Wednesday, February 1, 2012

‘Without the help and support of the woman I love.” Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson, love and scandal.

by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. In 1936 the world was transfixed by a story so big, so engrossing, so incredible that only the Second Coming could have topped it. It was the story of Edward VIII, King of England, Emperor of India… and a twice- married American lady from Baltimore, Maryland — Mrs. Simpson. It was billed as history’s greatest love affair… but, as this article unfolds… you may very well draw a very different conclusion.
But let’s start by playing the tune I’ve selected to accompany this article…. “Exactly Like You”. Go to any search engine to find this number. It was written in 1930 by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields. I swear by the rendition by Louis Armstrong. You won’t be able to get it out of your head; kind of like the king’s catastrophic obsession with his Wallis… for of all the women in the world who wanted him, he had to have her, the very worst choice imaginable.. to the consternation and disgust of the empire on which the sun never set.
The most important boy in the world.
When your great grandmother is Queen Victoria, ruler of half the world; when your grandfather is King Edward VII, called the Uncle of Europe, because his relations ruled over virtually everything; when your father is King George V and your mother is Queen Mary… your birth, life, and every single breath you take is an event… important, eagerly awaited, commented upon, chronicled. In short, it is life in the grandest fish bowl on Earth; for in return for unimaginable wealth, celestial status, and the adoration and veneration of untold millions… you give up any semblance of a personal life… any semblance of privacy. You belong not to yourself… but to your subjects, the people of England and of all the Dominions beyond the seas…
This was Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, born in 1894, called David by his family and Your Royal Highness by everyone else. The world envied him… but his life was anything but enviable… his parents saw to that.
George (1865–1936) & Mary (1867-1953).
The argument for monarchy goes like this: in a turbulent, uncertain, unpredictable and therefore alarming world, a sovereign is eternal, stable, stalwart, an institution you can trust to be here tomorrow, because it was here yesterday and the day before that. A sovereign rises above the trivia of today, able to take the long view, high above the fray and the little concerns of little men. Having everything, wanting nothing, monarchs can be trusted with the concerns of the nation they exist to improve, to serve, to uplift and inspire.
This is all very well…. but where do you find such larger than life paragons? Certainly not in the lives of George and Mary, people frightened by their unceasing responsibilities and the constant burden of having to appear just so to a world which evaluated, and minutely too, every move they made, every action, every decision.
Most assuredly neither George nor Mary were such people… and therefore like so many people fearful of making a mistake (and being roundly criticized) they embraced rigid severity… and so sought to cover up their many inadequacies as people by a unceasingly stern and unapproachable demeanor. It looked good on ceremonial occasions… for then they were regal indeed… but life lived this way was tormenting to all concerned… especially for the two young princes Edward and Albert, future Edward VIII and George VI.
They were boys who needed love, tender care, affection… but were ignored by their colder than ice mother for whom a peck on the cheek was excessive… and constantly admonished by their father, a man who became king only because his elder brother died young thereby bequeathing the empire and his expected wife, Mary of Teck, to his younger brother Georgie, a man who rose far above his abilities, a man who knew nothing about human relations and thought that communication was nothing more than the business of barking orders and having them instantly complied with.
In such a world how could the little princes of Windsor emerge as anything other than flawed, wanting… and rebellious.
Prince of change.
All children go through a rebellious stage where “no!” is their favorite word. Do you want this? No! Do you want that? No! How about something else? No, again! But in the fullness of time even the most argumentative three year old comes out of this phase and starts growing up. But David of Windsor never did. Whatever was tried, true, traditional, standard… he wanted nothing to do with, wanted to change it, not slowly and unobtrusively but now in the most jarring and thoughtless of ways. He wanted what he wanted, when he wanted it… and as Prince of Wales from 1910… he was in a position to get it, especially as he came to understand how much the world loved and admired him.
Wobbly monarchy, high-flying adored prince.
World War I saw the demise of the great imperial dynasties of Europe, the Habsburgs of Austria, the Hohenzollerns of Germany, the Romanovs of Russia… all swept away. The only major dynasty left was in England, and it was headed by the uninspiring, unimaginative, fretful George V who was majesty in nothing but name. The dynasty needed youth… glamor… connection to the restive peoples of the empire. And for this role there was only one man available… David, now Prince of Wales… a man who shed glamor and allure on the Roaring Twenties. His world tours (from 1919) made him a world celebrity… and lonely.
He tried women, he tried booze, he tried drugs… but because he could have everything, nothing made him happy. Nothing that is except the thrills and freedoms of the Great Republic, particularly its greatest city, New York. Only there were there sufficient dissipations and indiscretions. Besides, just stepping foot in America enraged both his parents, and that made these trips delicious.
Then he met Wallis Warfield Simpson, a woman with a sordid past and two living husbands… a past that could outrage every convention and agitate the world he was destined to rule… a world that bored and annoyed him. Wallis offered him what he truly craved: submission for that was her secret… she gave the man everyone kow-towed to the gift of abasement…. the power to get the man to whom all knelt to kneel to her….
She, of course, despised him, but using him as he wanted her to use him would make her a world figure, maybe even Queen-Empress. She was ill-advised on this point, and so overplayed her cards. Instead of a boyish sovereign over whom she could rule, she got after his abdication in 1936 a semblance of a man whom she systematically and publicly humiliated for the rest of his life. He cried… he sobbed… he adored. It was the perfect relationship, exactly what he wanted. And, after all, isn’t that what love is for?
For as Louis Armstrong sings,
“I know why I’ve waited Know why I’ve been blue I’ve been waiting each day For someone exactly like you… You make me feel so grand I wanna give this world to you…”
… and he almost did.
Honi soit qui mal y pense.

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