Wallis on Film: The Crown, Part One

As fans of The Crown eagerly await the release of the fourth season of Netflix’s hugely successful royal drama, we have a perfect opportunity for another installment of Wallis on Film. For those who haven’t yet seen the series, The Crown is a lavish portrayal of the life of Queen Elizabeth II and takes in some of the most important events of her reign. From her marriage in 1947 to her coronation in 1953 (and beyond), the show will eventually depict six decades of the monarch’s life and covers not only the major historical events she has witnessed but the private relationships she has enjoyed with family and friends. Written by Peter Morgan (The Queen, The Audience), the series is based on accounts of life from behind the palace curtains but naturally much of the dialogue and interaction between the characters has been invented.

The Windsors watch the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in Season One of The Crown.

In casting The Crown, Peter Morgan decided not to restrict himself to one company of actors who would be aged through the use of makeup. For the first two seasons, the Queen was portrayed by Claire Foy with Matt Smith as the Duke of Edinburgh and Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret. For seasons three and four these roles were taken by Olivia Coleman, Tobias Menzies and Helena Bonham-Carter. Another cast change was announced recently for the fifth and sixth seasons with Imelda Staunton, Jonathan Pryce and Lesley Manville taking on the final incarnations of the royal trio. Because of this approach to casting, we have not one but two portrayals of the Duchess of Windsor to enjoy in The Crown. In part one of this installment of Wallis on Film, we’ll look at Wallis as portrayed by the actress Lia Williams in seasons one and two.

Alex Jennings and Lia Williams.
Alex Jennings as the Duke & Lia Williams as the Duchess.

From the outset, The Crown has become renowned for its attention to detail and before we explore the character of Wallis in the first season, it is worth mentioning the brilliance of the hair, makeup and wardrobe team who transformed Lia Williams into the Duchess of Windsor. She is beautifully attired in costumes which could well be the originals created for Wallis by Schiaparelli or Mainbocher, the famous centre-parted Snow White hairstyle is expertly recreated and the jewels just as glittering as those from the Duchess’ own collection. This Wallis is very much the Wallis we are most used to seeing on the pages of Vogue magazine from the 1940s and the Duke of Windsor (played by Alex Jennings) is equally picture-perfect. The slicked back grey hair and the bold prints cut from even bolder fabric are all neatly set into place with the pugs snuffling at his feet for good measure. Jennings and Williams give us the Windsors as we demand to see them; dripping with sartorial splendour.

This image of the Windsors is offered in stark contrast to the tweedy frugal world of the dutiful King George VI and his rather dowdy wife. The message from Morgan is clear; the Windsors represent a life of gaudy excess, the King and Queen (and by extension, their daughters) live a life of practical sensibility. The divide is further emphasized as the series goes on. With the death of King George VI, the Royal Family are plunged into shock and painful mourning for a man they clearly adored. Meanwhile, the Duke of Windsor is only concerned with his allowance on which he depends to fund his life of meaningless pleasure and endless fun. This is rather unfair because despite their differences and the clashes they endured, especially after the events of 1936, the Duke of Windsor had a great deal of affection for his brother. This is hinted at but never allowed to dominate. It is important that we see the Duke not as a member of the Royal Family with the same sense of loss but as an outsider driven by greed and resentment. He is petty and vindictive, his wife equally cunning and deceitful.

The Duchess as portrayed by Lia Williams in Season One of Netflix’s The Crown.

However, Wallis is very much a specter at the feast in the first season of The Crown. She is a springboard for David’s story rather than an integral part of it. There is no better example of this than the first time we see Wallis on screen but curiously, this is within the setting of a totally re-imagined event (and therefore, a totally inaccurate one too). It is the day of the Abdication and the former King Edward VIII is preparing to give a radio address to his former subjects to explain his decision, something his mother Queen Mary is deeply opposed to. With perfect imperiousness (and impeccably brought to life by Dame Eileen Atkins), Queen Mary begs the former King not to make the situation worse; “Nobody wants to hear from a private individual”. David looks at his speech and then to the lady to his left; Wallis. But on 10th December 1936, Wallis was nowhere near Fort Belvedere. She had left England for France a week earlier.

It is hard to work out what Morgan hoped to convey by making this alteration to history. Queen Mary only met Wallis once, and only then very briefly, at the wedding celebrations for the Duke and Duchess of Kent in 1934. After this time, the King and Queen were informed of the seriousness of the attachment their son and heir had formed with Mrs Simpson and refused to allow her into the royal presence. Further confusion is caused by the radio address made by the former King which actually came on the 11th December, a day after he had signed the Instrument of Abdication in the presence of his brothers. Wallis certainly had no part in the writing of the speech as suggested, though she did urge David to make one final appeal to his people via radio before his abdication.

But The Crown is a drama series inspired by real events and so discrepancies like this are not uncommon. They range from quite big inaccuracies such as these to smaller, pretty inconsequential errors such as depicting the Duchess of Windsor smoking. Whilst it doesn’t detract from the plot in any way and would only really irritate nit-pickers (like myself!), Wallis actually abhorred smoking because she disliked the mess and smell that came with it. She had smoked as a rebellious schoolgirl back in Maryland but by 1936 she had taken against the vice and often complained (though somewhat playfully) about the Duke’s 60-a-day habit.

Whilst most of the dialogue is invented by the writers of The Crown, one scene includes a letter written by the Duke of Windsor to his wife in 1952 following the death of King George VI. It is presented almost verbatim, full of resentment and bitterness towards the Royal Family and offered as proof of the Duke’s calculating personality. This letter was never intended for public consumption (it made it’s way to the public domain via Maître Blum and Michael Bloch) but it would be disingenuous to suggest that it was an anomaly, neither can one pretend that Wallis would not have approved of David’s approach to “take revenge” and “drain the royal coffers”. But the motive for this is never really explained and I feel this is a missed opportunity.  

The Duke seeks advice from an old friend; Winston Churchill.

Long before he met Wallis, David had written indiscreet letters to friends and former lovers such as Freda Dudley Ward full of harsh and spiteful comments about his parents and siblings. The somewhat unpleasant nicknames and the unforgiving judgements about his relations were not the result of his relationship with Wallis, rather they were part and parcel of the Duke’s personality and established behaviour. His motivation may well have been revenge against his family for the slight he considered they had upheld against his beloved wife but from Wallis’ point of view, the response to such a letter would have been far more complex. Wallis’ greatest fear in life was that the Palace would eventually cut off the Windsors’ allowance and force them to live in poverty as penance for their great sin. As someone who had a terrible and longstanding fear of public humiliation and deprivation, Wallis would absolutely have considered financial security to be her biggest concern in 1952. Whilst this may seem unfeeling, it is also worth bearing in mind that Wallis never had a relationship with her brother-in-law beyond a few afternoons spent together at Fort Belvedere before 1936.

This is the best example of why the Wallis in season one falls a little flat. She is devoid of any complexity or even personality (which the Duchess had in abundance) and is essentially a one-dimensional villainess. Fortunately, the second season finally offers Wallis a voice and Lia Williams is given a chance to really explore her character a little more. For the first time, we see the Windsors in relation to each other rather than in relation to the Royal Family and this gives some brilliantly funny scenes set at Le Bois which are clearly drawn from the memories of those who were lucky enough to be entertained by the Windsors in Paris in the 1950s. The image of the Duchess trying on a pirate costume for a fancy-dress ball is deliciously camp and the sight of a delighted Wallis playing cards with her friends offers a glimpse of Wallis that everybody who met her speaks of with fondness; her sense of fun.

The Windsors in fancy dress for a party at Le Bois.

But all is not well for the Windsors. The Duke has become bored with his lifestyle and tensions between the couple are on the rise. There is a particularly brusque exchange between them during their costume party scene in which David bemoans his lack of purpose in life; “A life of pleasure really does have its limits”. Wallis knocks back her champagne and retorts; “Try a life spent with you”. Even close friends of the Windsors such as Aline, Countess of Romanones spoke of moments such as these becoming more regular at this time. The Duke was becoming not only more petulant and sullen but more obsessive than he had ever been before. Wallis could not even have her hair styled at a salon without David insisting on accompanying her and when she did try to get a few days away with her girlfriends outside of Paris, David would inevitably arrive soon after consumed by longing for her.

Morgan suggests that the reason David’s petitions for an official post were rejected can be found in a series of top-secret documents known as the Marburg Files. This is something that I want to explore in more detail in a future post but as with much of The Crown’s more controversial storylines or themes, much of the script is based on speculation rather than fact. Our last view of Alex Jennings and Lia Williams in their roles as the Windsors comes at a card game set in a gloomy atmosphere of crushing defeat. But when contrasted with the somewhat ridiculous birthday party scene in which the Windsors give a celebration complete with cake and balloons for their pug Trooper, there is something rather poignant to be found amid the inaccuracies.

Is the Wallis of Season One and Two of The Crown the Wallis we recognise from other sources or depictions? Well, yes and no. The characterisation is a little sporadic and Wallis goes from decorous prop to key player and then fades into the background again. Lia Williams gives a wonderful performance; the Duchess of Windsor aesthetic is magically recreated with all the splendour Wallis surrounded herself with. But this is a Wallis without wit and without personality, both of which were very much her calling card. It feels that an opportunity was missed here and it makes one wonder why she was included at all when so much of her story was told on her behalf by other characters. Let us hope that Duchess in Season Three will capture a little bit more of what was so uniquely Wallis.

The Windsor Archive: The Day the Queen said Goodbye

In 1972, Britain was about to embark on a course that continues to dominate it’s political landscape. The Conservative government, led by Prime Minister Edward Heath, was about to pass the European Communities Act which would make legal provision for the UK’s accession to the European Economic Community. The ‘Special Relationship’ between the USA and Britain had significantly soured with Heath (and his predecessor, Harold Wilson) preferring to look to Europe rather than Washington. Many European politicians doubted the sincerity or longevity of this new approach in foreign policy and leaders such as President Georges Pompidou required a little more convincing. Heath knew exactly what to do. He dispatched the UK’s secret weapon; the Queen. The Queen would pay a state visit to France in May 1972 to mark the start of a new chapter. But for the Queen personally, the visit brought to a close quite another story.

The Windsors’ Villa in Paris.

By 1972, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor had lived at their sumptous villa in the Bois de Boulogne, since 1952. For 20 years, Le Bois had served as the official residence of a former King Emperor who lived in such great style that many remarked Le Bois made Clarence House look like a youth hostel by comparison. The Duchess had been determined that nobody should look down on her husband and had sworn a promise that no journalist would ever be able to write that he had “fallen from grace”. As a result, Le Bois was one of the finest private homes in Paris. Filled with antique furniture and expensive silks and draperies, everything the Windsors owned was chosen to make a statement. When European nobility or American politicians came to visit Le Bois, they were left in no doubt that here lived a couple of great taste and style.

But it was not a cold house. Indeed, the parties the Windsors gave at Le Bois were often raucous by the standards of the day. Carpets would be rolled back to allow the guests to dance well into the small hours of the morning and even the most formal of dinner parties had it’s moments of warmth and humour set against a backdrop of sheer luxury. Diana Mosley once recalled being served Southern Fried Chicken on Meissen dinner plates. Seeing her surprise, the Duchess remarked; “It’s the Duke’s favourite”. It was accompanied by ice cold champagne. Another frequent visitor to Le Bois was Aline, Countess of Romanones. Born Aline Griffith in New York in 1923, she married Luis, Count of Quintanilla in 1947. The following year, Aline and Luis were invited to a party at the Waldorf Astoria in New York hosted by Elsa Maxwell. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were also in attendance and so a friendship that would span almost 40 years began.

Aline, Countess de Romanones with Jackie Kennedy and the Duchess of Alba in Seville, 1966.

In 1986 following the Duchess of Windsor’s death, Aline de Romanones carried out one final request for her friend. She wrote an article comprised of memories Wallis had shared with her for Vanity Fair magazine and which, Aline insisted, Wallis had wished to be published to “help set the record straight”. The article is a fascinating insight into Aline’s friendship with the Duchess of Windsor but it also gives a rare glimpse into the final days of the Duke. By 1972, he had been unwell for almost 15 years. First there was a detached retina which failed to improve despite frequent surgeries and left him partially blind. Secondly, he suffered an aortic aneurysm which nearly killed him. The Duchess had long fought a daily battle to persuade her husband to eat enough but now, he couldn’t eat at all. He complained of constant sore throats and chest pains but despite visiting various doctors the world over, a diagnosis of throat cancer came all too late for the Duke to stand any real chance of recovery. He was in his final days.

The Duke’s illness was not kept secret from the Royal Family, nor from the press. Initially, the Palace had simply sent “get well soon” messages to the Duke in the name of the Queen but now the press began to ask a very obvious question: if the Queen was to be in Paris, why could she not afford her uncle one hour of her time in the last weeks of his life? Whether prompted by this narrative or whether she had planned to do so all along, the Duchess of Windsor received word from the Queen’s Private Secretary that Her Majesty hoped to visit Le Bois for an hour following a visit to the races at Longchamps on the 18th May 1972. The Duchess immediately informed the Duke who brightened significantly at the prospect. As Wallis told Aline;

“He had no strength at all. But when he heard his niece was in Paris and she was coming to visit him, he was very pleased. He wanted to receive her in the large salon downstairs but the doctor said, ‘Your Royal Highness must remain in bed’.

‘I will certainly not receive Her Majesty that way – no, no, no'”

The Windsors prepared to stage their most important performance. The Duchess flew in her hairdresser, Alexandre, who had been staying in New York whilst Givenchy was summoned to provide a new dress for the great occasion. With “the grudge-book” firmly in hand (a small gold notebook Wallis used to make notes on the performance of her staff), the Duchess examined every room in Le Bois making copious lists of what was to be done before the royal party arrived. As was the custom in grand English country houses in the 1930s, the staff would line up on the gravel drive outside Le Bois to meet the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales. They would be served tea in the Salon by the Duchess before being taken upstairs to see the Duke. The Duke’s valet helped him select a suit and tie and the atmosphere at Le Bois was one of great excitement, even though it was tinged at the edges with sadness.

The Salon in which the Duchess hosted the Queen.

The day before the Queen’s arrival however, the Duke suffered another hemorrhage. The Duchess, by now already displaying symptoms of the dementia that would plague her later years, was thrown into confusion and dread. The doctors demanded the Duke cancel the visit and go into hospital. The Duke refused. Pumped full of steroids and placed on a drip, the Duke dressed in his best and resolved that he would receive his niece, even if it meant dying in his armchair. He was heavily made up and instructed not to move by his doctors. The Duchess lined up the servants outside Le Bois and waited for the royal party to arrive. As the Queen’s car drew up to Le Bois, the Duchess did her best to fix a smile and curtsied to her guests. The headlines that morning had been full of old dramas. Speculation had begun that the Queen was about to bestow the HRH on Wallis as a final gesture of forgiveness, a particularly sore point for the Duke. The Palace denied this outright and issued a statement that no such title would ever be given to the Duchess of Windsor.

The Duchess greets the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Le Bois.

When the Queen entered Le Bois, she must have been struck by it’s palatial decor. Stepping into the Salon where the Duchess was to serve tea, she was seated on a silver settee above which hung an imposing portrait of the woman she had been encouraged to despise. That woman now sat before her, older, frailer and clearly struggling with the situation. The Duchess locked the Queen, the Duke and the Prince of Wales in conversation but nobody dared mention the former King who remained upstairs. The Queen was uncomfortable and the meeting made all the more awkward by the Windsors’ small army of pugs who yapped and jumped up at the royal guests. “Aunt Wallis” continued to talk until the Queen asked if her uncle was ready to receive her. Wallis led the Queen upstairs to the Duke’s room.

Wallis later said that she found the Queen to be distracted and without warmth. As she told Aline; “I shouldn’t complain. She was just as cold to him. I escorted her upstairs. Her expression was so hard when she entered the room”. The Queen found the Duke dressed in a grey, blue and beige check suit with a bright pink tie with a smile on his face. “As she entered, he began struggling to get to his feet, trying to stand in her presence. I don’t know how he managed to do it but he got himself up, though only for a second. His legs would not support him and he fell. The Queen’s face showed no compassion, no appreciation for his efforts, his respect”. Wallis maintained that the Queen had never wished to visit Le Bois, rather she had done so to save face when the press began to ask inconvenient questions. Whatever Her Majesty’s motivation, the rest of the meeting remains private. The Duchess of Windsor left and asked the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales if they might like to walk in the grounds of the villa. But 15 minutes later, the Duke’s valet was at Wallis’ side. The Queen was ready to leave.

The scene re-imagined for The Crown with Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II and Sir Derek Jacobi as the Duke of Windsor.

The final meeting between the Queen and the Duke of Windsor has been the subject of speculation for many years. Most recently, it was re-imagined for the Netflix series The Crown. Some suggest that the Duke asked the Queen for forgiveness. Others suggest that the Queen promised him she would ensure the Duchess was well cared for. Whatever the truth, it is clear that the Duke and Duchess were left disappointed. “When [the Queen] had gone, David was left deflated”, she told Aline, “Not at all as he had been before she arrived. He understood then that not even death would change anything”. The lasting image of the Queen’s only visit to Le Bois is of the Duchess curtsying to the Queen as she climbs into her car to leave. The reporters lingered just a few moments longer, the Duchess waving goodbye until the car disappeared out of sight.

Just ten days later, the Duke of Windsor died at the age of 77. Wallis telephoned Aline and assured her that she was well and that the Palace had stepped in to help her prepare for the funeral. The Queen invited the Duchess to stay at Buckingham Palace and stood beside her as the Duke’s coffin was lowered into his grave at the Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore. Diana Mosley suggests that the Queen broke down. The next day, Wallis returned to Paris. The only communication between the two women thereafter was conducted through letters, mostly concerning arrangements for the Duchess’ funeral and the deposit of certain papers which the Duke had directed should be held by the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle. The Duchess of Windsor’s health declined and she saw fewer friends as the grip of her laywer, Suzanne Blum, grew ever more vice-like.

Wallis bids the Queen farewell as she leaves Le Bois.

But she did continue to see Aline. At one of their last meetings, Wallis’ health had seriously declined and she no longer recognised her friend. Her hair grey, her nails unpolished, her Givenchy replaced by a simple dressing gown, she sat by the window looking out into the grounds of Le Bois. “Look at the way the sun is lighting the trees”, she said, “You can see so many different colours. Tell David to come in. He wouldn’t want to miss this”. How aware the Queen was of the Duchess’ condition remains open to debate but when she died in 1986, Wallis’ body was flown to England so that she could be buried next to the Duke. She was not mentioned by name during the funeral service at St George’s Chapel and, as with the Duke of Windsor in 1972, the Queen Mother remained behind leaving the Queen to attend the burial. We may never know what really happened in May 1972 when the Queen came to Le Bois but though many of us still remain fascinated by the Windsors, it seems fair to say that for Her Majesty the Queen, that chapter in British history was closed that day.

Note: With sincere thanks to Janie for sending me Aline de Romanones’ Vanity Fair article from which the quotes in this blog post are taken.

The Windsor Style: Wallis and the Lobster

Nearly 34 years after her death, the Duchess of Windsor continues to be celebrated for her sartorial style. Indeed, just this week British Vogue featured a catalogue of her most iconic looks. Wallis has become synonymous with haute couture and fashion houses such as Givenchy and Mainbocher still proudly cite her as a former client. What is perhaps not widely known is that the Duchess of Windsor was as much a part of the design process as the couturiers she favoured. Indeed, she disliked Chanel because Coco declined to change her creations to suit the Duchess’ ideas. Wallis learned early that fashion was an important calling card and she refused to compromise when it came to her style.

In her memoir, The Heart Has It’s Reasons, Wallis remembered; “According to my ever truthful aunt, I am supposed to have persuaded my mother, after a foot stamping scene, to substitute for the blue sash she wanted me to wear, with a red one”. Aunt Bessie told Wallis; “You told your mother you wanted a red sash so the boys would notice you”. This was not merely an amusing anecdote from Wallis’ childhood, it was a key part of her attitude to success. She once said, “I’m not a beautiful woman. I’m nothing to look at, so the only thing I can do is dress better than anyone else”

To make this a reality, Wallis learned early the importance of a signature style. In her youth, money was in short supply but the little she had was used to commission local dressmakers in Baltimore who worked from Wallis’ own designs for the fashions she craved but could not afford. She was an early devotee of costume jewellery and loved nature motifs with fruit, flowers, birds and even fish appearing throughout her expanding collection. Wallis liked to tell stories with her gowns and accessories but she was also strict about her silhouette. Fashion designers could often be frustrated when the Duchess commissioned a garment. At one fitting, Mainbocher protested that the cut of a skirt was so small around the waist that to cut it any smaller would mean Wallis could not sit down. “Then I won’t sit down in it”, Wallis retorted. Diana Vreeland testified to Wallis’ determination when it came to design; “She knew exactly what she wanted”

Wallis in another Schiaparelli design from the summer of 1937.

In 1937, the Windsors were planning their longed for wedding at the Chateau de Candé in France. The Duchess knew that her reputation was in tatters and as she had predicted during the Abdication Crisis, she had become the most hated woman in the world. She knew that she would have to change the public perception of her and so assembled a team of iconic creatives to help launch a very different Wallis Warfield Simpson to the public. She arranged a photoshoot to feature in Vogue magazine before the wedding in June. Cecil Beaton had been engaged to take the official wedding portraits of the Windsors but agreed to photograph the soon-to-be Duchess for the pre-wedding feature. Beaton must have imagined Wallis to appear as she had done so previously in his work; perfectly coiffed, wearing a beautiful modern gown in a lavish setting. But Wallis had other ideas.

By 1937, Wallis had built a friendship with the Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli. Schiaparelli had a reputation for bold and exciting designs which were infused with eccentric humour. In 1936, one of her most popular creations was a pair of black suede gloves with sparkling red velvet fingernails. In 1938, she created a necklace made of clear plastic festooned with plastic insects in pinks, greens, yellows and blues. Her fame was secured in 1934 when she was featured on the front cover of Time magazine (just two years before Time declared Wallis it’s ‘Woman of the Year’) and so it was only natural that the two women would come together to produce a truly memorable fashion moment.

Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dalí.

Schiaparelli lived to shock. Indeed, her favourite colour was dubbed ‘Shocking Pink’ and her 1954 memoir carried the unapologetic title “A Shocking Life”. Wallis had just shocked the world and against the advice of those London high society pals who had not yet dropped the Windsors, she had no intention of changing her style to win hearts. If people were to change their perceptions of Wallis, they would do so because of her style, not in spite of it.

By 1937, Elsa Schiaparelli had begun her all important association with the Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dalí. His iconic “Lobster Telephone” was created in 1936 and those who found themselves confused by Dalí’s crustacean fascination can’t have been any more enlightened when he offered the explanation; “I do not understand why, when I ask for a grilled lobster in a restaurant, I am never served a cooked telephone; I do not understand why champagne is always chilled and why on the other hand telephones, which are habitually so frightfully warm and disagreeably sticky to the touch, are not also put in silver buckets with crushed ice around them”

Dalí’s famous Lobster Telephone.

Dalí and Schiaparelli had first collaborated in a newspaper print in 1935 and since then had been taking inspiration from each other’s avant-garde ideas. When Schiaparelli invited Dalí to offer his ideas for a stand-out piece for Wallis Warfield Simpson, the Lobster Telephone was still fresh in everybody’s minds and so it came as no great surprise that the Divine Dalí suggested a “Lobster Dress”. There is no way of knowing what Wallis’ first reaction to this proposal was but clearly she approved of the idea as Schiaparelli was quickly commissioned to begin work on the gown. The colour palette was to be bridal ivory with “shocking” salmon pink. The dress would be cut in the silhouette Wallis always favoured but with one unusual addition – a hand painted orange-pink lobster.

The Lobster Dress by Schiaparelli and Dali, 1937.

Though Wallis and Elsa were confident in their choice of design, nobody had thought to ask Dalí where the lobster would feature on the gown itself. Neither Elsa nor Wallis saw the gown as it was being painted by Dalí and it was only when it was delivered to the Candé that the two women got their first glimpse of the finished garment. If “shocking” had been the objective, Dalí had succeeded. The lobster had been painted on the front of the silk tulle gown as planned but it’s placement was more daring that perhaps Wallis had envisaged. It began just below her hip bone with the tail of the lobster covering the most delicate area of her anatomy. It is unlikely that Dalí had enlightened Wallis as to his theory that the lobster was a powerful sexual symbol which he believed expressed sexual desires and fantasies.

Beaton took the photographs and the dress was packed away, never to be worn again. When Vogue received the images, they could hardly believe their eyes. What was intended to be a two page feature now became a seven page spread. Though printed in black and white, the dress lost none of it’s shock value and photographs of Wallis and the lobster appeared in newspapers and magazines across the world. If the intention had been for the world to rethink their idea of the would-be Duchess, the project had been a total failure. They were hardly the pre-wedding photographs one would expect from the fiancée of a royal duke and Beaton was not amused. He had seen his role in the Windsor story as focusing the public’s mind on the romance of the situation. In his usual flamboyant style, he wished to present a fairy tale image of a King who had laid down his crown for the woman he loved. He had not bargained for Dalí’s lobster.

Wallis appears in Vogue 1937, photographed by Cecil Beaton and dressed by Elsa Schiaparelli – with a helping hand from Dalí.

One might think that this would mark the end of the Duchess of Windsor’s association with Schiaparelli (and with Dalí) and though we do not know exactly what Wallis felt about the lobster dress, we can assume that she took it all in good humour. Schiaparelli was commission to design Wallis’ summer wardrobe for 1937 (including the famous rococo scroll work jacket and skirt she wore for another set of Beaton images that year) and the two women built on their friendship for the next 40 years. Though Elsa closed down her couture business in 1951 and her fashion house in 1954, Wallis remained a dedicated client until the very end. Though she disliked Chanel’s dogged refusal to incorporate her own ideas, Wallis also knew of Coco and Elsa’s great rivalry and even after the fashion house closed, Wallis refused to buy from Chanel for fear of upsetting Elsa.

The Windsors in Venice taking lunch with the two Elsas; far left Elsa Maxwell and seated between the Duke and Duchess, Elsa Schiaparelli (pictured just behind an ice bucket!)

But what about the man behind the lobster? Wallis’ friendship with Dalí is perhaps as surreal as the man himself. The Windsors loved to holiday in Spain and whenever they did, they invariably spent time with the Surrealist. Dalí was a guest at their home in Le Bois and the Windsors saw him frequently in New York. Wallis even joined him as a judge in the Pini di San Miniato Scholarship Award Competition at the Parsons School of Design in 1961. Though Wallis never felt tempted to purchase any of his work to decorate her villa, she did in fact own a Dalí. In 1958, the Duchess and Dalí took lunch together at the St Regis Hotel in New York where Dalí lived every winter. As they ate, Dalí sketched a knight on a horse for Wallis. He signed it; ‘Affectueusement, Dalí’. The sketch was later given by the Duchess to her butler, Alan Fisher and in 2013, it joined other items in an auction at Hanson’s. The Dalí sold for $4,600.

The Duchess is photographed with Dali in 1961.

But there was a Dalí influence in another unusual photoshoot for Wallis that is worthy of note. In 1956, the Windsors “sat” for the Latvian photographer Philippe Halsman. Halsman had a 37 year long collaboration with Dalí which included a 1954 coffee table book comprised of 36 different images of Salvador’s famous twirled moustache. Halsman was experimenting with a new style of portrait which he dubbed ‘jumpology’. Invented during a photoshoot with Groucho Marx and Bob Hope (a favourite of the Duchess), Halsman asked his subjects to jump, capturing them in mid-air. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were only too happy to oblige, slipping off their shoes and taking a leap for jumpology.  

Wallis jumps for Halsman, 1956.

As with many of Wallis’ iconic looks, the lobster dress has been given new life in the modern age. In 2012, Dame Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue, asked Prada to recreate a version of the Schiaparelli/Dalí creation for her to wear at the Met Gala. In Spring 2017, Bertrand Guyon, the creative director of the restored House of Schiaparelli celebrated the gown’s 80th birthday by including it in his new collection. But what of the original lobster dress?

The modern take on the Lobster Dress.
Left: Dame Anna Wintour in a Prada re-imagining of the Lobster Dress. Right: 2017, the 80th birthday recreation by the House of Schiaparelli.

Following it’s infamous outing in 1937, Wallis gave the dress back to Elsa. Schiaparelli kept it until 1969 when she donated it to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Though not on public display, the lobster photographs are some of the most commonly reproduced images of the Duchess of Windsor and still appear in fashion magazines as an example of her exquisite, sometimes very eccentric, wardrobe.  

The Windsor Archive: Life with the Duke

In 1945, the Windsors found themselves awaiting word from the British government that their time in the Bahamas had officially come to an end. The Duke had been appointed Governor of the Bahamas in 1940, the one and only time in his post-abdication life that his family sanctioned any kind of official post for him. There had even been a role for the Duchess to play as President of the Bahamas Red Cross, a post always offered by courtesy to the wife of the Governor. Wallis decided that the position should be far more than an honorary title or a pretty uniform. She established a Red Cross canteen in Nassau working tirelessly to provide good food and entertainment for troops stationed in the Bahamas. The American Consul, John Dye, wrote of the Windsors at this time; “The Duke is accompanied by the Duchess every day and visits some place of Government activity. The Duchess is active in Red Cross work and both are becoming popular with all classes of the population with the exception of a few die-hard English”.  

Windsors in Nassau
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor in Nassau. Wallis is wearing her Red Cross uniform.

For the Duke’s supporters and friends back in England, they assumed that the Windsors’ effort in Nassau would pay off at the end of the war. The Duke was less hopeful (“It’s the only job we’re ever likely to be offered”) but since his abdication he had longed for a thaw in relations and a kind of rehabilitation that would allow the Windsors to return to England. The Duke envisaged a half royal life in which both he and the Duchess could undertake a limited programme of royal engagements from Fort Belvedere, whilst keeping their distance from the King so as not to make for awkwardness or spark any talk of competition between the two brothers. Winston Churchill favoured this proposal, but the King did not. When the Windsors returned to Paris following the war, the Duchess realised that there would never been any form of reconciliation between the Duke and his family, and certainly no offer of a job.

The Duke of Windsor was not used to an empty diary. In the years after the Abdication he had been content to busy himself putting down roots and enjoying a relative degree of freedom he had never before experienced. But the Second World War had reinforced his upbringing and now he felt lost. His childhood had been an unhappy one, his relationships with his short-tempered father and his emotionally distant mother leaving their mark on his development. From the moment he was born, he was placed into the care of nannies and nursery maids. Then came the governesses and the tutors. In later years, it was the military staff and secretaries, advisors and politicians who set the pace. Every moment of David’s life had been carefully choreographed. He didn’t have to ponder on who to see or where to go, somebody simply provided a schedule for him to follow. This task now fell to his wife.

With their residence at 4 route du Champ d’Entraînement in Paris suitably renovated in palatial style, Wallis had created a home in which a former King could be said to be living in the manner to which he had become accustomed. Those who visited the house were stunned by its lavish elegance and the military precision with which the Duchess oversaw the daily running of the household. Their butler, Georges Sanègre, who knew Wallis’ strive for perfection was important to their public image, became essential to their new life. The Duchess feared headlines appearing that the former monarch may be living in reduced circumstances, but she also knew how important it was for the Duke to be reminded of home. Their footmen were dressed in scarlet and gold livery, the Duke’s valet dressed him each morning and took great care to help him choose his clothes. Meals were served on time and were presented as perfectly as they might be at Buckingham Palace – perhaps even more so. The Duke ate little, he had long displayed symptoms of an eating disorder, and the Duchess spent much of their married life trying to find ways to tempt his appetite.

Le Moulin
The gardens at Le Moulin de la Tuilerie

Before his marriage in 1937, the Duke had become used to regular visits to the countryside and now the Duchess sought to replicate this in France. Wallis disliked outdoor pursuits and always felt more comfortable in the more luxurious surroundings and exciting activities of the big city. When the Count and Countess de Beaumont invited them to a shooting weekend in Alsace in 1951, the Duchess was photographed looking thoroughly bored as David picked pheasants from the air. But she knew that hunting, shooting and fishing was a key part of the royal routine. A country residence was therefore essential to his happiness and in 1952, the Windsors purchased Le Moulin de la Tuilerie in Gif-Sur-Yvette from the artist Drian.

The Duke and Duchess attend a shooting party hosted by the Beaumonts. The Duchess seems less passionate about the sport than the Duke!

Wallis set about furnishing the interiors whilst David was given the task of landscaping the grounds. A keen gardener, he was particularly proud of the small bridge he built over the stream which he designed himself. The Duke’s possessions and furniture from Fort Belvedere were crowded into his suite of rooms complete with military ephemera and his beloved bagpipes. Portraits of his regal relations crowded the walls and in these rooms (closely modeled on those he had used at the Fort), the Duke could escape to scour old papers and to write letters to friends. He wrote his memoirs there in 1951.

The Windsors also took an apartment at the Waldorf Tower in New York and twice a year took advantage of the free passage they were always given on the SS United States or the Queen Mary, to spend a few weeks in America. There were visits to friends in Palm Beach, holidays in Barcelona, Venice and Portofino. But even this was not enough to keep the Duke occupied. He longed for something official. In 1953 when he visited England to see his ailing mother, Queen Mary, for the last time, he told a journalist; “When I left Britain sixteen years ago I said that I was always available, and I am still available”. No job was forthcoming.

The Windsors are photographed on holiday in Rapallo on the Italian Riviera.

The Duchess’ daily life was now becoming increasingly claustrophobic. Georges Sanègre, the Windsors’ butler, once recalled that when the Duchess visited Alexandre of Paris to have her hair styled, the Duke would wait on a chair by the lift longing for her to be ready. When she was, he escorted her to the car. Dress fittings followed a similar pattern. Her friends were his friends, her lunch parties were his lunch parties, her shopping trips were his shopping trips. Diana Mosley recalled the Duchess turning to her once at a lunch and saying mournfully, “You see what they’ve done to him?”. In an interview with the New York Times in 1964, Wallis was quoted as saying; “For 27 years my husband has been punished, like a small boy who gets a spanking every day of his life for a small transgression”

But she also gave an insight into the life she might have lived had the Duke been kept busy with some kind of official post. She preferred dinner on a tray in front of the television (ideally watching Bob Hope, a particular favourite), she liked to spend time raising orchids in her greenhouse and hunting for antiques in flea markets. Her perfect afternoon was an intimate lunch with friends before a visit to the Louvre (“There’s always something going on there”) or flicking through fashion magazines for inspiration after a swim. Her close friend and confidante the Countess of Romanones once recalled how the Duchess had bickered with the Duke when he sulked that she had spent more time talking to the Countess at lunch than to him. “You see Aline?”, Wallis snapped, “I married a spaniel”

Of course, here we must mention the pugs. Not only did they provide an outlet for the couple’s affections but Wallis took a keen interest in the breeding and showing of dogs. In the early 1950s, the Windsors made a name for themselves in the field but dropped the hobby when the Duchess began to acquire too many puppies (much to the Duke’s annoyance). The pugs were given birthday parties in addition to the regular round of social gatherings the Windsors hosted at Le Bois and Le Moulin. As always, the Duchess invited a blend of unconventional guests taken from the fringes of the French aristocracy and bold American personalities such as Elsa Maxwell.

Maxwell wrote in 1954; “I have had my difficulties with the Duchess but she is devoted to her Duke and all she does is to keep him happy. She comes up with the most wonderful ideas for him”. Wallis also tried to introduce younger people to their social circle to keep the Duke from being bored by their older friends who often only wanted to discuss world politics or past events which the Duke found painful or embarrassing. According to the Duchess of Marlborough; “The Duke might be getting a little morose or melancholy and the Duchess would see that and spring into action. She’d say, ‘Come on now darlings, let’s roll the carpets back and dance’ which immediately cheered him up”.

The Duke and Duchess are photographed during a party at Le Moulin holding two of their pugs.

Many of the Windsors’ friends considered that the Duke had been put in an unfair position. Not only was he not allowed to have any official post in England (or abroad) with the blessing of both Crown and government but he was also forbidden from taking offers from the private sector. He could not be seen to profit from his royal connections but neither could he ever justify his allowance from the Crown when the Crown refused to allow him to serve. Finding things to do outside of Paris was becoming increasingly challenging but Wallis persevered. When invitations came, she accepted immediately; “I always say yes, always. I like to meet people and it’s important for the Duke. After all, that’s what he was trained to do”.

In 1951, the Windsors attended the Kentucky Derby. The Duke was in his element shaking hands and asking that all important question; “And what do you do?”. The late 1950s and early 1960s saw the Windsors step into a kind of semi-royal life with private visits made to hospitals, schools, museums, art galleries and factories. To the untrained eye, they had the appearance of official royal engagements and though relatively few in number, the Duchess delighted in the boost they gave to the Duke. The Windsors took on few charitable obligations but they were happy to host galas or benefits to raise money for the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York or for UNICEF. In this way, the Duke could almost believe himself to be a working member of the Royal Family. And the Duchess was only too happy to support him on those occasions as well as arrange them in the first place.

In a 1956 interview with Edward R Murrow, the Windsors were asked what their plans were for the future. “For me, I want to make my husband happy, that’s my greatest desire”, Wallis said. Certainly it had proved no easy task and it was about to get much harder. By the late 1960s, the Duke was in extremely poor health. There were operations for a detached retina as well as a serious operation for an aneurysm which almost killed him. His insistence on eating as little as possible had left him thin and frail and medical treatment began to take it’s toll. Wallis was also suffering from health problems but devoted herself full time to the Duke’s medical care. Now she spent her days arranging hospital appointments, private ambulances and small intimate lunches for close friends to keep him amused. She knew the end was near. In 1972, the Duke lost his battle against throat cancer and died aged 77. Wallis was now alone.

The Windsors pay a visit to the World’s Fair in New York, 1964.

The Prime Minister of the day, Edward Heath, led the tributes to the Duke of Windsor in the House of Commons. Publicly, he recalled “with great admiration” the service the Duke had given the United Kingdom as Prince of Wales, as King but also as Governor of the Bahamas. Privately, he is said to have remarked; “Surely they could have found him something to do?”. Harold Wilson went one step further. In his tribute, he specifically thanked the Duchess who was unkindly found unworthy of a mention in Heath’s address. Wilson said; “We all welcome the fact that the Duchess of Windsor has felt able to be in Britain and hear and sense the feelings of our people, and we are all appreciative of the dignity she has shown, not only in these tragic days but over all the years. We hope that she will feel free at any time to come among and freely communicate with the people whom her husband, Prince of Wales, King, and Duke, lived to serve”. Wilson was the only politician to specifically name the Duchess in his tribute or to recognise the great task she had undertaken.

Many former working members of the Firm have tried to find a place in the world after hanging up their coronets. The most recent of course, is the Duke of Sussex. His decision to leave royal duties continues to be headline news even in a time of global crisis. As I have discussed before here at the World of Wallis, it is only natural that comparisons between the Windsors and the Sussexes will be made. I see the two situations as vastly different and any similarities are often overblown to make for quick copy among journalists but the Duke of Sussex will, like the Duke of Windsor, find the transition from old life to new strange and somewhat disappointing.

But if Harry does need an example of how to make the best of things, he could do worse than to look to his Great-Great-Aunt Wallis for inspiration. When the Firm pulled rank and closed it’s doors, it might have been much easier for the Windsors to slip into obscurity and prove the world right when they predicted ruin. Life for the Duke was not easy. Life for the Duchess was even more of a trial at times. But to afford a former King his dignity whilst also giving him a sense of purpose proved to be a challenge she faced with irrepressible style and unyielding determination. It was also, perhaps, her greatest achievement.

Interview: Memories of the Duchess with Richard René Silvin

Of the many books written about the Duchess of Windsor, very few have been written by those who actually knew her. Richard René Silvin is an American historian, lecturer and author of (among other titles) Noblesse Oblige: The Duchess of Windsor As I Knew Her. Not only is he an expert on the Duke and Duchess, Mr Silvin also counted Wallis as a friend in the years following the Duke of Windsor’s death in 1972. So I was naturally delighted when Mr Silvin agreed to give me an interview for the World of Wallis blog which I’m thrilled to present to you.

Richard René Silvin

Q. Mr Silvin, you became a close friend to the Duchess in her later years, could you describe a typical day in the Duchess’ company?

A. I would not refer to my relationship with the Duchess as being “a close friend”. For openers, I was 29, 30 and 31 when I interacted with her and she was in her late 70s. I was running the American Hospital of Paris where she and the Duke had been treated on numerous occasions and which, at the time, was the sole beneficiary of her estate.

In the 1970s, the hospital was in a state of considerable managerial and physical disrepair. I was hired by USAID, a part of the US State Department, to reorganize the management and prepare a master plan for the aging facility. My interaction with the Duchess was initially centered on matters relating to my job at the hospital*. This gradually morphed into “being there” for her if I noticed her lapses of attention and concentration.

Q. The Duchess has become legendary for her style but also for her skills as a hostess and her great attention to detail. What was it like to be her guest?

A. The few times I ate at Le Bois was with the Duchess alone, so I was not personally privy to her legendary dinner parties. Given how immaculately even a simple lunch was presented and served, I could imagine what a grand dinner in her prime must have been like.

Q. What do you believe were Wallis’ best qualities as you experienced them? What were her worst?

A. Frankly, I never noticed the slightest hint of any unattractive or bad behaviour. She was formal and distant. But, most of my parents’ friends on both sides of the Atlantic were equally, if not more aloof. I found the Duchess to be inquisitive and engaging. Please remember, I knew her as a somewhat isolated widow who, quite understandably, was concerned about her failing physical and mental health. So, to me, her “best qualities” were being kind and supportive.

Q. Was Wallis ever regretful or even resentful of her lot? Aside from the regret she expressed at not having children in her memoir, do you think she held any misgivings about the decisions she had made in her life?

A. I never detected any indication that the Duchess was resentful of “her lot”. The few conversations we had which turned personal centered on our mutual love for ocean liners. I did feel that she liked being around a young man who, having been brought up in a formal European context, had manners, which were rapidly becoming obsolete. Ergo, I was “presentable” and given the age disparity, unthreatening.

Q.  Friends always remark on Wallis’ wit as much as her style. It’s sad that more people don’t know about that side of her. Did you find her to have a good sense of humour? Was she fun to be with?

A. Yes, I found her fun to be with. Keep in mind however, ours was initially what one might call a “subordinate, business relationship”. The Duchess was increasingly worried about her health and therefore there was no jovial interaction, unlike what I believe would have been the case were I a long-tenured friend.

As I wrote in Noblesse Oblige, I loved to hear her laugh but she had her boundaries. When the vulgar Louisiana congressman, Otto Passman; then the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee (the hospital’s source of funding) made a very crude joke in her presence, she was clearly not amused. Neither was I; he was grotesquely offensive in the formal context of a Board of Governors meeting.

I did see glimpses of what must have been the sense of humor my mother told me about. My mother was a winter resident of the South of France and met the Duchess at the time of the abdication crisis. The two contemporary American women, surrounded by some rather “stuffy” Frenchmen, joked about these old fashioned Frenchmen.

Q. The Royal Family kept their distance from Wallis after the Duke died with one or two notable moments of kindness. Do you feel they could have done more for Wallis in the last years of her life? Would she have wanted them to?

A. I think the Royal Family did their best to be charitable toward the Duchess in her later years. The gesture to allow her to be buried at Frogmore and the Queen’s visit to Le Bois ten days before the Duke died in May of 1972, are notable examples.

I am often asked why the Royal Family did not intervene during the Duchess’ long years of confinement while she suffered being on a nasal feeding tube at Le Bois. Horrific as this period must have been for the Duchess, I understand why the Royal Family felt they had no “place” or jurisdiction in this crisis.

After all, Maître Blum so carefully gave the appearance of doing the right things that any intervention would be unreasonable. In my opinion the tragedy was allowed to fester for two reasons: There was no human heir to look over Maître Blum’s shoulder, and she was the sole trustee.

Q.  In the first few years following the Abdication, the Duke wanted the Windsors to be “rehabilitated” as it were and to become working members of the Royal Family with their residence at the Fort. Do you think that’s a role that would have suited Wallis? Would she have been a popular member of ‘The Firm’?

A. I think the Duchess would have made a very good member of “The Firm” based out of either the Fort or some other appropriately grand residence. Her behavior over the decades confirms this. She is said to have confided in friends that she “had all of the inconveniences of being a member of the Royal Family, with none of the benefits”.

In the scenario you bring up, I think her behavior from the time they arrived in the Bahamas until the Duke’s death, indicates she would have enjoyed the life you describe. And, importantly, the Duke would have had activities of his own, which would have lessened the burden the Duchess had to keep him busy and happy.

Q. There have been so many depictions of Wallis over the years in TV shows and films, I’m thinking most recently of Lia Williams and Geraldine Chaplin in The Crown. Which are your favourite portrayals of Wallis and which do you feel is the most accurate?

A. The Duke’s death scene in The Crown is, I believe, perfectly accurate and gut-wrenchingly sad. This in contrast to the Abdication scene, which is amusingly inaccurate, given that the Duchess was in the South of France, while in The Crown she sits behind the Duke when he gives the Abdication Speech. Also, even though I am a fan of The Crown over all, I regret the producers decided to present the Duchess as a superficial “party-girl”.

As you know, much of what has been written about her is rubbish and The Crown tends to reinforce the idea that the Duchess was a conniving “air-head”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Q. What do you think it is that continues to draw us to Wallis? Why are we still intrigued by her and do you think she would be happy to know that we’re revisiting her story and perhaps seeing her in a more truthful and balanced way?

A. I think the Duchess would be ecstatic with the way she is becoming increasingly described by Hugo, a few others and me. The historical regrettable and overly harsh criticism of the Duchess is understandable in the context that the scurrilous stories sold books and boosted ratings. Also, remember, the Duchess never took to the airways to defend herself. If there is no “push back,” unethical “historians” grant themselves license to embellish and exaggerate the Duchess’ perceived flaws.

Currently, the resurgence of the intrigue surrounding the Duchess is fueled by the popularity of The Crown and all the comparisons being made between “our” Duchess and the Duchess of Sussex. I am happy about both, because a more realistic and favorable view of the Duchess of Windsor is bound to be the result.

Q. Finally, could you tell us a little about your book ‘Noblesse Oblige’

My motto is “Know thy self”. Therefore, I know that I am not a great author. I took up writing, and more importantly, lecturing on the subjects of my works, as a retirement hobby. I surprised myself with the level of success both avocations have enjoyed.

After I wrote my first book, I Survived Swiss Boarding Schools, friends urged me to write the stories I told them about the American Hospital of Paris and the Duchess of Windsor. This gave rise to Noblesse Oblige, my next attempt of what Oscar Wilde called “putting your derrière in a chair” i.e. writing.

As a result, the book is one-part stories about the hospital, one-part stories about my interaction with the Duchess, and one-part a summary overview about the Windsors. It is meant to be a fun, easy read, not a history lesson.

An interesting aside, since we are both admirers of Hugo Vickers, when I was considering writing Noblesse Oblige some friends urged me not to, because the “great Hugo Vickers” was writing a book about the Duchess’ last years. My little Work would go nowhere. I phoned Mr. Vickers and asked him if we could lunch together if I made a special trip to London. What was initially planned as a brief encounter over a sandwich, turned onto a three hour-long fascinating and delicious meal in Mr. Vickers’ charming flat. A deep and long lasting relationship evolved, as well as a mutual promise.

Given that we both had nurses notes and I had been sent some pictures of the Duchess when she was ailing, we decided none of the details which stripped the Duchess of her dignity would see the light of day in either book. I feel very proud of my friendship with Hugo and especially with the pact that we made and continue to respect.

*The American Hospital of Paris was the only official charitable cause the Duchess of Windsor had at this time.

Noblesse Oblige: The Duchess of Windsor As I Knew Her

All “British Royal watchers” and Windsor aficionados know about the only voluntary abdication in British history when, on December 10, 1936, the handsome, young, beloved King Edward Vlll handed over his three hundred twenty-five day reign to his brother; who, on that foggy night, became King George VI.

The famous abdication speech, delivered in a radio address to the nation, contained the memorable words “I cannot undertake the heavy burden of state without the love and support of the woman I love” and became one of the era’s most repeated phrases. The historic act catapulted the relatively obscure, twice-divorced Wallis Simpson to international fame as she became both demonized and intriguing. Within weeks and in an unprecedented act, Time Magazine named Mrs. Simpson the first “Woman of the Year.” Now, twenty-five years after the Duchess of Windsor’s death, the first personal description of the legendary lady is available.

Readers of Noblesse Oblige, the Duchess of Windsor As I Knew Her by Richard René Silvin will learn intimate details of the Duchess as Silvin refutes most of the defamatory and scurrilous rumors which surrounded the legendary lady and which, she herself, abhorred but never discussed. The Duchess of Windsor Silvin describes is anything but the detached, cold ruthless, superficial lady history has heretofore portrayed. Instead, readers will “meet” a clever, funny, profound and loving woman.

Noblesse Oblige begins in 1973, when the-then twenty-five year old author was appointed by US AID, a branch of the State Department, to restructure a famous Parisian hospital, which was the lonely, recently widowed Duchess’ only charity and reputed to be the sole beneficiary of her estate. In keeping with her largely unrecognized tradition of charity work, the Duchess took it upon herself to study the inner workings – and intrigues – of a modern hospital. She took a keen interest in Silvin who would become her protégée and certainly the object of her final, well thought out public battle. Noblesse Oblige‘s readers are also exposed to a researched history of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor beginning with their early lives and which follows them to their deaths.

The book contains newly revealed details of the Duke’s peaceful demise, in May of 1972, when he serenely passed away in his Paris home, surrounded by his completely devoted Duchess, competent nurses, favorite Pug, Black Diamond, and treasured items. Sadly, and in stark contrast, Silvin describes the Duchess’ decade-long illness during which, in an undiagnosed form of dementia, she gradually lost control of her arms and legs, was inhumanely kept alive for six years, slowly isolated from friends, stripped of her dignity and even her nurturing child-substitutes – her dogs.

The book both begins and ends with vivid and detailed descriptions of the hospital Board of Governor’s meetings where a still keen-minded Duchess brilliantly strategizes to save the author from being terminated. In her own words, quoted in the book’s first chapter (“God knows I can appreciate being the victim of a plot!”) she embarks on her last quest for what she thought was justice. As the story reaches its climax and wearing her chalcedony sapphire jewelry, which she claimed “has mystical powers to assist us” she uses the tragic death of Aristotle Onassis to further her agenda while quoting the motto of the highly revered British “Most Noble Order of the Garter” Honi soit qui mal y pense (Shame on those with evil thoughts.)

Noblesse Oblige (another one of the Duchess’ favorite expressions) contains amusing accounts of famous Parisian physicians, high-level French politicians, international socialites and even a vulgar and notorious American Congressman. Because of the book’s famous characters and venues, some names and facts have been altered.

Noblesse Oblige is the author’s third book following I Survived Swiss Boarding Schools and Walking the Rainbow, an Arc to Triumph.

With Thanks

I’d like to extend my sincerest thanks to Mr Silvin for his time in graciously giving this fascinating interview to the World of Wallis. If you’d like to learn more about his other works, please visit his website at www.rrsilvin.com

You can purchase a copy of Mr Silvin’s wonderful book on the Duchess of Windsor directly through his website or by clicking here which will take you directly to Amazon. Alternatively, you can click on the front cover image above.

The Windsor Collection: The Magic of Brooches, Part Two

Today we conclude our two part series on six of the fabulous brooches owned the Duchess of Windsor. You can find Part One by clicking here. In the previous installment, we focused on three beautiful Cartier creations but Cartier wasn’t the only jeweler to provide Wallis with glitter. Her other favourite designer was of course, Van Cleef & Arpels and so today we begin with a staple of the Maison’s wares; the Hawaii Brooch. Then it’s straight back to Cartier as we explore the story behind the most sentimental jewel in Wallis’ collection, the Anniversary Brooch. We conclude with a gem that is steeped in the romance of a secret love and met a curious end; the Cartier Cypher Brooch.

The Hawaii Brooch

At the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs in 1925, designer Alfred van Cleef and his father in law Solomon Arpels presented a very special jewel to the people of Paris; a floral bracelet with red and white roses fashioned from rubies and diamonds. It wowed the crowds and impressed the judges who awarded the designers a grand prize. This set in motion a recurring motif for the Maison and ever since, Van Cleef & Arpels have delighted with their floral collections including Folie des Prés and Frivole. Most recently, pieces from their clover-inspired Alhambra collection have been worn by the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Cornwall, a clear sign that classic designs never fall out of style.

1941
Wallis wears the Hawaii brooch in the Bahamas in 1941.

In the late 1930s, Van Cleef & Arpels introduced a new floral range for it’s clients; the Hawaii Collection. Instantly identifiable by it’s red, blue and gold colour palette, the Hawaii Collection was first patented in 1938 with each piece (whether it be a brooch, necklace or earrings) following the same strict design elements. The brooches from the Hawaii Collection form bouquets of flowers with 18 karat gold stems and leaves with the flowers themselves formed of rubies and sapphires. The Hawaii Collection was first introduced to Paris in the Autumn of 1938; by November, the Duke of Windsor had visited Van Cleef & Arpels to commission a piece for Wallis.

Wallis’ brooch is the largest example of the Hawaii signature Van Cleef & Arpels ever produced. It was a staggering 8″ tall and 5″ wide which also made it the largest brooch in Wallis’ collection. The Duke commissioned the brooch on the 15th November 1938 and presented it to Wallis on Christmas Day. Wallis’ brooch was not only bigger but it’s design was unique with much larger leaves and stems. The outer leaf on the right hand side of the brooch was designed to point downward at an angle; towards Wallis’ heart. As well as ruby and sapphire leaves, there were citrines offering a contrast between blue petals and red centres. A matching pair of earrings in yellow citrines and rubies joined the brooch on New Year’s Eve.

The brooch’s most famous outing came in 1939 when the Duke of Windsor commissioned the artist Gerald Brockhurst to paint a portrait of the Duchess which would later hang in Government House in Nassau before returning to the petit-salon at the Windsor villa in the Bois de Boulogne. The Brockhurst portrait offers us the best glimpse of Wallis’ Hawaii creation and bizarrely, it was only ever seen twice in public; both times in the Bahamas and only then within the first two years of their arrival in Nassau. In The Windsor Style by Suzy Menkes, Ofélia Sanègre, the wife of the Windsors’ butler Georges was equally puzzled by it’s disappearance; “I never saw that brooch”, she said, “I often used to stand in the petit-salon looking at the portrait and wondering what became of the clip”.

Brockhurst’s portrait of the Duchess.

In 1946, the Windsors were staying with the Earl and Countess of Dudley at their estate in Surrey, Ednam Lodge, when they became the victims of a cat burglar. The thief made off with every item of jewellery the Duchess had packed for her trip to England. Perhaps the Hawaii brooch was among the loot? In reports from the time, only one brooch was on the list published by the police during their investigation. According to the Daily Telegraph, the brooch was “gold set with rubies” whilst the list published by Scotland Yard refers only to a gold brooch set with diamonds and aquamarines. None of the brooches produced by Van Cleef & Arpels for it’s Hawaii range contained diamonds, nor aquamarines, the style being so easily identifiable by the deep red rubies and strong blue sapphires against a background of gold. But if the brooch wasn’t stolen in 1946, what happened to it?

At the Sotheby’s auction of the Duchess of Windsor’s jewels in 1987 there was no trace of the large Hawaii brooch, therefore the brooch must have left Wallis’ collection before her death. It is entirely possible that it was broken up so that the gems could be used in another piece, a frequent fate for jewels Wallis tired of. Perhaps the Hawaii fashion proved too popular and Wallis didn’t wish to be seen to chase a trend? Or perhaps it was the gold and ruby brooch spirited away by a cat burglar? Whatever it’s fate, it must have truly wowed those lucky enough to see it.

The Anniversary Brooch

In 1957, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary. It was more than a private celebration of a lasting romance, rather, the Duke felt it was “one in the eye for our foes”. He was perhaps referring to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother who had (wrongly) predicted that Wallis would leave David and move onto husband #4 soon after their marriage. It is said that this was one of the defining reasons King George VI gave when he denied Wallis the use of the HRH in 1937. Twenty years married was therefore a hugely important milestone for the Windsors and the Duke wished to demonstrate the strength of their love with a very special gift. Once again, the Duke called in Cartier to help.

1957
The Windsors at a dance in Paris in 1957, the year of their 20th wedding anniversary.

The Anniversary brooch is a festival of glitter, a 3.4cm by 3.8cm heart studded with brilliant and single cut diamonds topped with an 18 karat gold coronet. The red velvet cap of the coronet is fashioned from rubies. In the centre of the heart is a monogram of the initials W and E set with calibré-cut emeralds and below this monogram, the Roman numeral XX (20) again set with rubies. According to Cartier’s records, all of the gemstones in the brooch came from gems which the Duke and Duchess had removed from existing pieces – perhaps the rubies came from the Van Cleef & Arpels Hawaii brooch?

Heart

Sadly there are no photographs which depict Wallis wearing the Anniversary Brooch but it clearly held a very special meaning for her. When the Duke died in 1972, many of her most famous pieces were locked away and she restricted herself to the use of a set of pearls given to her by the Duke and inexpensive costume jewellery. When her own illness took hold and she found herself confined to her villa, she wore only one piece of jewellery – the Anniversary Brooch. Pinned just above her own heart, she wore it almost every day until her death in 1986 and referred to it always as “the Duke’s heart”.

In 1987, the Anniversary Brooch was sold by Sotheby’s for £19,918. In 2010, the brooch once again came up for sale reaching £205,250. One interested buyer was none other than Madonna who was directing the movie W.E which was released the following year. Cartier had made a copy of the brooch for the film but as with other pieces they replicated for the filming, the copy was destroyed when the movie finished shooting. Sotheby’s refused to confirm the identity of the new owner of the brooch but according to press reports at the time, Madonna visited Sotheby’s to try on several pieces; one was the Anniversary brooch. Has the Duke’s heart found it’s new home with Madame X?

The Cartier Cypher Brooch

By 1935, the relationship between David and Wallis had become so intense that it was clear to all that unlike Freda Dudley Ward or Thelma Furness, Wallis was here to stay. The first brooch gifted to Wallis by the then Prince of Wales featured the Prince of Wales Feathers, an official symbol which conferred upon Wallis the undeniable position of ‘The Prince’s Girl’. But later that year, David asked Cartier to produce another brooch for Wallis, this time with a far more intimate and personal design.

The Windsors’ Cypher, c. 1935

From January 1935, Wallis and David began to mark their correspondence to each other with the initials W.E in the bottom right hand corner accompanied by a date. W.E was used frequently in their private letters to refer to themselves in the third person (“And W.E shall be so happy my darling one”). A version of the cypher began to appear engraved on gifts sent to the Prince by Wallis. These engravings were copies of the W.E initials in Wallis’ handwriting and David returned the use of the initials in gifts by way of return. But in 1935, the cypher was transformed into a design that proved the inspiration for yet another gift of jewellery from the Prince.

Legend has it that the Prince designed the art-deco cypher personally, other sources suggest Cartier, Cecil Beaton or even his brother, the Duke of Kent (this is most unlikely!). Whatever it’s origins, the cypher proved a huge inspiration to David and Wallis and W.E charms were produced for both, by both, most notably in simple gold or silver to affix to existing bracelets or necklaces the couple had already exchanged. These were smaller gifts easily hidden beneath a cuff or a collar and so the cypher appears as originally designed but when it came to producing a brooch inspired by the cypher, there was a greater need for discretion. The cypher brooch Cartier produced therefore skews the cypher slightly so that the union of the initials ‘W.E’ are not so obvious. Only those looking very carefully at the brooch could have made out the W, though the E is more prominent.

The brooch is made of platinum and is set with calibré-cut sapphires and rubies. Much like the Anniversary Brooch, Wallis does not appear to have allowed herself to be photographed wearing it in public, either before or after the Abdication, which suggests that there were pieces she kept purely for the Duke’s eyes only. Following the Abdication, the cypher was used by the Windsors on their personal stationery and even appeared on pieces of furniture they commissioned, this time topped with a coronet. The 1930s cypher was later replaced with a more elaborate design and the Windsors finally stopped using the W.E monogram in 1955.

The cypher brooch had a curious fate. In 1975, Wallis gave it to Maitre Blum, her laywer, as a gift but in 1987, it appeared among the lots offered for sale at Sotheby’s. It was purchased by Lord Rothermere, the owner of the Daily Mail newspaper, for £20,000. Lord Rothermere snapped up several Windsor pieces, his interest apparently not shared by his columnists who spent the duration of the sale publishing vicious gossipy articles about the Duchess. Later that year, the Daily Mail offered the brooch as a prize in a poetry writing contest which was won by retired couple Percy and Vera Brindley. With the brooch safely delivered to the Brindleys and duly photographed on Vera’s lapel, it remained with the couple until 2000 when it was put up for auction at Bonhams. It sold for £36,000 to a private bidder.

Of the six brooches in this series, each offers it’s own snapshot of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s relationship. Whether it be from the early years of their romance when the odds seem stacked against them, whether it be during their glamorous jet-set years or whether it be in the later years of their marriage, one thing is clear; the Duke never tired of showing his love and affection for his Duchess through fine jewellery. The Duchess’ collection may have now scattered but as with everything connected to the Windsors, it seems our fascination for all things Wallis remains very much in tact.

The Windsor Library: A Reading List

Since I started the World of Wallis project, the most frequent question I’m asked is “Which books about the Windsors can you recommend?”

With this in mind, I have put together the following as a reading list.

Please note, this only includes non-fiction works at present and some are sadly out of print but generally available on eBay or abebooks.com. Where possible, clicking the front cover image will take you directly to a purchase page.

1. That Woman by Anne Sebba

That Woman

Published: 2012

One of Britain’s most distinguished biographers turns her focus on one of the most vilified women of the twentieth century. Historian Anne Sebba has written the first full biography by a woman of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor.

‘That Woman’, as she was referred to by the Queen Mother, became a hate figure for ensnaring a British king and destabilising the monarchy. Neither beautiful nor brilliant, she nevertheless became one of the most talked-about women of her generation, and she inspired such deep love and adoration in Edward VIII that he gave up a throne and an empire for her. Wallis lived by her wit and her wits, while both her apparent and alleged moral transgressions added to her aura and dazzle.

Based on new archives and material only recently made available, this scrupulously researched biography sheds new light on the character and motivations of a powerful, charismatic and complex woman.

Available from: Amazon Prime

Format: Hardback, Paperback, Kindle and Audible

World of Wallis Rating: 10/10

Review: The definitive Wallis biography. A balanced portrayal of the Duchess with an impeccably researched story that is beautifully told. From Wallis’ early years in Baltimore, through her school life, her time in China, her first two marriages and her ‘Wallis in Wonderland’ era, Anne Sebba brings Wallis to the reader as if driving her to your home for a tea party. She does not shy away from confronting rumour and gossip, nor does she paper over any faults. The Bahamas years are especially fascinating and the whirlwind of 50s and 60s life with the Windsors is told with great humour and charm. If you only read one book on the Duchess of Windsor, make it this one!

2. Behind Closed Doors by Hugo Vickers

Published: 2011

Hugo Vickers has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Royal Family, and has had a fascination with the story of the Duchess of Windsor since he was a young man. There have been a number of books about this doomed couple, but this book brings a new perspective on the story by focussing on the later years of exile.

While Vickers has his own theories about the Abdication itself, and he makes it very clear that Mrs Simpson did not lure the King from the throne, the drama of this narrative comes from the criminal exploitation of an old sick woman after the death of her husband. She was ruthlessly exploited by a French lawyer called Suzanne Blum. Some members of the Royal Family, like Mountbatten and the Queen Mother, don’t emerge with much credit either.

Hugo Vickers relates a tragic story which has lost none of its resonance over the years since the Duchess died in 1986.

Available from: Amazon Prime

Format: Hardback (Rare), Paperback, Kindle, Audible

World of Wallis Rating: 10/10

Review: This is a beautiful work by one of the most respected royal biographers. Hugo Vickers met the Duchess personally and perhaps this is why he deals with a very sensitive subject so perfectly. This book does not recount the saga of the Abdication, rather, it begins when the Duke of Windsor dies in 1972 and shines a light on the tragic last years Wallis spent alone in Paris. He examines Wallis’ relationship with the famous Suzanne Blum and reveals how Wallis was treated by the British Royal Family in her widowhood. There is humour at times but mostly this is a touching portrayal of the Duchess which is essential reading for any Wallis fan.

3. The Heart Has It’s Reasons by the Duchess of Windsor

Published: 1956

The memoirs of the Duchess of Windsor.

Available from: eBay, Abebooks, Goodreads

Format: Hardback

World of Wallis Rating: 10/10

Review: These are the memoirs of the Duchess of Windsor published in 1956 and which became an instant bestseller. Out of loyalty to Wallis I must give this a 10/10 rating but don’t expect anything too revealing or shocking. This is Wallis’ version of events told to an audience that had heard very few kind words about her thus far and it’s written with this in mind. It isn’t revisionist in the least, she confronts certain rumours head on and she’s bold in her story-telling. But anything too controversial is naturally omitted. It’s the ideal starting place and you’ll be totally charmed but it’s not a book you can rely upon to tell the whole story.

4. The Windsor Style by Suzy Menkes

Published: 1987

A dazzling private kingdom can be found behind the doors of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s Paris home–a world of precious treasures, sumptuous furnishings, elegant clothes, and exquisite dinner parties. This is the first book to look at the fashion of the Windsors in their luxurious post-war life. 122 full-color, 74 black-and-white photos.

Available from: eBay, Abebooks, GoodReads

Format: Hardback

World of Wallis Rating: 9/10

Review: This is not a biography of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, rather it was a follow up to the auction which took place in 1987; expect jewels! There are some inaccuracies but as a reference book, it has yet to be beaten. There are stunning photographs of the Duchess’ jewels and clothes, beautiful portraits of the couple and (for the time) rarely seen snaps from inside the Windsors’ residences in France. There’s also a handy list at the back of the book of the various items sold at the Sotheby’s auction in 1987 and how much they sold for. Very much recommended!

5. The Quest for Queen Mary by James Pope Hennessy (and Hugo Vickers)

Published: 2018

When James Pope-Hennessy began his work on Queen Mary’s official biography, it opened the door to meetings with royalty, court members and retainers around Europe. The series of candid observations, secrets and indiscretions contained in his notes were to be kept private for 50 years. Now published in full for the first time and edited by the highly admired royal biographer Hugo Vickers, this is a riveting, often hilarious portrait of the eccentric aristocracy of a bygone age.

Giving much greater insight into Queen Mary than the official version, and including sharply observed encounters with, among others, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the Duke of Gloucester, and a young Queen Elizabeth, The Quest for Queen Mary is set to be a classic of royal publishing.

Available from: Amazon Prime

Format: Hardback, Paperback, Kindle, Audible

World of Wallis Rating: 09/10

Review: Wow. This book will absolutely captivate you if you have an interest in royalty. Written by James Pope-Hennessy as a series of reports on his meetings with various figures from the courts of Europe and collated by Hugo Vickers, it’s a revealing portrait of the Duke of Windsor’s mother, Queen Mary. I give it 9/10 simply because it only has one or two chapters about the Windsors in it. This is for the serious royal watcher and if you’re a little unclear about the complex family trees of the Royal Houses of Europe it may seem a little confusing at times. It’s hilarious in places, touching in others and goes a long way to unravelling the complex Queen. I would absolutely recommend the Audible version – expertly dramatised and when Wallis eventually makes her appearance, you feel like a guest at the Mill!

6. The Michael Bloch Books

Publications: The Duke of Windsor’s War (1982), Operation Willi (1984), Wallis & Edward: The Intimate Correspondence of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (1986), The Reign and Abdication of Edward VIII (1990) and The Duchess of Windsor (1996)

Michael Bloch was an assistant to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s lawyer, Suzanne Blum, and as such, had an intimate and personal knowledge of the couple as well as access to many of their personal papers. His works range from Operation Willi which tells the story of Hitler’s secret plot to kidnap the Duke of Windsor to Wallis & Edward’s Intimate Correspondence which presents unedited letters exchanged by the couple from 1931 – 1937. The Duke of Windsor’s War focuses on David and Wallis’ time in the Bahamas during the Second World War and there are additional biographies of both the Duke and Duchess.

Available from: eBay, Abebooks, Goodreads

Format: Hardback

World of Wallis Rating: 8/10

Review: The works of Michael Bloch provide a mini Wallis library and it’s possible to chart the course of her life through Bloch’s books. His best works are those which focus on the Duke and indeed, with the exception of his biography devoted to the Duchess and the collection of David and Wallis’ letters, they can be a little Wallis-lite. However, what you get here is absolutely no flummery or window dressing. Documents and letters are printed verbatim, sometimes revealing sides to the Windsors that (without context) can be jarring. I’ve given the high rating for this collection of works because there really is so much Windsor material here but his biography of Wallis does feel a little dominated by the Duke.

7. The Duchess of Windsor by Lady Diana Mosley

Published: 1980

An intimate of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Diana Mosley was a frequent guest at their parties in Paris, or at ‘the Moulin’ in Gif-sur-Yvette, where they were neighbours. Written in her inimitable style, Diana Mosley paints a remarkable portrait of her friend that is also realistic with regards to her flaws. What was it about her that utterly captivated the heir to the throne and made him renounce it when he became King? It is this question which Diana Mosley seeks to answer.

Available from: eBay, Abebooks, Goodreads

Format: Hardback, Paperback, Kindle

World of Wallis Rating: 6/10

Review: Putting the author’s political views to one side, Lady Mosley is unique among the authors of Wallis biographies as she enjoyed a long friendship with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. This was written when the Duchess was still alive and Lady Mosley was still a frequent visitor, however the Duchess was ailing and gave no interviews to assist with Lady Mosley’s book. At times, Lady Mosley simply expects you to accept her version of events because “that’s exactly how it was”. She is still objective, she does accept the flaws both David and Wallis had but as you might expect, the story is told with kindness in the spirit of righting old wrongs. Unfortunately it’s littered with inaccuracies and at times, you get glimpses of the famous Diana Mosley and remember her own story which makes this a little uncomfortable to read in places.

This biography is now back in print under the title Memoirs of a Friend and is available at Waterstones.

8. Before Wallis: Edward VIII’s Other Women by Rachel Trethewey

Published: 2018

Wallis Simpson is known as the woman who stole the king’s heart and rocked the monarchy but she was not Edward VIII’s first or only love.

This book is about the women he adored before Wallis dominated his life. There was Rosemary Leveson-Gower, the girl he wanted to marry and who would have been the perfect match for a future king; and the Prince’s long-term mistress, Freda Dudley Ward, who exerted a pull almost equal to Wallis over her lover, but abided by the rules of the game and never expected to marry him. Then there was Thelma Furness, his twice-married American lover, who enjoyed a domestic life with him, but realised it could not last forever and demanded nothing more than to be his mistress and fatefully introduced him to Wallis.

In each love affair, Edward behaved like a cross between a little boy lost and a spoilt child craving affection, resorting to emotional blackmail to keep his lovers with him. Each of the three women in this book could have changed the course of history. By examining their lives and impact on the heir to the throne, we question whether he ever really wanted to be king.

Available from: Amazon Prime

Format: Hardback, Paperback, Kindle, Audible

World of Wallis Rating: 6/10

Review: This is an odd book to include on a Wallis reading list but it gives a lot of background to the Duke of Windsor’s romantic life before he met Wallis (hence the title!). Trethewey presents the story of David’s love affairs with three women: Rosemary Leveson-Gower, Freda Dudley-Ward and Thelma Furness. Unfortunately, I found that the pace of the book was a little slow in places before reaching a hurried finish. That’s not to say it isn’t a thoroughly enjoyable read, it absolutely is, but the chapters on Thelma are a little sparse and this is a shame given the importance of Thelma in Wallis’ story.

9. Untitled or The American Duchess by Anna Pasternak

Published: As ‘Untitled’, 2019. As ‘The American Duchess’, 2020.

His charisma and glamour ensured him the status of a rock star prince. Yet Edward gave up the British throne, the British Empire and his position as Emperor of India, to marry his true love, American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

So much gossip and innuendo has been levelled at Wallis Simpson that it has become nearly impossible to discern the real woman. Many have wondered why, when Edward could have had anyone he desired, he was smitten with this unusual American woman. As her friend Herman Rogers said to her in 1936 when news of her affair with Edward broke: ‘Much of what is being said concerns a woman who does not exist and never did exist.’

History is mostly perceived from the perspective of his-story. But what about her story? Anna Pasternak’s new book is the first ever to give Wallis a chance and a voice to show that she was a warm, loyal, intelligent woman adored by her friends, who was written off by cunning, influential Establishment men seeking to diminish her and destroy her reputation. As the author argues, far from being the villain of the abdication, she was the victim.

Anna Pasternak seeks to understand an unusual, deeply misunderstood woman, and the untenable situation she became embroiled in. Using testimony from their inner circle of friends, she presents a very different Wallis Simpson. With empathy, intimacy and thorough research, this book will make readers view her story as it has never been told before.

Available from: Amazon Prime

Format: Hardback, Paperback, Kindle, Audible

World of Wallis Rating: 5/10

Review: This is a hard one to recommend but I include it because it may be a matter of personal taste. The facts are all here and Anna Pasternak clearly admires the Duchess a great deal but I’m afraid I found this one to be a struggle. At times, this reads as a collection of Wikipedia articles linked together with the author’s own conjecture and there are a few inaccuracies along the way. But then at other times, there’s flashes of new information and genuinely interesting recollections from those who have not previously taken part in a Wallis biography before and who provide fascinating first hand accounts. Having said that, I read the 2019 version and have yet to finish the 2020 printing. Maybe the flow was better in the second run.

Whilst I would still recommend this book, I couldn’t stretch that recommendation to the Audible version. I’m afraid the narration is just too surreal with odd impressions of historical figures and mispronunciations which are too jarring to the ear. If you’re going to give it a go, stick with the paperback!

10. Mrs Simpson: Secret Lives of the Duchess of Windsor

Published: 1988 (Reprint in 2005)

Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor, was one of the most famous women in history, the American divorcée who captured the King of England, Edward VIII, and cost him his throne. Until Charles Higham’s 1.3 million-copy bestseller, much of her life was a glamorous mystery. Now, fifteen years later, major new documentary evidence, classified at the time, makes for a book far more sensational than the original bestseller. Drawing from long-suppressed archives in France, England, and the United States, Higham has uncovered the duchess’s passionate affair with a top-ranking political figure, the duke’s romantic involvement with a male equerry, the secret radio broadcasts the couple made to Hitler, and the blackmail plot in Paris that almost brought them–and the British royal family–to ruin. This updated new edition of The Duchess of Windsor is essential reading.

Avaliable from: eBay, Abebooks, Goodreads

Format: Hardback

World of Wallis Rating: 0/10

Review: This is a hastily written biography which ranges from the bizarre to the openly misogynistic. Every gutter press rumour is presented as fact with no evidence to substantiate any of the claims made. “Must have thought” is used to justify the author’s own low opinion of his subject and it really is a hatchet job of the worst kind. Higham was known for his fantastical biographies of Hollywood stars which claimed to reveal exclusive jaw-dropping scandals that could never actually be proven. For the most part, they were simply downright hurtful. It’s a weighty tome of inaccuracy and bias. I imagine the Queen Mother adored it but if you want a serious biography that isn’t mired in bitter gossip – AVOID.

The Windsor Collection: The Magic of Brooches, Part One

In 1957, LIFE magazine asked the Duchess of Windsor (by then renowned for her love of jewellery) what she felt were the most essential items a young lady should have in her collection.

“You can never learn too early the magic of pins or brooches”, Wallis answered, “They’re so versatile. You can breathe new life into an old hat, or a jacket, and you can express your interests and personality through so many different shapes and designs”. Her own assortment of brooches was impressive; some real gemstones and some simulated. Wallis was an early convert to costume jewellery, indeed by 1966 she was celebrating paste as “affordable elegance” in the pages of Harper’s Bazaar. Wallis’ brooches have now become iconic, not only because of their historical provenance or the exquisite nature of their designs, but because they were an important element of her overall style. In this two-part series for the World of Wallis blog, we look at six of the Duchess’ most impressive brooches, each with its own fascinating story.

For Part One, I’ve selected three Cartier creations: The Prince of Wales Feathers, The Sapphire Pantheré and the famous Flamingo.

The Prince of Wales Feathers Brooch

Feathers Brooch
The Prince of Wales Feathers Brooch, Cartier, 1935.

The Prince of Wales Feathers Brooch was one of the first items of jewellery gifted to Wallis by her future husband and is perhaps the most significant brooch she owned. As Prince of Wales, David used a heraldic badge of three white ostrich feathers emerging from a gold coronet. Long associated with the heir apparent, the symbolism of three white feathers first became linked to the Prince of Wales back in the 14th century when they appeared on the coat of arms of the Black Prince. It is said that the eldest son of King Edward III took the feathers (and the accompanying motto Ich Dien or I Serve) from King John the Blind of Bohemia who was killed fighting alongside the Black Prince at the Battle of Crécy in 1346. The familiar design of the badge, now used by Prince Charles, first appears during the reign of King Henry VII when it was used by his eldest son, Prince Arthur, the elder brother of King Henry VIII.

The design has appeared in other forms of jewellery over the centuries, most notably in a piece created for Princess Alexandra of Denmark when she married the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII, David’s grandfather) in 1863. The Prince of Wales Feathers appear surrounded by a circle of diamonds with an emerald drop which can be worn as a brooch or as a pendant. Now owned by the Duchess of Cornwall, the Queen Alexandra Feathers caused some confusion in the 1940s and 1950s when the Windsors’ detractors accused them of having stolen emeralds belonging to the late Queen consort. The mystery of Queen Alexandra’s emeralds dogged the couple for decades and even though the design of the two “Feathers” brooches are quite different, it was assumed that the brooch in Wallis’ possession was that which had belonged to David’s grandmother.

The Duchess of Cornwall
The Duchess of Cornwall wearing the Prince of Wales Feathers Brooch with emerald drop owned by Queen Alexandra.

Rumours abounded that Alexandra’s brooch, which at the time had not been seen for decades, had been broken up or redesigned for Wallis following a similar design. These rumours were finally put to rest following Prince Charles’ marriage to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. As Princess of Wales, Diana began to wear Alexandra’s brooch both as a brooch and as a pendant. This confirmed that Alexandra’s brooch had not been “re-purposed” for Wallis but those who had originally peddled the theft tale must have known there had been no relation between the two pieces simply because of the difference in their design. Firstly, Wallis’ brooch is larger than Alexandra’s. It is three inches high with three plumes fashioned from platinum and set with baguette cut diamonds which could not have been taken from the 1863 brooch. The coronet is formed of 18 carat yellow gold and studded with brilliants, again, not seen in the original. Secondly, Wallis’ brooch has no drop, neither was it designed to “double-up” as a pendant.

Wallis
Wearing her ‘Feathers’ for Dior.

The origin of Wallis’ brooch may not be found in the British Royal Family vault, but its provenance is nonetheless fascinating. It was commissioned by the Prince of Wales from Cartier in 1935 when his relationship with Wallis had become increasingly intense. His previous lovers had been set aside and his life had begun to revolve entirely around the then Mrs Ernest Simpson. Her presence was concerning to the establishment and was causing a deep rift between the Prince and his parents. David had made gifts to Wallis before 1935, many of them bearing his symbol as Prince of Wales. This was not unusual.

As Prince of Wales, David (much like his predecessor King Edward VII) favoured gifts to staff, foreign dignitaries and friends which the feathers design. These included silver cigarette cases, vesta match boxes and even cutlery. Wallis got in on the act when in 1933, she borrowed a silver spoon bearing the Prince of Wales Feathers from Fort Belvedere in order to have the design engraved on a silver cigarette case for David. Her second husband Ernest had received a similar gift from the Prince the previous year. But when David commissioned the feathers brooch for Wallis, he was making a dramatic statement of intent. By wearing the Prince of Wales feathers in so prominent and so glittering a design, Wallis would be identifiable to all as “The Prince’s Girl”. Those concerned about David’s increased dependence on Wallis could now be in no doubt; he was a man in love.

The sentimentality of the design was not lost on Wallis’ fellow jewellery lover, actress Elizabeth Taylor. Wallis had met Elizabeth several times and enjoyed her company, inviting her to call on the Windsors when she was in Paris and spending time with Elizabeth when the couple visited New York. In 1967, Wallis invited Elizabeth and her then husband Richard Burton to dine privately with the Windsors at their apartment at the Waldorf Tower. Wallis wore the feathers brooch, apparently as a nod to Richard Burton’s Welsh background. But it was Elizabeth who became entranced by the brooch so much so that the following morning, Richard called the Duke with an unusual request. Might he have his permission to copy the Duchess’ brooch for Elizabeth? The Duke and Duchess agreed but no such reproduction was ever made. Still, Elizabeth coveted the feathers’ brooch.

Dame Elizabeth
Dame Elizabeth Taylor wears Wallis’ feathers.

In 1987 when Sotheby’s auctioned Wallis’ jewellery collection, Elizabeth Taylor lay beside her pool calling in her bids for various pieces, but it was the feathers brooch she wanted more than any other lot. She bid $449,625. The brooch was hers. She later recounted that when she collected the brooch, she was told that she had upset a very famous and very keen buyer. “It was the Prince of Wales”, Taylor revealed, “He had wanted to buy it for Princess Diana but I got there first”. When Barbara Walters asked Taylor if she felt guilty for snatching up the jewel, Elizabeth retorted; “No! I know Wallis meant me to have it!”. Despite the long road to owning the brooch, Taylor wore it infrequently, being photographed wearing it just twice. Following her death in 2011, the brooch was auctioned by Christie’s and sold for a jaw-dropping $1.3m.

The Sapphire Pantheré

The Sapphire Pantheré
The Sapphire Pantheré by Cartier, 1949.

Both the Duke and Duchess of Windsor enjoyed designing jewellery and many of the pieces created for Wallis over the decades were based on original sketches produced by the Duke from the Duchess’ ideas. But in 1948, Wallis was inspired by an existing design from a Cartier catalogue which arguably gave the Maison it’s most famous and enduring hallmark; La Pantheré. Big cats had been used as a motif by Cartier as far back as 1914 with a wristwatch fashioned in leopard print appearing in a catalogue put together by Cartier’s Artistic Director of Jewellery, Jeanne Toussaint. Toussaint continued to incorporate big cat designs into the catalogues which Cartier himself adored. But how did Toussaint come across La Pantheré design in the first place? There are two theories. The first is that Cartier called Toussaint his “Little Panther” because she wore a coat made from panther fur. This inspired her to look to the panther for inspiration. The second explanation derives from a safari Toussaint and Cartier took together during which they saw a wild panther spring toward them. Instead of screaming for help, Toussaint is said to have yelled; “Emeralds! Onyx! Diamonds! It’s a brooch!”

Original Panthere
Wallis’ 1948 gold and emerald cabochon Pantheré.

Until 1948, no client had been bold enough to purchase any of the proposed big cat designs, though the animal print theme had been popular. Enter Wallis. Wallis adored statement pieces and had a fondness for brooches with designs inspired by nature. Her collection already included brooches modelled on birds, flowers and even fruits. Now she decided to add one of Cartier’s panthers. She commissioned the Maison’s very first La Pantheré. Crafted from gold and enamel and set with a cabochon emerald, Wallis loved the piece so much that the following year, she commissioned another. Far more more glittering than the gold panther, this brooch is made from platinum and white gold. The body of the panther is set with single-cut diamonds and sapphire cabochons which provide the spots. Two pear-shaped yellow diamonds provide the eyes and the panther sits astride a 152 carat Kashmir sapphire cabochon. Wallis had inadvertently started a trend and suddenly, Cartier was inundated with requests for Pantheré designs.

Panther Bracelet
Wallis wears her Cartier panther bracelet, one of the many “big cat” pieces she owned.

Over the next two decades, Wallis acquired a Pantheré bracelet and a pair of tiger dress clips, an extension of the original range she had helped promote. Her panther pieces are among her most famous. In 1967, she travelled to London with the Duke for the unveiling of a plaque to the Duke’s late mother, Queen Mary. It was the first time Wallis would be received by Queen Elizabeth II and the first time she would be seen publicly in the presence of senior members of the Royal Family. In a dark blue Givenchy coat and white fur stole, she accessorised her chic look with the Sapphire Pantheré brooch.

The Cartier Tigers

At the auction of her jewels in 1987, Wallis’ gold Pantheré brooch sold for $63,374. The Cartier tiger clips were purchased by the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber for his wife Sarah Brightman to celebrate the success of his musical, The Phantom of the Opera. In 2014, Brightman put the clips to auction where they sold for $3.2m. In 2010, the Pantheré bracelet with emerald eyes sold for $4.5m. But Wallis’ most treasured panther, the Sapphire Pantheré, had a special future ahead. Cartier loved the design so much that the Maison bought back the piece that it had created for Wallis for $633,745. They placed the brooch in their museum, and it has since been on display at the Cartier Exhbition at the Grand Palais, Paris, mostly recently between December 2013 and February 2014.

The Flamingo

The Flamingo Brooch

For Wallis, birthdays came with the added excitement of something new for her jewellery collection. The Duke of Windsor often came up with designs with personal meaning which were then turned into beautiful (and wearable) pieces. In 1940, the David set Cartier a special commission for his wife’s birthday which would become the definitive Wallis jewel.

Cartier Ledger
The original design for Cartier’s Flamingo Brooch.

Long before the Pantheré designs of the late 1940s, Jeanne Toussaint had created pieces which took their inspiration from nature. Knowing how much Wallis adored such designs, David asked Toussaint if she might come up with a design for a brooch in the shape of a flamingo; the Duchess’ favourite bird. The original design by Toussaint suggested that only the feathers, eyes and beak of the bird be set with stones; the body of the bird would be enamel and the legs fashioned from yellow gold. In the original ledgers made available by Cartier, we can see the original design which changed before production began. Toussaint, at the wish of the Duke and Duchess, scrapped the gold legs and enamel body and together they decided that everything but the feathers of the flamingo should be set with diamonds. To make this a reality, the Duke provided a bag of gems including rubies, emeralds, diamonds and citrines which had been taken from a necklace and four bracelets already owned by the Duchess.

The timing of the gift could not have been worse however. Britain had declared war on Germany in September 1939 and Hitler had Paris in his sights. The Windsors were initially reluctant to leave France. Like many throughout Europe, they did not believe the war would really be pressed by either side and they certainly could not see a future ahead where France would be occupied by the Nazis. A few weeks before the Nazis rolled their tanks into Paris, the brooch was completed and hand delivered by Cartier. Had the brooch arrived any later, it would almost certainly have fallen into the hands of the enemy and the Duke and Duchess might never have seen it again.

Flamingo Details
The feathers of the Flamingo Brooch.

When they arrived in Madrid fleeing the German advancement, Wallis stepped from the train wearing the flamingo brooch in public for the very first time. She loved it so much that for the rest of that year, it was almost exclusively the only brooch in her collection she wore. Arriving in Miami to prepare for their posting to Nassau as Governors of the Bahamas, Wallis sported the brooch which caught the eye of every reporter. As well as it might. The brooch is three inches by four inches, the body is made of platinum whilst the feathers are crafted from 18 carat yellow gold. The body is studded with brilliant-cut diamonds with a sapphire eye and sapphire and citrine beak. The feathers themselves however are the real stars of the show with a riot of colour provided by calibré-cut emeralds, sapphires and rubies.  

Wallis wears the Flamingo in Bermuda, 1940.

When Wallis jewels were sold in 1987, it was the Flamingo Brooch which became the emblem of the sale. It was the most sought-after lot and sold for £498,000. Only one lucky buyer could own the original but the brooch so caught the public imagination that between 1987 and 1995, jewellers across the world began to produce reproductions in record numbers. Some were direct copies, others used the brooch as inspiration with flamingos in various colours and materials. It remains the most copied item from the Duchess of Windsor’s collection. At the 2010 Sotheby’s auction (at which the Sapphire Pantheré was resold), the Flamingo once again delighted those who attended the sale. It sold for a whopping $1.7m. The new owner remains a mystery, however in 2013, the Flamingo was included in the Cartier Exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris. Perhaps Cartier decided to bring the Flamingo home too?

The Windsor Collection: A Tale of Two Necklaces

When we think of the Duchess of Windsor and her extravagant collection of jewels, most of us are immediately drawn to her fabulous flamingo brooch with its ruby, emerald and sapphire feathers or her striking amethyst, diamond and turquoise bib. But among these elaborate and quirky pieces are more classic items which we usually associate with royalty. One such item in the Duchess’ jewellery box stands out for precisely this reason. Wallis’ two-strand pearl necklace with diamond and pearl drop pendant has a royal provenance which perhaps makes it the most fascinating item she owned. Naturally it stands out for its rare beauty, but it carries with it a story which reveals the truth about the relationship between the Duchess of Windsor and her imperious mother-in-law, Queen Mary.  

Queen Mary’s encounters with Wallis were brief and unremarkable, only gaining significance following the dramatic events of 1936. Wallis met Queen Mary only twice, they corresponded just once. Their first brief encounter took place on the 10th June 1931 at Buckingham Palace. At this time, there was no hint of the future role Wallis would come to play in Queen Mary’s life. The Simpsons had been on the fringes of London society but now they were to be pushed further into the maelstrom when friends of Wallis proposed that she should be presented at court. Ernest Simpson was not a wealthy man and a presentation came at a cost; a new white gown with train, white feathers and of course, a tiara. The necessary kit for her Palace debut was therefore borrowed from Thelma Furness and Connie Thaw, both close friends of Wallis, and despite her reluctance, the presentation went off without a hitch. Well. Almost.

Wallis at Court
Wallis is presented at court, 10th June 1931.

At the presentation, Wallis overheard the Prince of Wales say to the Duke of Connaught; “Uncle Arthur, something ought to be done about the lights. They make all the women look ghastly”. When Wallis met the Prince (their second meeting) at a party given by Thelma Furness later that evening, he spoke admiringly of her gown.

“But Sir”, I responded with a straight face, “I understood that you thought we all looked ghastly?”

He was startled. Then he smiled. “I had no idea my voice carried so far”

The Duchess of Windsor, The Heart Has It’s Reasons

The Prince was impressed by Wallis’ candour and forthright attitude. So began his keen interest in her. Her meeting with Queen Mary that same day was dull by comparison. Wallis simply curtsied to her future mother-in-law who was seated on a dais alongside the King with the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Connaught standing at each side. There was no opportunity for a face to face introduction and it wasn’t until 1934 (by which time the relationship between the Prince of Wales and Wallis had become much more intense) that Wallis would have the chance to speak to the Queen directly.  

Prince George, (later Duke of Kent), had come to count Wallis and Ernest among his circle of his friends and though he was concerned about his brother’s interest in Wallis, Prince George liked her. She had stopped David drinking too much and attending late night parties. He seemed content and more stable than ever before. The King and Queen did not share their son’s enthusiasm. By now, they knew of Wallis’ position within the Prince’s life and sought to discourage it. In 1934, Prince George was to marry the beautiful Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark and naturally, the Prince of Wales wished to add Wallis to the list of guests. The King refused. Prince George vouched for the Simpsons, asserting that they were his close friends too and that nothing could be more appropriate than for them to attend his wedding celebrations. The King gave in.

The wedding of Prince George, Duke of Kent and Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark in 1934.

Wallis was hardly inconspicuous. At a ball held at Buckingham Palace two days before the wedding ceremony, Wallis was introduced to the King and Queen by the Prince of Wales. “David led me over to where they were standing”, Wallis recalled, “It was the briefest of encounters – a few words of perfunctory greeting, an exchange of meaningless pleasantries, and we moved away. But I was impressed with Their Majesties’ great gift for making everyone they met, however casually, feel at ease in their presence”.

Queen Mary was less than impressed with Wallis whose bold gown made her stand out in the crowd. She was further displeased when Prince Christopher of Greece, the bride’s uncle, gave her a glowing report of Wallis whom he thought “very charming”. Two years later, the Queen could ignore Wallis no longer. The Prince of Wales was now King and Wallis, his intended. When the King told his mother that he wished to marry Wallis, Queen Mary replied, “That is quite out of the question”.

Queen Mary refused ever to receive her daughter-in-law following David and Wallis’ marriage in 1937. But though the relationship remained mostly frosty, there were glimpses of a thaw. In 1944, Wallis wrote to Queen Mary for the first and last time, having noticed how painful it was for David that communication had broken down. The pair had not corresponded for some time and David (now Duke of Windsor) was deeply depressed by his mother’s coldness toward him. Wallis wrote; “It has always been a source of sorrow and regret to me that I have been the cause of any separation that exists between mother and son and I can’t help feeling that there must be moments when you wonder how David is”.

Queen Mary’s Cartier Necklace without the Cartier pendant added in 1948 and removed again in 1963.

Wallis begged the Queen to meet with the Bishop of Nassau who was on a short trip to England to meet the Archbishop of Canterbury so that he could update her on David’s progress as the Governor of the Bahamas. Queen Mary agreed. Though she did not write to Wallis directly, she dispatched a letter to David with the cryptic and uncharacteristic post-script; “I send a kind message to your wife”. This royal nod of acknowledgment to her daughter in law was repeated in February 1953 when Wallis was undergoing emergency surgery. In a letter to David, Queen Mary said, “I feel so sorry for your great anxiety about your wife”. It was hardly the reconciliation the Duke had hoped for but Queen Mary had one more gesture in store which must have taken the Windsors completely by surprise. In 1952, Queen Mary sent a gift to her a daughter-in-law; a pearl necklace from her own collection.

Until now, the pearl necklace in question has led to confusion among those who have studied the Duchess of Windsor with various accounts of how she acquired it. For some time, the most accepted version has been that Queen Mary bequeathed the pearls to her son in her will in 1953. However, Wallis was first pictured wearing the pearl necklace on the 2nd May 1952 when she sat for a series of photographs by Dorothy Wilding. Queen Mary died in 1953 but Wallis is not pictured wearing the pearls before May 1952. With the death of King George VI earlier that year, it is possible that a grieving Queen Mary attempted to make amends with her eldest son in exile. Determined never to receive his wife, perhaps this was her one last attempt to heal the rift that had tortured them both in previous years?

This sounds a reasonable explanation, however, the Duchess herself muddied the waters when it came to the origin story of the pearls. Princess Ghislaine de Polignac, the French socialite who married Prince Edmond de Polignac in 1939, was a long-time friend of the Windsors and in later years gave several interviews to authors eager to tell Wallis’ tale. In one such interview, the Princess recounted a story from a dinner party at which a fellow guest complemented the Duchess of Windsor on the pearls she was wearing.

“Oh yes”, replied Wallis nonchalantly, “The Duke inherited them from his mother”.

Perhaps this was what Wallis wanted her guests to believe? She may have feared “A Royal Reconciliation” story appearing in the press which would have raked up old bitterness at a time when the Windsors were enjoying a period of calm and stability. Or perhaps she was referring to an earlier gift directly from mother to son? It is possible that the pearls may have been given well before 1952 but Wallis would undoubtedly have worn them had they been in her possession by then. To add to the confusion, there are differing accounts as to how Queen Mary acquired the pearls to begin with.

According to Diana Mosley, the Princess de Polignac referred to the necklace in another telling of the dinner party anecdote as “[Wallis’] Russian pearls”. This seems to have set a few authors on the wrong track when trying to source the origin of Queen Mary’s gift. In at least two biographies which refer to this inheritance, it is suggested that the necklace once belonged to the of Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia. The photograph below is offered as proof of this. Queen Mary acquired several items of jewellery from the Dowager Empress following Marie Feodorovna’s death in 1928. These included a sapphire and pearl choker (now worn frequently by the Princess Royal) and a sapphire, pearl and diamond brooch (now worn by Queen Elizabeth II).

Marie Feodorovna
The Dowager Empress of Russia in exile in Denmark.

In a 1930 portrait by the artist David Jagger, Queen Mary is depicted wearing a simple pearl choker which does appear similar to the pearl necklace worn by both Marie Feodorovna and then later, by the Duchess of Windsor. But as impressive a pedigree as this would undoubtedly be, it is unclear as to whether the necklace worn by Queen Mary in the Jagger portrait is in fact the necklace the Duchess of Windsor later came to own. What is clear, is that the necklace in the portrait, whilst admittedly a potential match, has no connection to Marie Feodorovna. In fact, it was commissioned from Cartier as a gift for Queen Mary by King George V in 1926 – two years before the death of the Dowager Empress. The necklace is therefore an original Cartier creation.

Queen Mary
The Jagger portrait of Queen Mary, 1930.

Diana Mosley further clouded the picture concerning the inheritance of the Cartier necklace when she suggested that it was actually left to the Princess Royal (Princess Mary, the Duke’s sister) who felt badly that Queen Mary had made no provision for David and his wife when it came to her collection of jewels in her will. A guilty Princess Mary is said to have gifted the pearls to David so that he in turn could present them to Wallis. But again, as the pearls appear before Queen Mary’s death in 1953, this theory cannot be correct. Though the precise timing of the gift (and it’s intention) is unclear, it is certain that Queen Mary gave the necklace to the Windsors before her death, suggesting that the Dowager Queen had softened just enough in her attitude towards Wallis to make a gift to her (directly or indirectly) of jewels which had royal provenance and which Wallis then made a staple of her collection – indeed, she is pictured wearing Queen Mary’s pearls more than any other piece she owned.

1952
Wallis wears the Cartier necklace (with pendant) in this 1952 Wilding photograph.

Much like her mother-in-law who had a flair for redesigning jewels, Wallis made her own addition to the Cartier pearls – adding further to the mystery of the overall piece. In the 1952 Wilding photographs, the pearl necklace given by Queen Mary appears as part of a pearl trio. The Duchess is seen to be wearing two strands of pearls with a pearl and diamond pendant added to the bottom strand. It has previously been suggested that this pearl and diamond pendant was purchased from Cartier by Queen Mary or that it was part of another Romanov jewel which the Queen had acquired from Marie Feodorovna, had broken up and added to the pearl necklace. In her fabulous book, The Windsor Style, Suzy Menkes uses a 1955 Wilding portrait to illustrate the inheritance story and adds that the second string of pearls seen accompanying Queen Mary’s necklace was commissioned by Van Cleef & Arpels in 1964.  

But how could a necklace not created until 1964 appear in a photograph taken in 1955? To solve this mystery, I went direct to the source and asked Van Cleef & Arpels to see what light they may be able to shed on the matter. The upper strand of pearls in the 1955 Wilding photograph is not by Van Cleef & Arpels. It is in fact, costume jewellery. These simulated pearls were commissioned by the Duchess to match the Cartier Pearl necklace from an American jeweller called Olga Tritt. Tritt made one further contribution to the suite in the shape of the pearl pendant.  

Wallis always teamed her pearls with a mismatched pair of diamond and pearl earrings from Cartier, gifted to her by the Duke in 1957.

The pearl in the pendant was purchased by the Duke of Windsor on a visit to Tritt’s workshop in 1948. It weighs 9.53 grams with a diameter of approximately 18.4mm. The Tritt Pearl was then taken to Cartier where it was fitted with a bell cap set with round single-cut diamonds to which she added a detachable stirrup-shaped diamond-set pendant fitting. This allowed Wallis to attach the pendant to any necklace she liked and, in 1948, she chose to attach it to Queen Mary’s necklace (worn as the lower strand in the Wilding portrait) as it too had been designed by Cartier.

The upper strand (the simulated pearls) now complimented the lower strand with its impressive pendant but it was still only simulated. Therefore in 1963, the Duke of Windsor commissioned a copy of his mother’s Cartier necklace from Van Cleef & Arpels. According to their original commission from the Duke, the Cartier Pearl necklace is comprised of of 28 pearls ranging in size from 9.2mm to 16.8mm and forms a necklace 14 inches long in total. The 1963 Van Cleef & Arpels necklace is almost identical. It is comprised of 29 cultured pearls all symmetrically shaped but with a variety of round, near round, button and drop pearls.

The two necklaces together. The Van Cleef & Arpels Necklace can be seen as the outer strand (with pendant attached) with Queen Mary’s Cartier necklace as the inner strand.

It is slightly longer and larger than Queen Mary’s original necklace but Van Cleef & Arpels ensured that the spacing be exact by adding an egg-shaped clasp set in platinum and diamonds which allows the the two necklaces to appear as an intentional pair. When the necklace was completed, the Duchess asked Van Cleef & Arpels to remove the pendant from the Cartier necklace and add it to the Van Cleef & Arpels necklace they had created for her. Thus, the upper and lower strands were swapped over and in photographs of the Duchess wearing the pearls after 1963, it is Queen Mary’s Cartier necklace which is worn (without the pendant) as the upper strand and the Van Cleef & Arpels necklace (with the pendant) which is worn as the lower strand. The two necklaces remained in this form for the remainder of their time in the Duchess’ possession.  

Wallis wore the pearls at the funeral of her husband in 1972. Here she looks out from a window at Buckingham Palace shortly before leaving England for the last time following the ceremony.

Following Wallis’ death, her jewels were auctioned to raise money for the Louis B Pasteur institute. On April 2nd 1987, the two necklaces finally parted company forever. Queen Mary’s Cartier Pearl Necklace sold for $733,333. The Van Cleef & Arpels necklace (still with the pendant attached) sold for $193,000. The latter was purchased by Kelly Klein, the wife of the designer Calvin Klein, who had been photographed many times wearing Wallis’ pearls. She sold the necklace in 2007. The owner of Queen Mary’s Cartier necklace remains a mystery but then, these two simple strands of pearls seem to court mystery and intrigue. Are they a token of forgiveness, a gesture designed to affect a reunion between mother and son? Are they an acknowledgement of a past meeting or a symbol of acceptance? Whatever the meaning behind their journey into the Duchess of Windsor’s collection, they are jewels she favoured above all others. Whether for their sentiment or their style, who can know?  

Author’s Note: I wish to extend my sincere thanks to the Patrimony Department at Van Cleef & Arpels for their invaluable help with this piece for the World of Wallis blog.

Update: Please note that one of the images used in the original article was incorrect and has now been replaced.

The Wallis Archive: Wallis, The Musical?

It may be almost 84 years since the Abdication but interest in the Duke and Duchess of Windsor is enjoying a resurgence. The Netflix drama The Crown has brought their story to the attention of a new audience inspiring a flurry of new documentaries which fill TV schedules around the world. David and Wallis have always proved magnetic to audiences and the fairy tale of a King Emperor casting aside his Crown for the woman he loved has inspired not only books and documentaries but period dramas and motion pictures. It was perhaps only a matter of time therefore that David and Wallis would find their lives played out before the footlights. In 1972, Royce Ryton’s play Crown Matrimonial appeared at London’s Haymarket Theatre and made history by portraying a living member of the Royal Family on the stage for the first time. But in 1997, theatreland welcomed a new and unexpected telling of the Windsor tale; a musical.

Always is something of a legend among musical theatre aficionados. It is both remembered as “the worst musical ever produced” and “a forgotten gem of the genre”. Petula Clark asserts; “It was robbed of it’s success in such an unfair and unkind way. It should have lasted but the critics decided to tear it down from the moment the curtain went up”. Whilst Abdication: The Musical certainly does seem slightly bizarre as a concept, I have to say that the idea of a “tap-dancing Sybil Colefax” sounds so deliciously camp that I’m furious I missed the opportunity to see it for myself! Those who did see it however are fairly unanimous; Always: The Ultimate Love Story was memorable but perhaps not for the right reasons.

The original theatre programme cover for Always.

Always was the brainchild of Australian composers and lyricists William May and Jason Sprague and captured the critics interest long before it made its way to the Victoria Palace Theatre. The team May and Sprague had assembled boasted an impeccable pedigree. The director was Frank Hauser who had enjoyed a long career at the Oxford Playhouse and was widely respected for possessing “an eerily accurate eye for a hit”. A young Hauser had famously applied to become the personal assistant to actor Sir Alec Guinness. Guinness rejected his application saying, “Be my co-director instead”. Hauser’s obituary said of him “He was loyal to a fault…which brings us to Always”. According to both The Stage and The Independent, Hauser accepted the role of director for May and Sprague’s new musical because he respected them – not because he felt any particular warmth towards the project.

Hauser was joined by the American choreographer Thommie Walsh who had enjoyed a huge success in musicals such as Applause (with Lauren Bacall) and Jesus Christ Superstar. He was later immortalized as Bobby in A Chorus Line which made him much sought after and in the years that followed A Chorus Line‘s success, he devised dance routines for Chita Rivera, Mitzi Gaynor, Whoopi Goldberg, Lorna Luft and Barbara Cook. The sets for Always were designed by the award winning German designer Hildegard Bechtler who made her Royal Opera House debut in 1997 – the same year she agreed to produce sets for Always. Costumes were designed by Tom Rand who was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on The French Lieutenant’s Woman (starring Meryl Streep) in 1981. One critic collectively referred to Hauser, Walsh, Bechtler and Rand as; “The Golden Group”.

The casting for Always also proved impressive. Actress Jan Hartley was cast as Wallis with Clive Carter cast as David (Edward VIII). David McAlister portrayed Ernest Simpson (“a rather feeble cuckold for whom the audience quickly runs out of sympathy”) with Ursula Smith (“a surprisingly limber Queen consort”) as Queen Mary. But there two castings which guaranteed Always the attention of the critics. The first was that of Sheila Ferguson of The Three Degrees as chanteuse Analise L’Avender. The second was the much publicized return of Shani Wallis as Aunt Bessie. Shani was best known for her portrayal of Nancy in the 1968 film version of the Lionel Bart musical Oliver! in which she played alongside Oliver Reed and Ron Moody. Shani had not appeared in the West End since a 1984 production of 42nd Street at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and critics and audiences alike eagerly anticipated her return after a 13 year absence.

Jan Hartley as Wallis, Clive Carter as David.

And so the stage was set – literally – for Always to make it’s mark. The previews began from the 22nd May 1997 with it’s grand opening night on the 10th July. Celebrities filed into the Victoria Palace, including Dame Barbara Cartland who was late into the performance because she was eagerly explaining to the press pack that she was planning to write a novel based on the Windsor romance (she never did). The curtain rose. The show began. The show continued. The curtain came down. The audience went home. And across London, the critics sharpened their pens and prepared to draw blood.

Unfortunately for May and Sprague, a loose-lipped cast member had casually dropped their unkind nickname for Always into a conversation with a critic after the performance on opening night. Thus, Wallis and Vomit, featured heavily in the reviews the following day. Piecing together the performance from the reviews is not the best way to get a clear picture of what the show was actually like but even ignoring the nastier critiques, the collective view of Always was one of bemusement and confusion. For scenes set in Paris, “a carousel with onion-sellers and accordionists were employed” (something Hauser apparently objected to but was overruled) whilst the aforemention tap-dancing Sybil Colefax left audiences in hysterics as three Highland Pipers appeared quite randomly to announce the change of location to Balmoral.

The Guardian was the only review to include a kind word; “Regrettably, Always lacks anything approaching a good tune, although Clive Carter as the King, a dead ringer for one of J M Barrie’s Lost Boys, and Jan Hartley as the serene Wallis, have sufficiently impressive voices and stage presences to almost persuade you otherwise”. Even Shani Wallis could not save the show according to the News of the World which passed judgement on Always as; “clodhopping” and “insipid”. It alludes to a scene whereby a trombone playing chef dances with a dog (Slipper, we assume?) but concludes; “If Always was a place, I’d take you there, the about-to-be Edward VIII sings to his beloved Wallis Simpson. Well, if Always were a place, I’d send them both there – with one-way tickets”. The Evening Standard summarised Always as “gross schmaltzification of the story” and just a month later, the curtain was brought down on Always for good. It would never be staged again and even the original cast recording made before the show opened is now as rare as hen’s teeth to find.

Dame Barbara Cartland attends the opening night of Always, 10th June 1997.

But find a copy I did and I’m going to stick my neck out here and suggest that (the nightmare scene set in a fairground aside), Always really doesn’t strike me as being all that bad. Rather, I think it a matter of timing. Firstly, 1997 will always be remembered for the year in which the British monarchy almost collapsed following its disastrous handling of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. But public opinion on the Royal Family had been at a low ebb for almost a decade with 1992 proving to be the Queen’s infamous Annus Horribilis. In almost every review I can find of Always (pre-September when Diana died in Paris), there are sneering remarks about the Royal Family with one evening suggesting that it would “cause the Queen Mother convulsions which would be far more entertaining to watch than the show itself”. Maybe audiences were just not in the mood for a royal musical?

There is an undeniable theme in the reviews which goes beyond judgements on the quality of the story or the songs. Rather, a common complaint was that it was “too kind” to David and Wallis. Reviewing the Original London Cast Recording (which was oddly narrated by Ian Richardson who did not appear in the show itself), the Telegraph said; “Why we should be interested in this white-wash of a pair of self-indulgent royal layabouts is beyond me”. The Evening Standard seemed repulsed by the idea that the musical was presented as a love story at all, demanding that “the political ramifications of their affair” should have taken priority; “May and Hauser try to promote their revolutionary relationship as a timeless romance but it comes across as a piece of heritage kitsch”. May and Sprague’s most outrageous sin however seems to have been to; “portray [David and Wallis] as star-crossed innocents, emotional retards seeking refuge from lives blighted by childhood unhappiness”

And yet there is truth in this. Both David and Wallis suffered childhood trauma which undoubtedly tainted their future relationships. For David, King George V’s presence as a strict and unforgiving disciplinarian and Queen Mary’s aloof lack of open sentimentality no doubt propelled him into the arms of married women as he searched for a love he had longed for as a boy. In Wallis’ case, a fear of poverty and being left alone to fend for herself absolutely drove her to find successful men who could provide for her and make her feel secure. The idea that David and Wallis found refuge in each other is actually incredibly accurate and if this is the approach May and Sprague took in their musical, they were actually closer to offering a faithful representation of the Windsor romance than that which had previously been offered. But was London ready for such a sympathetic portrayal? Clearly not.

It would be wrong of me to suggest that Always was doomed because of anti-Wallis sentiment that still pervades to this day. After all, there have been more balanced portrayals of the Duchess (both before and after Always) which have been far more successful regardless of their controversy. Having heard most of the songs (admittedly I couldn’t quite make it through the whole show!), the lyrics are a little schmaltzy, there are some truly awful attempts to introduce humour and I can’t get the image of a tap-dancing Sybil Colefax out of my head but there are two highlights. The first comes in a valiant rendition of Love’s Carousel by Sheila Ferguson. It darts a little from semi-royal themes to fairground music that’s totally incongruous with Ferguson’s attempts to bring deep meaning to the number but I’ll admit to having a soft spot for it just the same. After all, how can you go wrong with Sheila?

Sheila Ferguson as Analise L’Avender performing “Love’s Carousel”

But the second highlight and the absolute stand out number is the title song Always, performed by Jan Hartley. Delivered by a wistful Wallis awaiting her fate at the Villa Lou Viei in Cannes, she attempts to renounce the King and in doing so, reveals that whatever happens, she will continue to love him just as fervently – always. It’s beautifully sung and the lyrics do seem to be have been adapted from letters Wallis wrote to David during their early romance. As a result, it’s the most authentic song I have heard from Always and had every song had the same sincerity, perhaps Always would not be remembered as the clanger it apparently proved to be. Even some of the critics begrudgingly admitted it had a unique charm despite its many flaws as theatre critic Nick Perry wrote; “The critics will hate it, the tourists will love it”. Despite my better judgement…I think I’m with the tourists!

The title number from Always performed by Jan Hartley as Wallis.