated with it, or all of the different possible suspects. The whole thing is just a giant ball of WTF and the case is so weird I don’t think anyone could make it up. It was the inspiration for a TV movie and several episodes of various crime shows over the years.
The theories that in recent years have been researched and have the most evidence are that either Harold Christie did it, or that Alfred de Marigny actually was guilty after all and only got off because he used his widespread unpopularity against the prosecution to convince people of a nonexistent conspiracy. Even if he was guilty there may have been some conspiracy; perhaps authorities weren’t sure he did it or knew he was guilty but faked evidence because they couldn’t prove it. Harold Christie was probably guilty, though, considering he was nearby when the murder took place and years later when asked about it at a party he didn’t deny his guilt and simply refused to say anything. Either way, there may or may not have been a conspiracy. If there was, David may not have been involved with it at all. Both Oakes and Christie had had connections with the Bay Street Boys and were rumored to be involved in all sorts of unsavory business dealings. Christie wouldn’t have needed the Governor to instigate a conspiracy. David had worked against the Bay Street Boys and made enemies in the process, so it’s unlikely he would get involved in one of their conspiracies. Perhaps his dislike of de Marigny was manipulated by people involved with the government so he would unwittingly help the conspiracy. It’s also been suggested, if he was involved, it was because criminals had threatened to harm Wallis if he didn’t cooperate. David would have done literally anything to protect her.
Either way, the Windsors’ involvement in the case was overstated by the press. David did not have any absolute authority over the investigation and without getting a lot of people “in on it” he couldn’t have orchestrated a conspiracy or gotten de Marigny charged. Wallis, for her part, had nothing to do with anything. But it’s still relevant to my series of posts on her life, because the press did try to rope her into it. As she was already widely disliked, it was suggested by many (including de Maringy himself) that she had manipulated her husband into having him framed. There was even a bizarre theory that Wallis and de Marigny were involved in some kind of affair, and that Wallis ordered Harry Oakes killed and Alfred de Marigny framed to get revenge on him for choosing Nancy Oakes over her. Needless to say, all evidence directly contradicts that.
The whole unfortunate episode highly damaged David’s reputation, even though his involvement in the case had been highly overstated. The press had wanted to sell papers; when you link a celebrity to a lurid murder case it makes the story even more interesting to the public. Wallis regarded the whole situation as unpleasant. She summed up the situation after the murder in her memoirs: “The sense of shock and horror sent through the colony by this crime and the mystery as to its perpetrator were never quite dispelled during the remaining time we were there.”
During the time between the crime and the trial, life for Wallis continued as it had since their arrival. She did a lot of charity and war work to keep herself busy, and still tried to go to America every chance she got. On one trip to Washington D.C. there was a riot back in Nassau due to conflicts between the Bay Street Boys and the native population and David was forced to return early without his wife. Wallis was deeply concerned for him, but David’s actions during the riot actually improved his press significantly. He had managed to significantly calm the rioters and had even gone into a burning building to help put out a fire and save civilians. But in the aftermath of the de Marigny trial that was pretty much forgotten.
There was also another major issue for Wallis during that time period. In spring 1944 she began to feel ill and suffered spells of dizziness and pains throughout her body. Wallis insisted she was fine. David suggested she go to New York to see a specialist, but she refused. She wrote to her Aunt Bessie: “The Duke is anxious for me to go but I can’t bring myself to leave him in this awful hot depressing hole.” When they finally went to New York in July, 1944, Wallis received an examination and it was determined she had stomach cancer. David and Wallis remained in America until September while Wallis had an operation and recuperated in Virginia. While there, Winston Churchill, who was also in America visiting President Roosevelt, met up with David to discuss his future role. David offered to go to Europe and do undercover work for the Foreign Office. He was turned down because of his unpopularity with the government and the fact he probably would have made a terrible spy. His knowledge of espionage came entirely from Film Noir movies, which he and Wallis were both obsessed with.
Churchill did offer to help him get Wallis received by the royal family. It was customary for the King and Queen to receive colonial governors and their wives for tea if they ever came to Britain. When the war ended, David and Wallis would be expected to at least pass through London and thus be invited to tea. Churchill figured this would be a good way to help heal the conflicts in the family as custom and tradition would require a reception and thus Bertie and Elizabeth would not feel as though they were betraying their feelings about Wallis. David desperately wanted any help he could get with that matter. Unfortunately, as Churchill wrote to the Windsors later, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth were “inflexibly” opposed to such a meeting and not even Winston Churchill could change their minds.
Though her cancer was gone, Wallis still continued to feel ill, and couldn’t stomach another summer in the Bahamas once 1945 came along. But once again she refused to leave without her husband. Churchill had told David in September 1944 that he could resign his position at his convenience. He announced his resignation on March 15, 1945, to take effect at the end of April. The war was coming to an end and his term would have ended on July 9th anyway. Despite claims he quit or deserted his post, terms for colonial governors were not set in stone and people often left early. It wasn’t like an American office (like, say, Governor of Alaska) where you’re elected to a term and expected to stay the course. By leaving early, beyond sparing Wallis another summer in the heat, he also did the British government a favor. They wanted him gone, but were worried about public backlash if his term came to an end and they didn’t offer to renew it.
Because of the de Marigny scandal, his term was generally judged a failure by the British government. He had also managed to piss off everyone in the colonial government, and despite going beyond the call of duty with her charity work, Wallis was judged for her more Marie-Antoinette-like behavior. Ironically, even during the de Marigny trial, David’s approval rating with the black Bahamians, who made up the majority of the population, rarely dipped below eighty percent, but given this was a colonial government that worked against him in the eyes of the British.
Because of travel sanctions, the Windsors first went to New York to wait for the official end of the war in the Pacific. While there, they went shopping, partied, and “rewarded” themselves for surviving their time in the Bahamas. The war had aged them both significantly; photos show that though only five years passed between 1940 and 1945 both Wallis and David aged about fifteen. But things got better; it was the beginning of Wallis’s new life as the most fabulous socialite in the Jet Set.
After leaving the Bahamas in Spring 1945, the Windsors took up residence in the Waldorf Towers in New York. Wallis and David brought everything they had with them and bought more in New York. They kept their suite as an apartment for whenever they were in New York for the next thirty years. Their next door neighbors and close friends were Cole and Linda Porter. Cole Porter being the famous (and secretly gay) composer, and Linda being his witty and popular wife. Cool people, both of them; there was a musical about them called De-Lovely which I would highly recommend.
They would often go out to dinner together, and the Porters threw the Windsors a dinner party to introduce them to other members of New York society they didn’t already know well. They would even walk their dogs together. Another person the Windsors became friendly with in New York was Elsa Maxwell, “The Hostess with the Mostest”, who ruled society with an iron fist. Elsa was a party planner, author, songwriter, gossip columnist, decorator, and general busybody with more jobs than Ryan Seacrest. Still, she made sure she was at every major party and society event and made a point of knowing everything about everybody. Wallis and Elsa had known each other off and on in the past, but after the war was when they really became friends. They were later better known as what we’d now called frenemies, and would end up having horrible feuds, making up and being friends again, until they started feuding about something else. Elsa was from Iowa, started off with few connections, and never married. She got everything by sheer willpower and wasn’t going to let anyone come along and take it from her. Elsa was also gay, which was well known at the time but not talked about. The Windsors also made friends with Hollywood types like Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Judy Garland.
When they weren’t in New York City, Wallis and David were in the Hamptons, swimming and staying with some of their rich friends. They also, during the next few years, spend a lot of time in Palm Beach. During one of those trips they met Jimmy Donahue, one of the Woolworth heirs and a cousin of Barbara Hutton, who was the Paris Hilton of her time but with more marriages. During the next few years he would cause a lot of drama in Wallis’s life, but for the time being, they were just on friendly terms. In the fall of 1945, the Windsors headed back to France. Their house had been empty for the last five years and though there was a lot of dust, Wallis was happy to be back. The only problem was that they were renting, and the house was sold around the time they got back. They were allowed to stay through April 1946, but still needed to look for a new home. In October 1945, David went to London (without Wallis) to visit his mother, who he hadn’t seen in nine years. Though she had previously proclaimed he could only return to London when he came to her funeral, her attitude had softened a bit during the war. Also, her memory was starting to go a bit so it’s possible she forgot why she was mad at him temporarily. By the time he actually got there, she clearly remembered. They made small talk occasionally, and though David was staying with her they didn’t actually see much of one another. He didn’t mention Wallis at all until right before he left, when he told his mother “Don’t forget; I am a married man now.” To which May responded “Forget? As if one ever could!”
The previous summer Winston Churchill had been voted out. The new Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, wasn’t nearly as sympathetic to Wallis and David as Churchill had been. Still, David hoped he might be able to get some kind of position as an ambassador in America. It wasn’t going to happen. He also was still hung up about Wallis not being an H.R.H. and despite his complaining, that wasn’t going to happen either. He returned to France less hopeful than when he’d left. The next time David returned to England, Wallis would be with him.
In 1947, Wallis and David went on a little trip to the U.K. and stayed with their old friends the Earl and Countess of Dudley. For the most part, the trip was kind of boring. They went shopping, took in a play, and were followed around by David’s still loyal fangirls. Until the house they were staying in was robbed and the guy walked off with Wallis’s jewelry case. It was a big deal.
Part of it was Wallis’s fault. She didn’t believe in safes or locks or any of that nonsense. No, Wallis firmly believed in leaving your valuables unlocked under your bed. Because no one would ever look there, right? Well, apparently she was wrong. The whole situation was a bit of a scandal, and it wasn’t helped by Wallis’s comment after the fact when asked about something that was missing. “A fool would know that with tweed and daytime fabrics, one wears gold, and with silks and evening fabrics, one wears platinum.” Clearly her Marie Antoinette phase was not completely over.
Wallis never got her jewels back though the thief was eventually caught twenty years later. To this day, there’s a popular theory that the theft was arranged by the royals to get back royal jewelry David had unrightfully given to Wallis. Which isn’t true; Wallis never had any royal jewels at that point. There are no photos of her wearing royal jewels and no royal jewels that went unaccounted for during her involvement with David. There certainly weren’t any that went unaccounted for in 1936, were seen on Wallis, then were stolen in the robbery and magically turned up back with the royal family.
For the most part, the Windsors spend the rest of the ‘40’s in France. Right after the war, there was an amusing anecdote about Wallis throwing a very formal dinner party. Ladies had evening gloves, champagne was served, and the main course was hot dogs and baked beans. Rationing and all. Wallis explained the situation: “Y’all have to understand my meals have suffered.”
They eventually found a new house outside Paris with floors paved with gravestones from the French Revolution. Most people would find that creepy, but Wallis loved it. The French government also gave them a good deal on rent. Wallis promptly stocked up in antiques and paintings for her new house. Her prize was some sort of fancy French champerpot thing that had belonged to Marie Antoinette which she kept filled with flowers from the garden. Though in many ways they preferred America, David and Wallis were resolved to live in France. The French government thought they were so cool they didn’t make them pay taxes. That was a big deal for David. Before his abdication he had not fully understood those horrible things called taxes (presumably he believed the royal family’s allowance grew on trees) and once he was made aware of the concept he’d become obsessed with getting out of paying them. Which he managed to do fairly easily by living in France most of the year. The French had similar arrangements with many European ex-royals. In the years after World War II Paris was full of foreign royalty and there were a dozen or so other ex-kings David could hang out with living there. Once he was driving in Paris and got rear-ended by a car full of Romanovs, a story the tabloids found very amusing.
Wallis and David spend most of their time entertaining and being entertained. They went to lots of movie premiers and formal balls. They even had the occasional house-guest. One British noblemen described visiting and having dinner with them when Wallis asked him if there was anything he wanted to do in France. The guy said he wouldn’t mind seeing some of those lovely nude dancers. Wallis didn’t see the point. Her quote on the subject was that “the only woman worth seeing naked is one you’ve undressed yourself.”
During my time digging through library archives I found an interesting article from a woman who partied with them for a while during this period. It’s very reliable and believable. Not a lot of dirt or anything, though. She described Wallis:
“The Duchess was a petite woman, with a very trim figure. She had the tiniest waist I had ever seen. Her hair was jet black and cut short. It was becomingly coiffed, parted in the middle, and drawn off her face in soft waves. It was the same familiar hairstyle she wore throughout her life. She had high cheek bones, lovely violet blue eyes and a very warm personality. She spoke with a slight British accent, and I thought she looked more intriguing than beautiful.”
“I observed he had wistful blue eyes, light blond hair, a turned-up nose, and deep furrows on his face. He had a small physique and was about five feet, seven inches tall. He was a wonderful dancer and had great humour. He acted very natural and charming, and wasn’t a bit pretentious.”
While she didn’t find him pretentious, other people sometimes did. The problem was that David was so pissed off about Wallis not being an H.R.H. (she didn’t care all that much) that he insisted everyone they knew call her that and curtsey to her anyway. But there was still fun to be had. In a letter to her aunt, Wallis described inviting twelve people over for a party and then drinking thirty bottles of champagne between them. A good time was had by all.
In 1950 Wallis was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Of course, there’s the matter of how someone who wasn’t “all woman”, as I’m sure you all have heard, ended up with ovarian cancer. My guess is witchcraft. It was caught early, but Wallis had to have a hysterectomy, and was put on bed rest and hooked to a machine for many weeks. This was before cancer was publicly discussed, so there was much speculation on her illness. It even reached Britain, and Queen Mary commented on it in one of her letters to David and asked him what was wrong. This whole incident may have spawned a fear of death in Wallis which made her more determined to not grow old and have as much fun as she could. Her refusal to age was noted by many of her friends. Another factor may have been that during the time in her life when people get their partying out of the way, Wallis was dealing with personal and financial problems that kept her from doing as much partying as she would have liked.
In the early 1950’s a man named Jimmy Donahue began to play an increasingly important role in Wallis’s life. Jimmy was the cousin of Barbara Hutton and an heir to the Woolworth’s fortune. He was basically a real life internet troll who used his vast wealth and complete lack of responsibilities to play elaborate pranks on people and throw constant drug fueled parties. Wallis thought Jimmy was one of the most fun people she’d ever met. She loved going to clubs and parties with him and he always knew the best gossip. He was also fond of randomly presenting Wallis with extravagent gifts and bottles of champagne.
Word began to spread that the two were having a torrid affair. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case. Jimmy Donahue was gay. Really gay. And pretty much everyone who knew him was aware of this. He was incapable of maintaining a long-term beard, as was customary in that era. I also don’t believe Wallis would have cheated on David; both her romantic side and her practical side wouldn’t have wanted to damage her marriage. She wasn’t stupid and she knew how much she had to lose. Wallis loved David and she didn’t want to hurt him. Even if you take David out of the equation, Wallis wouldn’t have wanted all of her friends judging her. I think by this point Wallis was trying not to care what the tabloids and gossips had to say about her, otherwise she would’ve cut Jimmy out of her life sooner than she did given what was being said. But she undoubtedly cared a great deal what her friends thought. If she was having an affair, it wouldn’t have been with someone she was so publicly close to. Generally speaking, I can’t find anything to really suggest Jimmy and Wallis were ever even alone together. Whenever they went out it was with a group of friends and even at their respective houses there were always people around. A few tabloid biographies have quoted some of Wallis’s former servents complaining about her and Jimmy coming home late drunk and/or high and making a mess in the kitchen, but none of these stories involve anything that implies they were having sex. I think Wallis naively assumed she could get away with more than she could because she thought it was obvious Jimmy was gay and not interested in her.
Wallis and Jimmy frequently passed gossipy notes across the table at dinner parties. They would also whisper things in each other’s ear. I think on some level all the gossip about Wallis and Jimmy was partially because they were frequently witnessed gossiping about other people. That was one of the major cornerstones of their friendship. Jimmy, in classic troll fashion, eagerly confirmed the rumors and told everyone in explicit detail about all the sex he was having with Wallis. But that was Jimmy’s nature and most people who knew him never believed a word he said. He frequently tried to bait people; one of his favorite tricks was to loudly whisper to whoever he was seated next to at a party that last night had been amazing. Cary Grant punched him for that one. Jimmy pulled a wide variety of stunts in desperate pursuit of attention. Things like dressing up as a nun, running into a busy intersection and mooning everyone. Or shoving a sausage down his pants, pretending it was his penis, and then pretending to cut it off and eat it. Or picking up a young soldier at a gay bar, castrating him with a blunt instrument and then dumping him in the middle of a bridge during a thunderstorm.
Wallis inexplicably found all of Jimmy’s pranks amusing and witty. Obviously she didn’t know what he was saying about her. No one wanted to tell her, but several people told David. He never gave them much of a reaction; to one he remarked that he was certain Wallis was “safe” with Jimmy because of him being gay and to another he said he really didn’t care what people were saying and that whatever made Wallis happy was okay with him. Part of what led to Wallis and Jimmy becoming such close friends was that David was starting to feel a bit old for the party scene Wallis loved so much and wanted to stay home. Jimmy was always eager to go clubbing and stay out all night. Like most people who weren’t Wallis, David probably thought Jimmy was a douchbag. But he knew there wasn’t any kind of romance going on and that given the personalities involved inevitably there would be a blow-up and Wallis would turn on Jimmy for good.
I’ve never really understood the whole Jimmy Donahue thing. He sounded like a real asshole. Sort of like Perez Hilton meets Joe Francis meets Brandon Davis. I think Wallis realized too late how awful he was. After the final break in their friendship, Wallis didn’t talk about him and acted like the whole mess had never happened. She wasn’t a great judge of character and I think she naively believed that her friends wouldn’t spread stories about her behind her back. In her whole life she never really understood how awful everyone thought she was and that people took for granted that she was capable of anything.
About three years into Wallis and Jimmy’s friendship, people noticed some drama between them. There was frequent tension between them and both were overheard making bitchy remarks about the other one. Wallis and David were on a trip to Germany with Jimmy and some other people in their circle. At dinner one night Wallis made a dig about Jimmy having bad breath, and Jimmy, being the mature and level-headed person he was, kicked Wallis under the table. Hard. So hard that her stockings were torn through and she was bleeding. You have to kick someone pretty hard to break the skin on the legs. Wallis went into shock and David helped her on to the couch and sent for some bandages. Wallis was obviously upset because apparently she didn’t react or say anything; if she hadn’t been she probably would’ve kicked him back. Perhaps she’d been triggered. David told Jimmy to leave, and that was the end of it. Wallis basically cut him out, and the whole thing was over. The break was immediately obvious to people in their circle and a variety of stories went around, like that David had forbidden Wallis from seeing him (as if anyone could forbid Wallis from doing anything) or that Wallis had walked in on Jimmy having sex with an underaged boy. The sudden end of the friendship only furthered the rumors there had been an affair.
There’s this great movement to undermine Wallis and David’s relationship. Wallis could’ve given David a kidney, gotten a giant tattoo of his face on her back, and confessed to a crime he committed, and there would still be people insisting she never loved him. If Wallis for one moment acknowledged having regrets about her past with David, than it must mean she didn’t love him, never loved him, and their entire marriage was a miserable lie. The standard history has held Wallis to is ridiculous; no one could justify their relationship to the extent she was expected to. Wallis was not allowed to have male friends other than David, even if she consistently considered him her closest. Wallis could not go out without him, even if he was the one who insisted on staying home. Wallis couldn’t go visit America while he stayed in France, even if both of them had commitments that needed to be dealt with. Wallis could not complain about David’s habits, even though her complaints about him were minor compared to what most women would say about a man they’d been with for years. There’s an obsession with the idea that Wallis was miserable, and that she never loved David and was somehow trapped into staying with him. It’s impossible to argue with people who hold this view. I can’t prove what Wallis thought or felt, and neither can they, but there’s a wide variety of interviews, articles, and private letters that come from Wallis herself that contradict their view point. But they’ll just say she was lying (honestly, she would have had to be a sociopath to do the kind of consistent long-term lying they accuse her of) and keep talking self-righteously about Wallis’s richly deserved misery, usually with a tone of fake sympathy, even though you can tell they hate her guts.
What makes it even more ridiculous is that David, while expected to keep justifying his relationship with Wallis, was never held to the same ridiculous standards. Perhaps it was old fashioned sexism, perhaps he was given a permanent pass after giving up a throne for her even though he didn’t seem to think he was giving up anything worth having at the time. David did tend to be more publicly affectionate than Wallis, but I really think that was more of a personality quirk on his part than him loving her that much more than she loved him. His behavior was over-the-top even for someone madly in love; I know plenty of couples who are madly in love but I’ve never witnessed anyone act the way David did around Wallis. I think it has to do with his awful childhood. On some occasions when Wallis acted publicly affectionate with David she was accused of seeking attention and being inappropriate. David could get away with a lot Wallis couldn’t. For instance, when Wallis had cancer and was undergoing treatments at a hospital in New York David continued on a planned vacation to Florida without her after Wallis told him she would be fine and encouraged him to relax. If David had been ill and Wallis had left him behind to go on a vacation people would still be crucifying her for it. David occasionally left Wallis behind to go on trips to England to visit friends and family. I’ve read a few accounts from contemporary newspapers of David going out to parties with female friends and even acting somewhat flirtatiously with them, but no one seems to have given a damn and certainly no one saw it as a sign he was cheating on Wallis. I can think of quite a few things David did (starting with kissing Kitty Rothschild on New Years 1937) that Wallis couldn’t have gotten away with.
There was a bit of fallout to the Jimmy Donahue mess; when you stop being friends with someone and others find out they often start telling you the bad stories about that person they’d heard back when you were friends with them but hadn’t wanted to tell you. That happened with Wallis. She became a bit more guarded, and was very careful about who she allowed to become close to her. David was the only person she completely trusted. Most of her old friends had either lost touch or died, and her Aunt Bessie’s memory was going away. She wasn’t lonely, or particularly unhappy with her life at the point, but her unwillingness to let people in would set her up for a great deal of misery after David’s death.
Bertie got sick, and died somewhat unexpectedly, in 1952. David got to find out by being called by a paparazzo asking for a statement. He went to London for the funeral, while Wallis stayed behind. It was probably for the best given how Elizabeth would have felt about Wallis being there. Of course, the other Elizabeth, the new Queen, didn’t want to deal with any family drama. David hoped she would be more sympathetic towards him and Wallis, but she took her mother’s attitude and nothing really changed with the new reign. The Queen Mother blamed Wallis for Bertie’s death, and not all those cigarettes he smoked and because she was a Queen no one was going to disagree with her.
A year later, Queen Mary also died, though her death was more expected and David had travelled over with his sister Mary, who’d been visiting in New York when news of their mother’s illness reached them. This led to one of Wallis and David’s longer separations; they were very rarely apart normally and wrote each other frequently to deal with their separation. Those letters give pretty good indication that despite rumors they were still very much in love. In one after Bertie died she wrote: “I hate, hate having you go away alone-but you are not really alone because I am so much a part of you. Maybe one telephone call or even two just to hear your beloved voice… Darling I shall miss you each second and you know I love you more than anything in the world for always my dearest darling David.”
Wallis had warned David not to call or telegram too often because transatlantic communication of pretty much any form was very expensive at that time period. But then, when she didn’t hear from him for a couple of days Wallis became greatly concerned and called him worried something was wrong. Queen Mary finally died on March 24, the same day as Elizabeth I died 350 years earlier. Wallis was upset that she and David had never really made up, and she burst into tears when she was told of the death of the mother-in-law she’d never even met. David was very reluctant to express his grief to Wallis, which I think was because he didn’t want her to feel guilty. He indicated he was upset, but still furious at May for her unfair treatment to Wallis even in death.
In the late 1940’s, David decided to write his memoirs. There were two reasons for this. First of all David was desperate to share his side of the story and combat various rumors that had been spread about him and Wallis. The other reason was that he knew he could make a ridiculous amount of money. Wallis was pretty high-maintenance and money was necessary to maintain their lifestyle. A ghostwriter was involved, though there’s much debate over who did what. From what I’ve read it seems like everything in the book came from David, but he had no organizational skills and his writing abilities were somewhat lacking. But for the most part the book does remind me a lot of some of his more formal letters so he was obviously involved. There was a bit of an issue with David putting things off, and Wallis was always eager to provide him an excuse by dragging him off to parties and inviting tons of friends over, though at the same time she would encourage him to work when he slacked off for reasons that didn’t have anything to do with her.The finished product, A King’s Story, came out in 1951, though a lot of the book had been serialized before that. It was a bestseller for a few months, and Wallis was encouraged by their publisher to do her own book.
Wallis’s book, to me at least, seems more ghostwritten than David’s. Apparently there was a lot of drama in its writing. Wallis originally was in talks to have Charles Murphy, who worked on David’s book, work on hers too. But she didn’t like him and didn’t think he was cool enough to understand her. So she recruited Cleveland Amory to help. The two quickly discovered they couldn’t stand each other, and eventually there was an epic blowout, and he was fired. In the aftermath, he proceeded to trash Wallis every chance he got, and his stories became more ridiculous over time. I don’t believe a word he said about her because if you look at the things he was writing, his stories got crazier and crazier ever time he told them. At first, it was just that Wallis was difficult and wanted herself portrayed in an overly sympathetic way. This was probably true. Then it turned into Wallis being a controlling pathological liar. Then he started with the Nazi accusations, but only after Wallis and David were both dead and the Nazi theory first became popular after a few tabloid biographers latched onto it. Like, he all of a sudden had all these stories about Wallis and David praising Hitler that he only ever told to anyone after someone else suggested to him they might’ve been Nazis.
She ended up moving back to Murphy, but very reluctantly. He also hated her, but was able to avoid major sparks. He eventually wrote his own tabloid biography of Wallis and David, The Windsor Story, in which he painted a portrait of Wallis as a very manipulative and greedy woman. It’s not all that trustworthy given he speculates on Wallis’s entire life based on having known her off and on for a few years. Even when writing about thing he was supposedly there for, his accounts were contradicted by other contemporary sources. But even if we assume both Murphy and Amory were lying for the most part (and their stories don’t even line up) Wallis obviously did something to piss them off.
When Wallis’s book, The Heart Has Its Reasons, was released in 1956 it did all right, though it didn’t sell as well as A King’s Story. No one seems to have taken it seriously then, and certainly not now. I’m pretty sure at least one person has written a biography on Wallis without even bothering to read it. I actually think the book is almost all true; she obviously doesn’t go into a lot but that was very common for celebrity memoirs of that era. One trashy book I read on Wallis made a point that the book was all lies, but the only ones the author could prove were little details about places she’d lived years earlier that she probably completely forgot. That’s not to say it’s all true; I mean a lot of the book probably didn’t even come from Wallis. But there’s probably more truth in it than in most books written about Wallis, not that that takes much.
Wallis and David gave many interviews in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, but the only one people seem to remember is one with 60 Minutes in 1956, and of that interview only one moment is really considered noteworthy. They were asked if they ever wondered “what could have been”; obviously the answer was yes. It would be going against human nature if they didn’t. But David couldn’t answer the question. He sat there looking uncomfortable, then stuttered a bit, rambled on, and eventually said no. Wallis said nothing, and just gave David her death-stare. The moment was much discussed, and has since appeared in every non-terrible documentary made on their lives. To me their reaction actually makes a lot of sense. There is no way in hell that either Wallis or David didn’t sometimes think of how things might have gone differently. But they were reluctant to admit to anything that might imply they weren’t totally happy because they knew how the haters would interpret it. One thing that clip definitely disproves is the idea they were miserable and their marriage was only a front. Those two couldn’t tell a convincing lie to save their lives. Had either one of them been a decent liar that whole awkward moment wouldn’t have happened. Wallis was supposedly this master manipulator who was capable of faking all of her feelings for David, yet she couldn’t chime in with some suitable answer or even conceal her obvious discomfort and anger at David’s lack of a response? More witchcraft, obviously.