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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

THE GREATEST LOVE STORIES EVER TOLD: The Prince Who Wanted To Be Like Everyone Else ... But Wasn't

Posted by Author R. Ann Siracusa

When I consider "The Greatest Love Stories", I never think of them in terms of a contemporary settings. My instincts and preconceived ideas lead to the conclusion that such stories are myths, legends, ancient history, or fiction.
First, because there are many contemporary love stories – nearly everyone has or knows one -- but we only hear about those involving celebrities. Second, because the more contemporary the event, the more people there are with personal knowledge, who will leak information or write about the truth or a version of the truth. Details and differences of opinion make situations overly complex. Third, given enough time, everyone knows how the story ends.
Case in point is the story of Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson, which is considered by many as one of the greatest contemporary love stories. After all, Prince Edward gave up the throne of England to marry the woman he loved because the monarchy would not accept her as queen.
When I started my research, I expected this love story to have a somewhat happy ending in spite of the many sacrifices made -- but nothing in life is what it seems.
Bessie Wallis Warfield was born in June of 1896. Her father, who came from an affluent and distinguished family, died shortly thereafter, and for the first few years, she and her mother were supported by her father's wealthy bachelor brother, the postmaster of Baltimore. Then, they moved in with her mother's recently-widowed elder sister, until they could get an apartment, and later a house, of their own.
Wallis' uncle paid for her to attend the most expensive girls' school in Maryland, where she was at the top of her class. Although not classically beautiful, she was always immaculately dressed and pushed herself hard to do well. She also loved breaking the rules and shocking people with brash behavior.
In 1916, she married Earl Winfield Spencer, Jr., a U.S. Navy aviator. He turned out to be an abusive drunk, and after several long, unavoidable separations, they divorced in 1927. Her second husband, Ernest Aldrich Simpson, a shipping executive, divorced his first wife and married Wallis in July, 1928, and they moved to England.

        First Wedding                    Second Wedding   

Through a friend, Wallis met Thelma, Lady Furness who was, at the time, the mistress of Edward, Prince of Wales and heir to the English throne. In 1931, Lady Furness introduced Wallis to the prince at a party.    
It was not love at first sight. They exchanged a few polite words, and didn't have anything to do with each other for the rest of the party. Over the next several months, Wallis and her husband ran into Prince Edward at other parties, and eventually he became their friend.
Prince Edward, later King Edward VIII, was born Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David [Whew!] in June of 1894 to the Duke and Duchess of York [the future King George V and Queen Mary], their first child and heir to the throne. He was followed by four brothers [one of whom died at 14] and a sister. 

According to his biographers, he feared his strict father and believed his parents were cold and distant. One biographer says that "as an unloved child, Edward had an overwhelming need to be dominated and to adore."
At the age of 12, he was shipped off to the Naval College at Osborne, then attended Dartmouth. He later wrote that during those years he wanted desperately to be treated like every other boy his age.

Denied a military commission during WWI because of his status as heir to the throne, he argued his case with the Sectary of War. Ultimately, he was commissioned in a position under the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force. Although stationed far from the front, he did witness some of the horrors of war and gained the respect of the common Brit simply because he wanted to be there.
By the age of twenty-three, Edward had the reputation of being a playboy who preferred married women. Mrs. Winifred (Freda) Dudley Ward was his mistress for 16 years. He also had a long term relationship with Viscountess Thelma Furness, the sister of a friend of Wallis Simpson.
In 1931, the prince met Wallis and Ernest Simpson at one of Thelma's parties, but was not particularly impressed. Four months later, they met again at another party. Seven months after that, he was invited to the Simpson's house for dinner. The Prince and the Simpsons became good friends, and they exchanged invitations for two years, until 1934 when Thelma Furness took a trip to the United States.

It's not clear if Thelma asked Wallis to look after the prince while she was gone, or Wallis suggested it. Each said, later, it was the other's idea.
During her absence, Prince Edward invited Wallis and Ernest on a cruise. Ernest had prior commitments, but Wallis accepted. She wasn't alone with him, of course, and even her own Aunt Betsy was among the group. Chaperones or not, that was when their friendship crossed over the line to love. The fling was kept under wraps, but when Thelma Furness returned to England, she had been replaced by Wallis.

According to Ann Seeba, author of "That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor", Wallis Simpson was a flirt and "thought she could control the ardor of the Prince of Wales.

After all, the last thing she [Wallis] wanted was to risk losing her easy-going husband Ernest. And, gosh, Prince Edward could be tiresome, telephoning her at home two or three times a day and dropping by so often that she was actually starting to miss her other friends."
Ernest, himself, considered the affair as a coup and had reaped economic and social rewards, such as being admitted into the Prince's mason's order. He and Wallis both expected Edward to become King soon and knew the affair would have to end.
The royal family abhorred Wallis, particularly Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, Duchess of York and wife of the prince's brother Albert, who moved in the same social circles as Wallis. There are indications that at one time Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was romantically interested in Edward, even that she was in love with him.

It's hard to guess whether or not Wallis understood what the Prince was really like. For years, he suffered from undiagnosed anorexia nervosa — an illness often related to a wish to remain eternally childlike, exemplified by his letters in his teens to his mistress Freda.

Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen ties the Prince's dependence on a mother figure, and some of his other quirks, to typical characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome. Several other people who were close to Prince Edward [such as Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, Lord Wigram, and the Archbishop of Canterbury], believed he was abnormal psychologically and possibly physically. More important, the Royal Family's doctor, Lord Dawson of Penn, believed his moral development had been arrested in his teens.

His fixation on Wallis was more likely his mental condition than true love.
Regardless, Edward became obsessed and showered her with clothes, jewelry, and other expensive gifts. He also expected her to devote all her time to him. Instead of calling it off, she tried, with no luck, to manipulate him to back off a little by taunting him and reducing him to tears in front of others. As the emotional drama escalated, with the royal family and public opinion in the mix, Edward retaliated with emotional blackmail and warned if she left him, he would kill himself.
[Somehow, this isn't sounding like a great love story to me!]
Just to complicate matters, King George V died in January 1936, and Prince Edward became King Edward VIII of England. Rather than becoming bogged down by royal responsibilities, Edward ignored them and continued to court Wallis. His major focus, instead of being on ruling, was on how to make Wallis queen … although she was still married to Ernest and wanted to stay that way.
At one point, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and the Archbishop of Canterbury agreed that marriage between the king and Simpson could not be allowed but, eventually, negotiated an agreement with Ernest to divorce Wallis. [That doesn't make a lot of sense, but there were a zillion details involved.]
Edward was King of England for 326 days. During this time, he threatened to abdicate unless Wallis could be queen. Wallis begged him not to abdicate and to just let her go. According to biographers, she had no desire to be queen and wanted Ernest back.
The whole thing became an international scandal. Everyone crucified Wallis and called her every ugly name in the book. It was clear the royal family, the public, and the Church of England would never allow Wallis Simpson, a woman divorced twice with both ex-husbands still living, to become queen. For her protection, Edward sent her to France.
After one year, Edward VIII abdicated, giving up not only the crown but his privileges as a member of the royal family. He was exiled from England. He married Wallis Simpson in France on June 3, 1937, in a subdued ceremony which was not attended by anyone in the royal family.

Shouldn't a Great Love Story either end in tragedy [as did most great love stories in myths, legends, and ancient history] or Happily Ever After?
Yeah, well, that's the problem with contemporary stories. TMI. Like I said, we know how the story ended.
In spite of being exiled from England, Prince Edward was granted the title Duke of Windsor by his brother, King George VI, but the Duchy and title dissolved upon Edward's death in 1972.
After Wallis and Ernest divorced in 1937, Wallis continued to correspond with him, even on her honeymoon. It was clear he had been the love of her life, and she regretted losing him.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor remained married for the rest of their lives [thirty-six years], but whether or not it was a happy marriage is highly debatable.
They lived in France and went through the motions, and everyone thought it was an HEA. They traveled some and commuted between France and New York, entertaining in both locations and participating in charitable events. During World War II Edward was appointed as governor of the Bahamas, which Wallis considered a punishment.
Biographer Seeba paints a dreary picture of the last thirty years of their marriage. "Their lives were defined by each other, the past, and aesthetics: decorating, shopping, holding formal dinners, being noticed by the newspapers. They were bitter toward the royal family, and Wallis was eternally frustrated that she no longer held the interest of people at high levels of society, government, or the arts."

“Nothing else in his [Prince Edward's] life gave him any sense of achievement other than his marriage to Wallis,” Sebba writes. “For her, the slavish devotion was at times claustrophobic, and she was not afraid to show it. But love is impossible to define and in their case especially so."

Nonetheless, she writes, "Few who knew them well described what they shared as love."



Melissa Keir said...

It's sad that they weren't happy. I can see a different picture of their relationship now. Sometimes we don't really know what we want and the outside world has their own perspectives which can change how a relationship is seen.

Judy Baker said...

I felt bad for Willis to have to live with a man for 32 years that smothered her with such possessive love, yet she must have loved him enough to stay with him, but of course during that time period, things were different for women. I enjoyed your article.

jean hart stewart said...

I was completely fascinated by this. When I was a real estate agent I had a client who knew them both. He said she disliked David and resented being forced to marry him. She was stride ahead of him at times, snapping her fingers and saying "Come along, little man." At least that was the story my client told to me. Thank the Lord I don't move in those circles!!!!!

R. Ann Siracusa said...

Jean, the bio said she called him "little man" and had before they got involved. It's strange because everyone thinks of it as such a compelling love story. I was a little disappointed to realize that it wasn't. I think I'll look at a fictional love story next. At least those probably have HEA.

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