Six months after he was proclaimed king, Edward VIII felt that he deserved a holiday, as he was exhausted by the responsibilities and duties. His initial intention was to head to a villa near Cannes, but its proximity to the Spanish Civil War made it a poor idea, so a cruise was decided upon. A luxury yacht, the Nahlin, was described by royal equerry John Aird as ‘furnished rather like a Calais whore-shop’. Its library was thrown out and replaced with a Bacchanalian quantity of drink, and a portable pool was installed on the boat deck.
The King and his then-mistress Wallis Simpson, at the time still married to her second husband Ernest Simpson, occupied the best suite at one end of the boat, in separate rooms, while the other guests – friends, socialites and acquaintances including the Earl of Sefton and his paramour – were in this quasi-Gallic brothel at the other end. Tommy Lascelles, Edward’s assistant private secretary who accompanied the trip, described it acidly as ‘outwardly as respectable as a boatload of archdeacons, but the fact remains that the two chief passengers were cohabiting with other men’s wives’.
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户There was soon a tension between the stated purpose of the voyage – a holiday for the King and his friends – and the expectation that a monarch travelling round Europe would perform some diplomatic functions. Even as Edward attempted to preserve his anonymity by calling himself the Duke of Lancaster – a façade that did not last long – the entire holiday took on a strangely theatrical feel, as an intimate romantic escape was diversified by the presence of a bevy of friends, staff and hangers-on, two destroyers, and tens of thousands of inhabitants of the nations they visited.
Wallis was pleased that they were being received with such fervour at the first public recognition of them as a couple, saying, with a touch of condescension, ‘It delighted both of us that strangers of uncomplicated hearts should wish us well.’ But when Edward’s friend, socialite Lady Diana Cooper, joined the Nahlin at Split with her husband Duff, she witnessed the whole caboodle somewhat differently.
In a letter to a friend, she observed that Edward’s major activity was pleasing Wallis, who knew her power over him. ‘The King was fussing over her proudly, going down on hands and knees to pull her dress from under the chair feet.’ Things swiftly went awry, as Diana and the others were treated to a display of the power dynamic within their relationship. ‘She stared at him as one would a freak and then started picking on him for having been silent and rude to Mrs Jones [a dinner guest].’ It was quite a performance. ‘On and on she went… He got a little irritated and sad.’
Lady Cooper’s instinct was that, rather than witnessing two people in the throes of passion, Edward had made himself look ridiculous and small – very much ‘the little man’ – by his infatuation. As she wrote, after a further outbreak of temper caused by Wallis refusing to go bathing, ‘The truth is she’s bored stiff by him, and her picking on him and her coldness towards him are irritation and boredom.’ Meanwhile Duff Cooper observed, ‘She is a nice woman and a sensible woman – but she is hard as nails and doesn’t love him.’
After he returned to England, Duff confided in politician Chips Channon that he was ‘revolted by the King’s selfish stupidity’, and, along with his wife, thoroughly sceptical about the likelihood of a marriage between two such obviously mismatched people.
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户And yet in December 1936, four months after the cruise, Edward gave up his throne, and the following year, in a Loire Valley chateau lent to them by a French billionaire, he married Wallis.
The abdication crisis represents a social and political upheaval like England has seldom known. The only suitable analogy is the Civil War, a time in which the country was similarly torn apart and in which royal arrogance and heedlessness found an equally cold reception. In this instance, ultimate responsibility lies with one person. She was a slight, immaculately dressed American divorcee, childless and in early middle age.
There have been countless rumours and misattributions regarding her involvement in the abdication crisis. Yet the most remarkable fact about her is the simplest. Wallis Simpson was the woman who brought Britain to a state of crisis that threatened its very stability as a nation. It was ultimately resolved, but at great cost that could have been even greater. As the Duke of Wellington said of the Battle of Waterloo, it was ‘the nearest-run thing you ever saw’.
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户Simpson became one of the most photographed and discussed people of the age, right up until her death in 1986, largely condemned as an ambitious gold-digger. And yet few have explored what really went on behind closed doors between her and Edward’s closest relatives and friends in the run-up to the abdication: how Wallis’s very presence soured Edward’s relationship with his inner circle, the frostiness between Wallis and Edward’s sister-in-law, the Duchess of York (later the Queen Mother) as a result of her outrageous demands and deliberate ignorance of royal protocol. And above all how it all chipped away at Edward’s relationship with his beloved brother Bertie (later King George VI), who until then had been his closest friend and ally.
It has been a privilege to do that, using a mixture of rare archival sources, many of which have only been made public recently and some that are published – in a new book, The Crown in Crisis – for the first time, including new interviews with those who knew Edward and Wallis, as well as a comprehensive selection of the diaries, letters and records written by those with first-hand experience of the abdication crisis.
If previous rulers had wished to take a wife and found the status quo against them, they acted with brutal force. Social change on this level was not an option for Edward, who initially lacked a brilliant advisor and instead was pitted against the most powerful figures in British society, who tried to frustrate his wishes to marry Wallis, some out of principle, others from personal animosity. However Edward at least had one constant counsellor in Bertie, his younger brother and heir presumptive.
While Edward’s younger brothers Prince George and Prince Henry were, respectively, a hedonistic libertine and an amiable but drunken non-entity, Bertie was a decent and principled man whom Edward envied. He initially placed inordinate faith in Bertie’s judgment. He insisted, perhaps in an attempt to share the burden of the crown, that his brother was kept abreast of all relevant court papers and matters of state. Yet this trust did not extend to his dealings with Wallis.
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户The two brothers, who had hitherto been close, began to drift apart. Bertie, then the Duke of York, had a happy domestic life with his wife and daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret; the King did not. Sometimes their different approaches caused tension. And in the months after Edward met Wallis, the relationship between the two brothers grew distant.
Helen Hardinge, wife of Edward’s private secretary Alec, wrote in her memoir, ‘[Bertie] felt that he had lost a friend and was rapidly losing a brother.’
On 26 September 1936, when the Yorks visited Balmoral for dinner, there was some residual ill-will already. Yet Wallis made the situation markedly worse through a mixture of her own carelessness and arrogance.
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户Precedent and etiquette dictated that visiting royalty should only be welcomed by the official host, namely Edward, but Wallis took it upon herself to greet the Duchess of York when she entered the Balmoral drawing room, in what one onlooker called ‘a deliberate and calculated display of power’.
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户However, as the Duchess of York stood in front of her that evening, it was soon made clear to Wallis that not everyone was as subservient as the King of England. The Duchess pointedly ignored the interloper, saying ‘as if to no one in particular’, ‘I came to dine with the King,’ and her intervention had the desired effect. Edward, looking ‘rather startled’, extricated himself from his nearby conversation and the evening proceeded in a smoother fashion, even if Bertie was ‘embarrassed and very nervous’ at the clash.
Though Edward later wrote of this 11-day sojourn at Balmoral as a glorious time (‘Life within the castle was extremely pleasant’), others had a more uncomfortable experience. The Duchess of York wrote to Queen Mary [Edward and Bertie’s mother] to say that, ‘there has been a great sadness and sense of loss for us and all the people. It will never quite be the same for us... I feel that the whole difficulty is a certain person. I do not feel that I can make advances to her and ask her to our house, as I imagine would be liked... The whole situation is complicated and horrible.’
Almost without knowing or caring, Edward had managed to estrange himself from his entire family.
By late 1936, many others shared the Duchess of York’s feelings. ‘I have grown to hate that woman,’ Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin lamented to the civil servant Thomas Jones in early November. If Jones’s account is accurate, the Prime Minister lambasted her, saying, ‘She has done more in nine months to damage the monarchy than Victoria and George V did to repair it in half a century.’
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户Gloomily speculating that Edward had been profligate with the royal purse, Baldwin offered a terse summation of matters as they stood constitutionally. ‘If he marries her she is automatically Queen of England. I would then hand in my resignation and I think my colleagues would [also] agree to do so.’
Later that month, on 16 November, the King had a tense and unproductive interview with his mother. Queen Mary remembered her late husband’s implacable objections to Wallis and his refusal to acknowledge her as his son’s consort, and had asked Baldwin at least twice if there was anything that could be done, to which the Prime Minister had shrugged. To her son, she said nothing, which he may have interpreted as tacit acceptance of the status quo. In fact, it was the most profound expression of royal authority imaginable.
Edward was probably unaware that his mother had spent the previous weeks poring with growing horror over American newspaper accounts of his relationship with Mrs Simpson. As her friend Maria Belloc Lowndes wrote in November 1936, ‘Queen Mary is in anguish. She can neither sleep nor eat.’ The Duchess of York sympathetically told her that ‘I feel quite overcome with horror and emotion... One feels so helpless against such obstinacy.’ Faced with the unthinkable, the Royal family withdrew into the comforting certainty of protocol, even as it threatened to come crashing down around them.
Finally, on 10 December, by which time the decision to abdicate had been irrevocably taken, the dutiful Bertie arranged for Edward to see his long-suffering mother at his home in Windsor Great Park, Royal Lodge. They met at three o’clock and were together ‘for some time’, as Bertie noted. The King attempted to justify himself, but she made it clear that she continued to disapprove of his actions, and that she was bewildered by the circumstances that had led to their execution.
Edward claimed later that, ‘Her heart went out to her hard-pressed son, prompting her to say with tenderness: “And to me, the worst thing is that you won’t be able to see her [Wallis] for so long [under the terms of her divorce],”’ but this seems a romantic fabrication, not least because Edward, frustrated and angry, had ‘stormed and raged and shouted like a man demented’.
A clearer account of the meeting, and others like it, can be found in a letter Mary sent him. In it she stated that ‘You will remember how miserable I was when you informed me of your intended marriage and abdication and how I implored you not to do so for our sake and for the sake of the country. You did not seem able to take in anything… or to listen to any advice. I do not think you have ever realised the shock which the attitude you took up caused your family and the whole nation.’
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户Any maternal blessing that Edward had hoped for was firmly withheld.
After the abdication, Edward, then known as the Duke of Windsor, had been granted an annual allowance of £25,000 by George VI, thanks to his misrepresenting his financial status; he falsely claimed he was a virtual pauper despite having over a million pounds in cash and investments. He felt emancipated, enjoying skiing and hiking. His assistant private secretary Godfrey Thomas reported that Edward ‘had no regrets about the past and no qualms about the future. In his mind he was booked for a life of perpetual married bliss.’
And yet one thing that deeply hurt Edward was the King’s refusal to allow Wallis to be described as ‘Her Royal Highness’; he unsuccessfully telephoned George daily to ask for Wallis’s formal recognition. This eventually led to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor becoming estranged from the Royal family. They never lived in Britain again, and only visited by the formal invitation of the monarch. As private citizens, they struggled to make a life for themselves. To keep them out of trouble, Edward was made Governor of The Bahamas during the Second World War, an experience he hated. He referred to it as a ‘third-class British colony’ and wanted a more important job, while Wallis was more interested in shopping trips in Florida, news paper coverage of which attracted bad feeling from a Britain stuck in rationing. When the war ended, they returned to France, where they lived for the remainder of their lives, interspersed with visits to the USA.
Although both Edward and Wallis would have liked positions of influence, successive British governments regarded them as a liability and they were never given any public roles. Their income instead came from spilling the secrets of the abdication. The Duke earned $25,000 for writing four long articles for Life magazine and he also wrote a lucrative memoir, A King’s Story, in 1951 which gave his side of the abdication crisis. Wallis’s autobiography, The Heart Has Its Reasons, was published five years later. As Edward was excused the responsibility of paying income tax by the French government, and was able to sell his book’s film rights to an American producer, they were able to lead moneyed, if purposeless, existences.
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户And yet Edward was never reconciled with his brother before his death in February 1952. Although he did attend his funeral, he was not invited to Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, watching it on television with Wallis instead – and he remained detached from the Royal family until he died of throat cancer in 1972.
After the Nahlin cruise, Sir Sidney Waterlow, the British ambassador in Greece, wrote a prophetic letter summarising his impressions of Edward and Wallis. He complained of the ‘almost unbelievable vapidity’ of the holiday, but wondered whether ‘this union, however queer and generally unsuitable & embarrassing for the State, may not in the long run turn out to be more in harmony with the spirit of the new age than anything that Britain could have contrived.’ The Duke and Duchess ended up wealthy and feted, but also alone, beloved by the chattering classes but deserted by friends and family. Yet both of them also defiantly embraced a spirit of individualism that saw a king cast aside centuries of protocol to follow his heart’s desire. It was a recklessly romantic course, and one that still resonates today.
Abridged extract from The Crown in Crisis, by Alexander Larman (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20), out 9 July. Pre-order your copy at