Images above: Andrew Lownie; Traitor King cover
You’d think it would be hard to find anything new to say about the abdication, so much has been written, so many films and TV series have been made about the romance between Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, the twice divorced American, but Andrew Lownie, appearing at Chiswick Book Festival 2021, has focused on their lives after the abdication and found new material.
Most ironic of the revelations in The Duke of Windsor: Traitor King about this unpleasant couple is the that Wallis didn’t really love him after all. She had been ’emotionally blackmailed’ into the marriage and stuck with it because she had no other option.
‘Far from the happy-ever-after love story that is often portrayed, their later relationship was fraught with betrayals and feuds’ writes Andrew Lownie.
‘The couple were obsessed with status, expecting still to be treated as Royalty. They made a fortune by exploiting their celebrity via Hollywood and through books, films, media appearances and endorsements. They created a luxurious, self-indulgent lifestyle entirely without purpose’.
He also details the downward spiral of Edward’s relationship with his family.
‘Edward fought unsuccessfully for his wife to be given an HRH title. There was bitterness over their ‘financial settlement’.
The Duke of Windsor thought he would still be able to perform ceremonial and military duties after his exile and was outgraged when he found out this was not the case.
‘The couple rebuffed attempts by the Royals to repair the relationship. Friends were suddenly airbrushed from their lives if they were believed to have said anything wrong and relations with his brother became so dire that resentment lingered until the Duke died’.
Images above: Wallis Simpson in 1936; HRH The Prince of Wales in 1919
Andrew Lownie, who also wrote the acclaimed biography The Mountbattens, calls the parallels with Harry and Meghan ‘uncanny’.
When he made his abdication speech to the nation, King Edward VIII said:
‘I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love …
‘I now quit altogether public affairs, and I lay down my burden.’
His cousin Dickie Mountbatten remembered:
‘Everybody was in tears when he [Edward] came in but he was jubilant. He was like a schoolboy going off on holiday. “It’s all over!” he kept saying. “It’s finished, thank God!” ’
‘Within hours, the new Duke had boarded a ship for France, and then on to Vienna to wait for his future wife’s divorce from her second husband.
‘Wallis Simpson had listened to the broadcast at a villa belonging to friends in Cannes’ writes Andrew Lownie and quotes her saying:
‘I was lying on the sofa with my hands over my eyes, trying to hide my tears,’ she remembered. ‘I lay there a long time before I could control myself.’
‘She spent the following day in bed, depressed by the turn of events’.
Clearly she’d planned to be Queen, not for him to abdicate and now she was stuck with him.
Amongst his meticulous research, Andrew Lownie read a Special Branch report which noted that Wallis ‘was regarded as a person as very fond of the company of men and to have had many affairs’.
He saw correspondence from the Liberal MP Robert Bernays, who noted:
‘He [the Duke of Windsor] hasn’t one real friend to lean upon in this frightful emergency. He is the spoiled child of success with the film star mentality … For the first time he has been brought up against the fact that abdication means exile and that for the rest of his life he can serve no useful purpose.’
Andrew Lownie writes that he fell into the habit of ringing the new King at all hours.
‘On one occasion, when George VI was too busy to take a call, the Duke’s friend Edward Metcalfe wrote to his wife Baba:
‘It was pathetic to see HRH’s face. He couldn’t believe it! He’s been so used to having everything done as he wishes.’
‘Eventually, the King told the Buckingham Palace switchboard to stop putting though the calls’.
After sitting next to the Duke of Windsor at a dinner in Paris, US diplomat’s wife Susan Patten wrote:
‘He is pitiful. The famous charm is still there but I never saw a man so bored.’
He had recounted his day to her:
‘I got up late, and then I went with the Duchess and watched her buy a hat, and then on the way home I had the car drop me to watch some of your soldiers playing football. When I got home, the Duchess was having her French lesson, so I had no one to talk to.’
The recent Netflix series The Crown dramatised the worsening of relations with the royal family, with the Duke forced to watch Queen Elizabeth’s coronation on TV in Paris instead of being there. It also showed the rather awkward meeting with Prince Charles, aged 22, in 1970.
‘I was able to have a word with [my uncle] by himself,’ he wrote in his diary. ‘He seemed in very good form, although rather bent and using a stick.
‘While we were talking the Duchess kept flitting to and fro like a strange bat. She looks incredible for her age and obviously has her face lifted.
‘Consequently she can’t really speak except by clenching her teeth all the time and not moving any facial muscle.
‘She struck me as a hard woman – totally unsympathetic and somewhat superficial.
‘All she talked about was whether she would wear a hat at the Arc de Triomphe the next day. The whole thing seemed so tragic… that I was relieved to escape it after 45 minutes.’
Lownie says Wallis Simpson diverted herself with frequent affairs because:
‘She had been attracted to her future husband as Prince of Wales and King, but that attraction had waned after he had given up his throne, leading to a mixture of guilt, pity, dissatisfaction, boredom and irritation’.
Sounds to me like they deserved each other.
Chiswick Book Festival
See Andrew Lownie talking to Caroline Raphael about his book The Duke of Windsor: Traitor King at the Chiswick Book Festival 2021 at 10.00am on Saturday 11 September in the Boston Room of George IV. Hosted by The Chiswick Calendar.
Book tickets: TicketSource/ChiswickBook Festival
Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar
See all the latest stories: Chiswick Calendar News & Features
Support The Chiswick Calendar
The Chiswick Calendar CIC is a community resource. We publish a weekly newsletter and update the website with local news and information daily. We are editorially independent.
Please support us by buying us the equivalent of a monthly cup of coffee (or more, if you insist). Click here to support us.
To subscribe to the weekly newsletter, go here.