Harry and Meghan should learn from exile of Wallis, Edward VIII
The Duke of Windsor died in May 1972 — just over 50 years ago — after almost 40 years spent in exile from the Royal Family. It’s an exile that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex should perhaps study — because the parallels between the marital lives of the two couples is uncanny.
The future Edward Vlll was a good-looking, popular, charismatic young man who made no secret of his wish to modernize the monarchy. But his desire to marry Wallis Simpson — like Meghan Markle, a divorced American — cost him his throne and led to him being cut off from friends and family, as I write about in my new book, “Traitor King: The Scandalous Exile of the Duke & Duchess of Windsor” (Pegasus Books).
In 1936, he withdrew from Royal duties to live abroad — but he never quite reconciled himself to his loss of status, and the ensuing years were to be marked by a series of disputes with his family.
The first was over security, which Buckingham Palace felt the Duke of Windsor should pay for himself. Despite the squabbling, he ultimately enjoyed police protection until his death — a privilege only accorded to the Sussexes when in Britain.
The second was over finances. Like Prince Harry, the Duke of Windsor had inherited considerable wealth — as well as savings made from the Duchy of Cornwall Estates — but it did not stop him complaining, like Harry, that he had been cut off financially.
Both issues contributed to a breakdown of trust and lingering tensions and suspicions with both the Duke and Harry complaining of poor parenting, fallouts between siblings and sisters-in-law — King George Vl’s wife Elizabeth could only refer to Wallis as “That Woman” — and accusations that the “rogue royal” was trying to upstage the dutiful one.
In Windsor’s case, this involved a series of embarrassing speeches or visits, including one to Nazi Germany in 1937. With the Sussexes and Cambridges, William and Kate, this competitiveness has been displayed in social media announcements.
It was felt that the ambitious, clever and manipulative Wallis was shaping the views of her weak, stupid and vulnerable husband, a similar accusation now being made with regard to Harry’s newly adopted woke views.
Windsor continued until his death in 1972 to complain that Wallis had wrongly been denied the title of HRH — it was largely because it was felt that the marriage would not last — which is paralleled by the concerns raised in interviews by the Sussexes that their children would not have titles.
Both couples used the media to advance their cases with interviews which were not always “helpful” — the Sussexes with Oprah Winfrey, and the Windsors, notably with Kenneth Harris and a series of articles by Wallis in McCall’s Magazine, a mix of tips on entertaining interspersed with comments about the royal family.
In June 1960 the Duke was persuaded by an adviser not to sign a contract for a TV series in which the Duke would re-enact the abdication speech. Shortly afterwards he did just that in a documentary which supposedly netted him the equivalent of $3 million now. One wonders what Harry and Meghan may still have in store as part of their reported $25 million Netflix deal.
Both couples have tried to shape the media narrative, either through cooperation with tame biographers or suing the press — the Windsors each produced lucrative memoirs whilst the Sussexes cooperated with biographer Omid Scobie, and Harry has a book out later this year.
Just as the Sussexes have taken legal action against various newspapers, the Windsors have also sued the Press, most notably the author Geoffrey Dennis for suggesting they had slept together before marriage. It was true, but the Duke still won his case.
Then there are the allegations about Meghan’s treatment of staff. The Windsors were also said to have treated their staff in an entitled and unforgiving manner. Their ghost writer, Charles Murphy, remembered: “A dropped plate, a careless intrusion, a slip in attentiveness could be counted upon to bring a swift dressing down, followed often by peremptory sacking.”
The Windsors were frozen out by the Royal Family. It will be interesting to see if the same strategy is deployed against the Sussexes.
Andrew Lownie is the author of “The Traitor King: The Scandalous Exile of the Duke & Duchess of Windsor” (Pegasus Books).