Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Abdication, Part II




So here’s Part II….

Wallis is in Wonderland---or so her husband Ernest says. Wallis has the security of her marriage, but also the security of knowing the Prince of Wales can arrange things just so...and much of their relationship can be kept under wraps. The British well-to-do are aware of the affair...their friendship, but the royal subjects have no idea. And anyway, the Prince will soon tire of her...won't he?

Wallis found herself overwhelmed by the Prince's attention. He began calling the flat, demanding her help at the Fort and at his residence in London. He wanted her and Ernest for weekends, and he wanted her to be a guest at Ascot. He loved her meals and the way she planned them and he thought she was a wonderful decorator. He couldn’t get enough of her.

The Prince gave orders to Osborne---the head man at the Fort---that he should take orders directly from Mrs. Simpson. Well, that was never done. It just wasn't. Mrs. Simpson flew into Osborne’s life and turned it upside down. His job was to draw up the menus but suddenly she did them personally. And she was rearranging furniture, taking down curtains, deciding what should stay and what should go into storage. To Osborne's horror, not only did he have to watch this American woman change life at the Fort, she decided that he should personally take over the daily flower arranging that was done by the maid. Osborne was horrified. Even more terrifying, she entered the sanctuary of his pantry and decided a card table should be set up. Osborne hated the no-good stupid, flimsy thing, but…it’s what the Prince wanted...

Wallis relished all these new projects and enjoyed seeing the Prince's enthusiasm at her results.

And then there was Mr. Finch at York House in London. He had been with the Prince of Wales since the Prince was a boy. Naturally, Mr. Fitch knew how the royal households should be run, and was treated with the utmost respect. Athough Mr Fitch never stepped over the line, if he felt the Prince had gone too far, he did not hesitate to tell him so. And not only that, he oversaw everything at the London residence. Well, at least he thought he did until Mrs. Simpson arrived. She began making purchases for York house and demanded Mr. Fitch be the one to serve and mix the cocktails when there were guests. Fitch thought the woman was ghastly! He did at times mix the drinks...and this silly routine had started when Thelma Furness was around. But now Wallis felt that in his own home, the Prince should never mix drinks for his guests and it was beneath him, thus giving the duty to Fitch. He did do his best to mix and serve, but then Wallis told him that ice must be served in the cocktails. The British never used ice in their cocktails. Just wasn't done. In Fitch's mind, she had gone too far. Ice? Was she mad? He refused to do it. There would be no ice. And soon thereafter he was pensioned off.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the servants remained quiet and did what they were told. Wallis took over the kitchens, told the cooks and the maids how she wanted things to be done. The servants were shocked and upset when Wallis and HRH would arrive back at 2 or 3am, interrupting their sleep and demanding something to eat. Again, that just wasn’t done to the servants. Meals came at scheduled times. Even their Majesties ate at scheduled times and would never think of rousing them from their sleep, lest there was some kind of royal emergency.

The Princes "set" or friends were equally horrified. Wallis was so common and so typically American. Her voice was brash, and they found her quite pushy. Certainly, she didn’t know her place. They were horrified at how she took charge of things, and ordered the Prince around. She'd say whatever she felt like—ordered him back and forth and to make matters worse—he seemed to actually enjoy it! It was a spectacle, to be sure. No one had ever seen anything like it. Wallis was far, far too familiar with him. It was simply—well—scandalous!

The well to do and the aristocrats whispered under their breaths. Was the Prince crazy? Had he lost his mind? He would be King one day! How could he allow this to go on? Did he have no dignity? They found Wallis to be crude and abrasive. They were forced to be polite to her face, for His Royal Highness’s sake…but the whole thing was rubbish.

Wallis may seem like a monster. She did come in like firestorm, to be sure. But you have to remember that she was doing this because it was what the Prince asked of her. He wanted someone to take charge and make decisions. Everything she did was unusual, different, stimulating, at least from his point of view. The Prince felt free. In his life---made up of rigid royal rules---there was not much freedom to be found. But Wallis, to him, was a breath of fresh air. He hung on her words. He enjoyed seeing her ways to prepare food, to entertain. She was lively and innovative. And she did much good. She got him to eat better, drink less and keep to his timetable and be prompt. For all the negatives, there were positives. And perhaps he enjoyed the shock on people’s faces. And also, let’s face it, she took care of him. In her own Wallis sort of way, she watched out for him…at least he felt like she did.


Wallis's mother had passed away after her marriage to Ernest Simpson, and her Aunt Bessie became her most trusted confidante. Here is a sample of one of her letters to her Aunt during this time:

"I haven’t had a party here for well over a month. Have a lousy temporary cook and still the curtains are away. Can't get PW (Prince of Wales) to ask the Grants--not his type. Still eating but can't gain too much----worry combined with excitement and never a chance to relax. It all takes a certain amount of tact handling another swan song before 40. Let me know when to expect you. I would like one or two country dresses, 1 linen, 1 wool--and Mary will have two pairs of shoes for you. Both dresses blue I think on printed linen for that one or white trimmed blue. If asked to Ascot I haven’t an idea what I could wear there and then there is the rest of the time I have the pale blue and brown from last year for one day and I suppose a print for the other. He demands one look chic. I know you’ll be tired of hearing all this but it is rather thrilling for me."

Shortly thereafter, she wrote this to Aunt Bessie: "After writing to you from the Fort, I have had an invitation to the Prince’s Ascot house party which starts on the 19th and ends on the 25th. He is giving me the ticket and the party doesn’t go until after lunch and you only go the 2 big days so my best number from last year and the other thing will do. I can’t resist going so it would be better (for you) to come before Ascot, or after as I wouldn’t want to rush off just as you arrived unless you wouldn’t mind being here those days without me. Ernest can’t go---(1) the ticket (2) the time from the city (3) clothes. Trying to get this on the boat tonight. All love"

As you can sense, Wallis was busy, excited and had a lot on her mind. There was much she did not tell Aunt Bessie...but Bessie wrote her very sternly soon after that. And Wallis replied, "Darling,---You did gave me a lecture and I quite agree with all you say regarding HRH and if Ernest raises any objections to the situation I shall give up the Prince at once. So far things are going along beautifully and the 3 of us are always together in the little spare time PW has this time of year. Don’t pay attention to the gossip"… and also…“Mentally I'm quite sane about it all but I am not given much time to do things. Also, I am going over some of his 2 houses for him which fills up my days so much. Hurry over to see me and then you'll realize that everything is OK."

You have to wonder...what she was thinking?

Aunt Bessie did arrive in England, and that summer, the Prince decided that he'd plan a summer holiday. He rented a villa near Biarritz. Conveniently, Ernest had to work, but Aunt Bessie would accompany Wallis as a chaperone. No one was fooled however. Five other people accompanied the Prince, Wallis and Aunt Bessie---mostly his aides and one of the aide's wives.

The newspapers in England kept this hush-hush, but the other papers around the world did not. One afternoon as Wallis and the prince enjoyed a drink at the ocean; there was a commotion---a drowning boy. The Prince dove into the waters, rescued the boy and as a result of that, news spread like rapid fire that the Prince was there. And then...it happened. Pictures were taken of the Prince, with this woman. The story, with pictures, appeared throughout the world the next day. The pair stayed in seclusion for the next week. Soon after, they departed by boat to Cannes, and other visitors joined them. They encountered some storms, rough seas and enjoyed some stops during this long, summer journey. At one point, they blatantly stayed in the Hotel Miramar together. During that stay, he secretly bought jewelry for Wallis, and once safely back on the boat, surprised her with a gift.

In September, the boat docked in Genoa and Nice and Wallis and the Prince spent some quiet time together, boating, on the clear blue waters. They motored to different places with their group, but also managed to go off together, alone. It was at about this time that photographs were taken of the Prince, with just his shorts on. Never before had the Prince of Wales been photographed so...well, relaxed.

One has to wonder what Aunt Bessie thought of all this, and what their friends thought as well--and also, what they saw. It certainly wasn’t all as innocent as it appeared. I often wonder what Aunt Bessie really said to Wallis. Bessie was not shy in her letters.

In her Memoirs, called the Heart Has Its Reasons, Wallis says of this trip, "Searching my mind, I could find no good reason why this most glamorous of men should be seriously attracted to me. I certainly was no beauty, and he had the pick of the beautiful women of the world. In fact, in my own county, I would have been considered securely on the shelf. The only reason I could ascribe his interest in me, such as it was, was perhaps my American independent of spirit, my directness, what I would like to think is a sense of humour and of fun, and, well, my breezy curiosity about him and everything concerning him...Then, too, he was lonely and perhaps I had been one of the first persons to penetrate his inner loneliness."

Obviously by now it was crystal clear to everyone on the trip-- including Aunt Bessie --that the man was attracted to her. Still, she was a married woman.

Back in London, the summer turned into a crisp fall. Aunt Bessie went home to the U.S. by steamship and by now the Prince was giving her money…for clothes at least. Wallis was beginning to have some power, and her company was coveted. Her phone was ringing. She was also arranging for her friends to stay at the Fort. The papers in the US were filled with stories about her. Wallis had read some and seemed rather proud of herself. In her letters to Aunt Bessie, she actually explained that things were just fine between her and Ernest and told her Aunt to ignore the gossip—there would be no divorce. She and Ernest had had a long talk, she explained, and things would just go on as usual…the three of them being the best of friends.

The best of friends? Wallis had to be lying to herself. Its doubtful Ernest really believed that. Certainly, Aunt Bessie had seen enough to know that things would not be able to go on as usual …at least for long.

By the end of the year, Wallis was enjoying a wonderful respite from the Prince and happily told Aunt Bessie that he was at Sandringham for Christmas. She rested, after buying 250 gifts for the Prince’s servants. She positively glowed remembering her introduction to the King and Queen, at the Prince’s brothers wedding the month prior, and made note of the jealous eyes of the Brits, as she and Ernest were introduced to their Majesties. The Prince had arranged it. (And a little secret for you---Their Majesties were not happy about it.)

The Prince gave Wallis a Cairn puppy that holiday whom they named Mr. Loo. And then it was 1935. In hindsight, we know that 1935 was the most turbulent year of her life, but also the most thrilling. But Wallis had no idea of what was to come.

Winston Churchill said, that the Prince, “Delighted in her company and found in her qualities that were as necessary to his happiness as the air he breathed. Those who knew him well and watched him closely noticed that many little tricks and fidgeting of nervousness fell away from him.” His closest aide in the year to come, Walter Monckton said, “No one will really understand the story of the Kings life…who does not appreciate…the intensity and depth of his devotion to Mrs. Simpson. To him she was the perfect woman. She insisted that he be at his best and do his best at all times, and he regarded her as his inspiration. It is a great mistake to assume that he was merely in love with her in the ordinary physical sense of the term. There was an intellectual companionship, and there is no doubt that his lonely nature found in her a spiritual comradeship. …He felt that he and Mrs. Simpson were made for each other and there was no other honest way of meeting the situation than marrying her.”

Marrying her? Impossible. She was divorced, and he would be the Head of the Church of England. The church didn’t believe in divorce. He could not marry a divorced woman—especially an American one at that. And anyway—even if somehow he was free to marry her—she was already married. Still though, the Prince was thinking…planning…dreaming…

In January, Wallis noticed that Ernest wasn’t as interested in hearing the latest news of the Prince, and at times did not make it home for dinner. If the Prince made a suggestion to visit—say the Dorchester, for a little fun---Ernest would plead an early morning and decline. And when Wallis excitedly told him they were invited skiing with the Prince, he told her he had no interest in going. Wallis did mention though, that Ernest thought she might accompany him on a trip to New York instead. Was Ernest trying in his own way to win his wife back? In her memoirs Wallis was clear that her heart was set on going skiing in Austria. She noted that shortly after she told Ernest she wouldn’t dream of missing the skiing trip, she heard the door to his room slam.

And she went skiing. And she knew she was wrong.

Things got progressively worse. Although Wallis did not admit this to her Aunt, the Prince was really upsetting the apple cart. By now, he tended to overstay his visits and keep Wallis occupied far, far too much. Wallis would make a promise to Ernest that she would be home on a certain day at a certain time, and something that the Prince wanted to do would take precedence over Wallis’s need to get home. I have a book by Michael Bloch, of their intimate correspondence. In one of their first letters to each other that has survived, she lashed out at him:

“David Dear—
I was and still am most terribly upset. You see dear one can’t go through life stepping on other people. I know that you aren’t really selfish or thoughtless of heart but your life has been such that you have been the one considered so that quite naturally you only think of what you want and take it too without the slightest thought of others. One can arrive at the same result in a kinder way. I had a long quiet talk with E. last night and I felt very eanum (their made up for very much or very emotional) at the end. Everything he said was so true. The evening was difficult as you did stay much too late. Doesn’t your love for me reach to the heights of wanting to make things a little easier for me. The lovely things you say to me aren’t of much value unless they are backed up by equal actions…”

By this time, Wallis was struggling to keep control of her life, as it began to unravel. “David” clearly wanted her by now, and knew that Ernest was getting upset. They had invented their own private language and even Wallis admitted that he was saying lovely things. The Prince was used to getting what he wanted. But then again, he had never met the likes of anyone like Wallis…had he?

I think this may run into a three parter.




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