When we left Wallis in 1936, her boyfriend just got a major promotion that would, more than likely, leave her in the rear view mirror of his life. She was cool with that, but he had a whole different vision: Wallis in the passenger seat.
There were a few glitches to King Edward VIII’s (we call him “David” ) plan, for starters Wallis was already married and even if she were to divorce she would have TWO living ex husbands– a double no-no for remarriage within the Church of England and David was the HEAD of the Church of England. None of his family liked her…at all. And Wallis herself wasn’t entirely on-board with the idea.
But, David would have none of it and he was willing to do whatever he had to to make it reality.
And it did. Oh, not in a storybook, fairy tale sort of way and not the way either would have imagined but Wallis did get divorced and then the tornado of pressure and paparazzi left her fleeing to the south of France and him abdicating the throne.
He quit! Walked away! Left England and his family and wandered about Europe. For legal reasons they could not see each other until her divorce was finalized and when it was they were married. The (really not prepared for the job) new King George VI, David’s brother, had granted the titles Duke and Duchess of Windsor (although Wallis’ came with a caveat that she was not to be recognized as “her royal highness”) but he forbid anyone from the royal family from attending the small wedding and reception in a beautiful chateau in France.
David seemed to think they were going to be allowed back into England and he would be given a job fitting his station in life after a couple of years, but, seriously? What part of “exile” don’t you understand, Duke? And his self-planned, unofficial but highly publicized trip to visit Nazi German as a sort of goodwill ambassador did him and Wallis no favors as far as public image went.
WWII broke out and Wallis jumped into action with the French Red Cross helping the war effort. She worked very hard until the Nazis entered France and the two joined the caravan of refugees south, eventually ending in Spain. From there David was given a job to keep him as far away from Europe as possible: Governor of the Bahamas.
She did whine a bit, at first, but Wallis was a very active, involved Governor’s wife and took up causes, and often used her own money, that helped the women, children and the military of the islands.
Once the war ended any thought of them returning to live in England was quickly dashed–they had not been forgiven for his abdication and even the deaths of both King George and their mother or Queen Elizabeth II’s ascension didn’t change that. The two couch surfed (super, elite, society style) around the world and eventually settled into a house and chateau in France. Wallis decorated both, threw a lot of parties and was continued to be recognized as a style icon for many, many years. For their entire marriage she created an environment of royalty for the two of them, like their own kingdom of two (plus servants and dogs, lots of dogs.)
David died in Wallis’ arms of throat cancer in 1972. Wallis accompanied his body back for burial in England. The remaining 14 years of her life were spent mostly bedridden after a series of falls and the final years painful and lonely unable to move. She died on April 24, 1986 and was buried next to her husband at the Royal Burial Ground, Frogmore.
TIME TRAVEL WITH THE HISTORY CHICKS
We tend to focus on the woman and not on the details of war but if you would like some more backstory on the WWII issues we talked about in this episode here is a timeline of Nazi Germany, a timeline to war, and the plot that Winston Churchill concealed to put King Edward VIII back on the throne if Germany won the war.
The Chateau they called home once they accepted that they were never going back to England? Want to see inside? Here is a link to all the fabulousness The House of Windsor, Paris.
And her jewels? Here is a lovely collection of photos of them from Sotheby’s, Windsor Jewels and an up-close look at the Cartier cross charm bracelet, with the inscriptions on the back of each one, Jewels du Jour.
Here is some information from Vogue on those society scrapbooks that Beckett talked about.
Read up on religious diversity and national identity in James II toleration campaign (where the James quote came from.)
Later this would be recorded by Harry Belefonte and used in the movie WE, but here’s the original Edward VIII by Lord Caresser:
This interview was done a couple of years before the Duke’s death.
Totally baffling film by Karl Largerfeld: