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
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
… and he almost did.
Honi soit qui mal y pense.