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George VI (Albert Frederick Arthur George; 14 December 1895 – 6 February 1952) was King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth from 11 December 1936 until his death. He was the last Emperor of India, and the first Head of the Commonwealth.

George VI (Albert Frederick Arthur George; 14 December 1895 – 6 February 1952) was King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth from 11 December 1936 until his death. He was the last Emperor of India, and the first Head of the Commonwealth.

It was Christmas, 1939, and Great Britain was at war with Nazi Germany. Like his father before him, King George VI would continue the holiday tradition of addressing the British Empire in a live radio message. That year, he would broadcast from the royal country house at Sandringham, where he and his family would spend Christmas.

The Royal Residence at Sandringham, England

The Royal Residence at Sandringham, England

King George VI and his family leave Buckingham Palace, 1939, to spend Christmas at their country house at Sandringham. Pictured are the King and his wife Queen Elizabeth, daughters Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Princess Elizabeth would become Queen Elizabeth upon the death of her father in 1952.

King George VI and his family leave Buckingham Palace, 1939, to spend Christmas at their country house at Sandringham. Pictured are the King and his wife Queen Elizabeth, daughters Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Princess Elizabeth would become Queen Elizabeth upon the death of her father in 1952.

You will remember that King George VI was not a man comfortable with public speaking. His struggle to overcome a debilitating speech impediment – a stutter – was immortalized in the 2011 American Academy Award-winning film for Best Picture, “The King’s Speech.” A shy, nervous man, a heavy smoker and drinker (it would kill him at 56), King George VI would have preferred to have remained the Duke of York, living a quiet, out-of-the-public eye life with his sturdy wife and two rosy-cheeked daughters.

British Royal Princesses Elizabeth (l.) and Margaret Rose. February 1939, 7 months before the outbreak of WWII

British Royal Princesses Elizabeth (l.) and Margaret Rose. This photo was taken in February 1939, seven months before the outbreak of WWII.

King George VI – born Albert, called Bertie - never wanted to be king. He wasn’t supposed to be king. He was only king because his brother David had abdicated the throne in 1936 and he, Bertie, was next in line. Nevertheless, unwillingness aside, this unlikely monarch would rise to the occasion and be the very king the British people so sorely needed in a time of great trouble.

It was December 25, 1939, the day of the broadcast. Dressed in the uniform of the Admiral of the Fleet, the tall and too thin sovereign approached the table where two radio microphones were set up, taking his seat.

King George VI addresses his people on September 19, 1939, at the outbreak of WWII.

King George VI addresses his people on September 19, 1939, at the outbreak of WWII.

Taking a few deep breaths, he began to speak, slowly yet solidly. Measuring his words carefully, he spoke from the heart:

“A new year is at hand. We cannot tell what it will bring. If it brings peace, how thankful we shall all be. If it brings us continued struggle we shall remain undaunted.”

Toward the end of his nine-minute broadcast, he said:

“I feel that we may all find a message of encouragement in the lines which, in my closing words, I would like to say to you:”

He then read from a poem given to him by his 13-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth,

I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.’”*

He finished by saying,

“May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all.”

For a king not known for compelling speeches, this one would be a landmark. It united King and Country in common cause and inspired the people to hold fast. After all, at this point in history, no one knew that the Allies would triumph. Britain was to face five more years of war and brutal bombing by Hitler before the day of liberation would arrive. The end of 1939 was a shaky time and great leadership by King, Queen, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill would hold Britain steady against the Nazi aggressors.

Queen Elizabeth and King George VI of Great Britain stop at Vallence Road, Stepney, in the East End, London, to examine the debris following an air raid in the Second World War. October 4, 1945

Queen Elizabeth and King George VI of Great Britain stop at Vallence Road, Stepney, in the East End, London, to examine the debris following an air raid in the Second World War. October 4, 1945

King George VI pins a Distinguished Service Medal on Chief Petty Officer C.L.Baldwin in December 1939.

King George VI pins a Distinguished Service Medal on Chief Petty Officer C.L.Baldwin in December 1939.

Listen to the last four minutes of the King’s Christmas 1939 message here:

For more about the British Royal Family on this blog, click here.

Click here for the full text of the King’s 1939 Christmas Message plus The REAL austerity Christmas: How a nation gripped by fear kept calm and carried  on three months after outbreak of war in 1939

*“The Gate of the Year,” by Minnie Haskins (1908)

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At a 1968 British society wedding in Kent, Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor snaps a souvenir picture of the Queen Mum (seated), mother of Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen Mum

At a 1968 British society wedding in Kent, Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor cannot resist snapping a souvenir picture of "the Queen Mum" (seated), mother of Queen Elizabeth II.

“The Queen Mum,” born Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (1900-2002), was the beloved British Royal Family matriarch from 1953 until her death at age 101. Of Scottish birth, she served as Queen consort to her husband King George VI from 1936 until his death in 1952, when their daughter Princess Elizabeth took the throne as Elizabeth II.

During the London Blitz in WWII, the Queen Mum – who was then naturally referred to as Queen Elizabeth - insisted that she and the King remain in Buckingham Palace after it was bombed by the German luftwaffe. The Queen remarked to her mother-in-law that she was more affected by the bombing of the East End of London than by the bombing of the Palace:

“I’m glad we have been bombed,” she said. “Now, I can look the East End in the eye.” (1)

British King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth (later Elizabeth, the Queen Mother) survey the damage to Buckingham Palace from German bombs. Both the King and Queen were in the Palace when the attack hit the palace grounds and chapel on the morning of September 13, 1940. As they made their way to the palace shelter, they felt the Palace shake under the assault of high explosive and incendiary bombs. They were unhurt. Undeterred by the danger, the royal couple vowed to stay in London in the Palace.

I am still just as frightened of bombs as I was at the beginning,” the Queen wrote to a favourite niece. “I turn bright red and my heart hammers….I’m a beastly coward but I do believe that a lot people are, so I don’t mind! Well, darling, I must stop. Tinkety tonk old fruit and down with the Nazis.”(2)

Her indomitable spirit in the face of German aggression boosted British morale to such a degree that Adolf Hitler called her “the most dangerous woman in Europe.”

Her scary skinny sister-in-law, Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor, hated and mocked her, calling her by the unflattering nickname “Cookie” behind her back, mocking her love of sweets and resulting plumpness. The Queen Mum, however, did not hide her love of fun, jokes, champagne, and good food. In the 2010 movie, “The King’s Speech,” the Queen Mum, played by Helena Bonham Carter, is shown eating candies in the backseat of a car.

Her ultimate accolade for anyone or anything was “delicious.”(2)

Elizabeth, the Queen Mother

A new book by British monarchy chronicler, Brian Hoey, gives us yet another “behind the palace walls” glimpse of the Queen Mum enjoying her sweets.  Not in Front of the Corgis, scheduled for a June 2012 release, relates this anecdote: 

Lord Callaghan, when he was prime minister (1976-1979), was a frequent guest of the Queen Mother’s at Clarence House. Once, when just the two of them were present, she was eating from an enormous box of chocolates when he arrived.  She asked him if he would like one. He said, “Yes.” She then pointed to one in the middle of the box and said, “Have that one.” During the time he was eating his one specified chocolate, she ate three more. 

She then invited him to take another, once again selecting the one he should have. This went on for the remainder of the morning, with Her Majesty always pointing to the ones he could have.

As Callaghan left, he spoke to The Queen’s Page, asking why he was offered only particular chocolates by the Queen. The Page let him in on the secret:

“Those are the ones with hard centers. Her Majesty only eats the chocolates with soft centers.”(3)

(1) Source: BBC

(2) Source: The Daily Beast

(3) Source: The Daily Beast

Faithful readers:

  •  For more on the Queen Mum on this blog, click here.
  • For more on the British Royal Family on this blog, click here.
  • For more on Elizabeth Taylor on this blog, click here.
  • For more on Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor on this blog, click here.

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British Prime Minister David Cameron’s government is moving ahead with plans to change succession laws so that if Will and Kate have a daughter, she will be able to ascend to the throne. Under existing rules, if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge‘s first child is a girl but their second child is a boy, the son would pass over his sister and inherit the throne. Cameron wrote,

We espouse gender equality in all other aspects of life, and it is an anomaly that in the rules relating to the highest public officer we continue to enshrine male superiority.”

Read more at People.

For more on this blog about Will & Kate, click here.

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What’s Prince Philip’s favorite drink? Check out our quiz to see how much you know about the Royal Family:

1. In which battle did George VI fight?
A. The First Battle of Ypres
B. The Battle of Loos
C. The Battle of Jutland
D. The Battle of Tumbledown

Queen Elizabeth II loves corgis.

2. What was the name of the first royal corgi, which was given to the Queen on her 18th birthday in 1944?

A. Sinbad
B. Susan
C. Senator
D. Sonata 

 
 

Queen Victoria celebrates her fiftieth year on the throne in 1887 at her Golden Jubilee. Queen Victoria lived from 1819-1901.

3. Who succeeded Queen Victoria?
A. Prince Albert
B. Edward VII
C. George V
D. Edward VIII

4. Of how many countries is the Queen head of state?
A. Four
B. Eight
C. 16
D. 21

5. What title did the British monarch also have until 1947?
A. King of India
B. Imperial Sovereign
C. Monarch of Asia
D. Emperor of India

6. In which naval engagement during World War II was Prince Philip mentioned in despatches?
A. Battle of Cape Matapan
B. Battle of Cape Potsandpans
C. Battle of Cape Cod
D. Battle of Barents Sea

The Duchess and Duke of Windsor in exile in France, years after the Duke AKA King Edward VIII abdicated the British throne in 1936.

 7. What was Edward VIII’s relationship to his successor, George VI?
A. First cousin
B. Father
C. Elder brother
D. Younger brother

8. What was the Queen Mother’s maiden name?
A. Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon
B. Lady Elizabeth Glamis
C. Lady Elizabeth Bows
D. The Countess of Strathmore

9. Which king reigned throughout World War I?
A. Edward VII
B. George V
C. George VI
D. George VII

 
 
 

King George VI sits with Prince Charles of Wales. Charles was just 3 when the King died of lung cancer on Feb. 6, 1952.

10. What relation is Prince Charles to George VI?
A. Maternal grandson
B. Paternal grandson
C. Maternal nephew
D. Paternal great-grandson

11. How old was the Queen when she came to the throne?
A. 55
B. 45
C. 35
D. 25

12. Who did the Duke and Duchess of Windsor meet at Berchtesgaden in 1937?
A. Adolf Hitler
B. Charlie Chaplin
C. Tsar of Russia
D. Winston Churchill

13. In which war did Prince Andrew fight as a helicopter pilot?
A. Gulf War
B. Iraq War
C. Falklands War
D. Korean War

14. What was the name of the royal yacht decommissioned in 1997?
A. Britannia
B. Queen Elizabeth
C. Elizabeth and Philip
D. Queen Mary

15. What is Prince Philip’s favorite drink?
A. Bass
B. Brandy (Greek, of course)
C. Boddingtons
D. Bacardi

16. In which war did the Royal Family change their dynastic title from Saxe-Coburg to Windsor?
A. Boer War
B. World War I
C. World War II
D. Cold War

 
 
 

Princess Diana, spring 1997, photographed by Mario Testino

17. What was the maiden name of Diana, Princess of Wales?
A. Lady Diana Spencer
B. Diana, Lady Spencer
C. The Lady Diana
D. The Lady Spencer

18. Why is Prince Michael of Kent not in the line of succession to the throne?
A. He converted to Islam
B. He married a Roman Catholic
C. He became a Zoroastrian
D. He married without the Queen’s permission

19. What was the name of the most famous of Edward VII’s mistresses when he was Prince of Wales?
A. Lily Crabtree
B. Nell Gwynn
C. Mary Robinson
D. Lillie Langtry

20. Which monarch of the House of Windsor has reigned the longest?
A. Edward VII
B. George V
C. George VI
D. Elizabeth II

 
 
 

Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, as portrayed on a commemorative stamp

21. How old was the Queen Mother when she died in 2002?
A. 90
B. 95
C. 75
D. 101

22. Where was the then Princess Elizabeth staying when she heard of the death of her father George VI in 1952?
A. Treetops Game Reserve in Kenya
B. Stardust Casino in Las Vegas
C. Government House in Auckland, New Zealand
D. Ice Station Zebra in Antarctica

23. What post does the monarch hold in the Church of England?
A. Supreme Pontiff
B. Senior Governor
C. Supreme Ruler
D. Supreme Governor 

Queen Elizabeth's little sister, Princess Margaret, enjoying her bath.

24. Who did the Queen’s sister marry?

A. Antony Armstrong-Andrews, Lord Snowdon
B. Andrew Armstrong-Jones, Lord Mountbatten
C. Andrew Armstrong-Jones, Lord Snowdon
D. Antony Armstrong-Jones, Lord Snowdon 

25. What was Prince Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick, later Edward VIII, called by his family?
A. Edward
B. Bertie
C. Albert
D. David

26. Who was prime minister at the time of the Abdication Crisis?
A Stanley Baldwin
B Neville Chamberlain
C Winston Churchill
D Ramsay Macdonald

Queen Elizabeth II is greeted by Winston and Clementine Churchill as she arrives for a dinner given at 10 Downing Street on April 4, 1955. In leading his guests in the loyal toast to Her Majesty, Churchill noted that as a young cavalry officer he had proposed similar toasts during the reign of her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria. He resigned as Prime Minister on the following day.

27. How many prime ministers have served under the Queen?
A. 13
B. 10
C. 14
D. 12

28. Who is The Keeper of the Royal Conscience?
A. The Archbishop of Canterbury
B. Prince Philip
C. The Prince of Wales
D. Ken Clarke

ANSWERS: 1 C. 2 B. 3 B. 4 C. 5 D. 6 A. 7 C. 8 A. 9 B. 10 A. 11 D. 12 A. 13 C. 14 A. 15 C. 16 B. 17 A. 18 B. 19 D. 20 D. 21 D. 22 A. 23 D. 24 D. 25 D. 26 A. 27 A. 28 D (as Lord Chancellor).

Source: The Daily Mail, Jan. 11, 2011

Readers: For more on the British Royal Family on this blog, click here.
11th January 2011

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Self-Portrait by Richard Avedon

Self-Portrait by Richard Avedon (1923-2004)

Photographer Annie Leibovitz doesn’t talk to her subjects when photographing them. “I certainly can’t talk to people and take pictures at the same time. For one thing, I look through a viewfinder when I work.” (1)

But famed photographer Richard Avedon had a different style. Leibovitz observed that Avedon “seduced his subjects with conversation. He had a Rolleiflex that he would look down at and then up from. It was never in front of his face” but next to him while he talked. (1)

 

 

Truman Capote, author of "In Cold Blood" and "Breakfast at Tiffany's" photographed by Richard Avedon in New York City, 1955.

Truman Capote, author of "In Cold Blood" and "Breakfast at Tiffany's" photographed by Richard Avedon in New York City, 1955.

In this way, Avedon got what he wanted from his sitter. According to writer Truman Capote, Avedon was interested in “the mere condition of a face.”

The Duchess and Duke of Windsor with one of their beloved pugs.

The Duchess and Duke of Windsor with one of their beloved pugs.

 

Some, though, felt that Avedon’s impulses had a cruel edge, showing the face in a harsh light. Here’s a case in point: In 1957, Richard Avedon scheduled a New York City appointment to photograph the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom and Wallis Warfield Simpson of Baltimore. The Windsors were very practiced at putting on happy, regal faces for the camera and Avedon anticipated that. As a royal pair, they were endlessly photographed since they had nothing better to do with themselves since the Duke abdicated the British throne in 1936, giving up crown and kingdom, and moving to France with Wallis.

But Avedon didn’t want that kind of stock photo of the royal pair. According to another fellow photographer, Diane Arbus, Avedon knew that the Windsors were avid dog lovers and would use this knowledge to cruel advantage.

Valet in livery of the Bois de Bologne, Paris, home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor with pugs Mr. Disraeli, Mr. Chu, Trooper, Imp, and Davy Crockett

Valet in livery of the Bois de Bologne, Paris home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor with pugs Mr. Disraeli, Mr. Chu, Trooper, Imp, and Davy Crockett

 

In 1997, Sotheby's auctioned off the contents of the Paris home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Included in their possessions were these pug pillows arranged at the foot of the Duchess' bed. Although Wallis, the Duchess, was fastidious about cleanliness, she allowed the pugs to sleep in the bed with her. "“Paper money for the Duchess was either ordered new and crisp from a bank or wash cleaned and ironed by the housemaids; coins were always washed. Each evening, just before dinner was served, two maids could be found carrying bedsheets through the halls by their corners; the bed linens, having just been ironed, were destined for the rooms of the Duke and Duchess. Wallis could not stand wrinkles in her bed….Once the bed was made, a plastic sheet was spred atop the satin eiderdown so that the pugs could climb onto the bed with Wallis; there she would feed them the hand-baked dog biscuits prepared fresh each day by her chef. Usually the pugs slept on the bed with her, although the Duke’s favorite might disappear through the boudoir to his own spot at the foot of his master’s bed.” The Duchess of Windsor: The Uncommon Life of Wallis Simpson by Greg King

In 1997, Sotheby's auctioned off the contents of the Paris home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Included in their possessions were these pug pillows arranged at the foot of the Duchess' bed. Although Wallis, the Duchess, was fastidious about cleanliness, she allowed the pugs to sleep in the bed with her. "“Paper money for the Duchess was either ordered new and crisp from a bank or wash cleaned and ironed by the housemaids; coins were always washed. Each evening, just before dinner was served, two maids could be found carrying bedsheets through the halls by their corners; the bed linens, having just been ironed, were destined for the rooms of the Duke and Duchess. Wallis could not stand wrinkles in her bed….Once the bed was made, a plastic sheet was spread atop the satin eiderdown so that the pugs could climb onto the bed with Wallis; there she would feed them the hand-baked dog biscuits prepared fresh each day by her chef. Usually the pugs slept on the bed with her, although the Duke’s favorite might disappear through the boudoir to his own spot at the foot of his master’s bed.” The Duchess of Windsor: The Uncommon Life of Wallis Simpson by Greg King

This is what he did: When Avedon arrived at the appointment to photograph the Windsors, he got them seated just as he wanted them then told them a lie. He explained how, on his way to meet them, his taxi had accidentally run over a dog in the street and killed it. As the Windsors flinched with sympathetic horror, Avedon clicked the shutter – and caught their expression. Here is that photo.

The Duchess and Duke of Windsor, New York, 1957. Photograph by Richard Avedon

The Duchess and Duke of Windsor, New York, 1957. Photograph by Richard Avedon

The photograph caused an international sensation. Some said it made the Duchess look like a toad. British Royalists were outraged at the unflattering portrait. But Avedon defended lying to the couple to conceive the portrait, arguing that his photographs tended to show what people were really like.

If that was indeed true, the Windsors appeared to be two very dreadful people, a suspicion already aroused by their most ungracious familiarity with Adolf Hitler and his Nazi cronies in the pre WWII years. While living in an elegant Paris home provided by the French government on a lavish income bestowed on them by the  British government, the Windsors regularly made pro-fascist remarks to the press as well as disparaging comments about their lack of loyalty to either of  their host countries, France and Britain. They palled around with British traitors like Oswald Mosley and wife Diana Mitford in the French countryside until the Duke’s brother, the reigning King George VI of the United Kingdom got wise to the danger and shipped them off to the Bahamas for the duration of the war.

Avedon once remarked that the Windsors loved dogs more than they loved Jews.

(1) Leibovitz, Annie. Annie Leibovitz at Work. New York: Random House, 2008.

Readers: For more posts on this site on Annie Leibovitz or the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, scroll down the right sidebar: Categories: People.

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The Duchess of Windsor filled her empty life by buying expensive clothes and getting the Duke to buy her costly jewels. She was always immaculately dressed and never casual. In 1935, she made the Paris Couture best-dressed list and remained there for 40 years.

Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor (1896-1986), is remembered for her stylishness. She filled her empty life by buying expensive clothes from the big Paris fashion houses like Chanel and getting the Duke to buy her costly jewels from Cartier. The Duchess of Windsor was always immaculately dressed and never casual. In 1935, she made the Paris Couture best-dressed list and remained there for 40 years.

In my previous post, “Coco Chanel, Nazi Lovers, and the Windsor Set,” I described the wave of attention the Duke and Duchess of Windsor received when they settled in Paris in the late thirties. A glamorous social set of fashion designers, Nazi sympathizers, American heiresses, British ex-pats, and assorted other idle rich people welcomed the Windsors and became a sort of parallel court for the displaced royals. This French upper-crust group was dubbed “the Windsor Set.” The press buzzed about them like bees around a hive. All  their comings and goings, designer clothes, fancy homes, and elegant soirees were endlessly photographed and reported in the society columns of the day.

The Duchess and Duke of Windsor at hone

The Duchess and Duke of Windsor at home

At the center of this new social whirl was the Duchess of Windsor. She had never gotten over being snubbed by the British Royal Family and being barred from getting the attention she felt she and the Duke deserved.

Wallis had always been obsessed with her appearance. She knew she wasn’t a great beauty, having once said,

” Nobody ever called me beautiful, or even pretty.”

What she lacked in looks, she made up for in other ways. She selected simple, well-tailored clothes that accented her slim, almost boyish figure. Against this plain backdrop, she dripped with sometimes enormous jewels, sometimes mixing real gems with costume pieces, the real things being given to her by the Duke. Her taste ran to big colorful stones and yellow gold. She amassed a huge collection of jewelry which was sold at auction in 1987 for a record-shattering $50 million. “An 18-karat-gold cigarette case from Cartier—engraved with a map of Europe and set with 37 gems to mark the couple’s premarital holidays—sold for more than $290,000; Elizabeth Taylor phoned in a bid of $623,000 and snagged a diamond brooch.”

In 1949, the Duchess of Windsor acquired this diamond and sapphire panther pin from Cartier. The panther is crouched in a life like pose on a large perfect round cabochon star sapphire weighing 152.35 carats. This panther pin was one of the Duchess' favorite pieces which she frequently wore. It created an envy among other jewelry collectors and a demand for Cartier to produce more panther pieces. Today, the panther is a Cartier icon. The Duchess of Windsor's animal pieces became her signature.

In 1949, the Duchess of Windsor acquired this diamond and sapphire panther pin from Cartier. The panther is crouched in a life like pose on a large perfect round cabochon star sapphire weighing 152.35 carats. This panther pin was one of the Duchess' favorite pieces which she frequently wore. It created an envy among other jewelry collectors and a demand for Cartier to produce more panther pieces. Today, the panther is a Cartier icon. The Duchess of Windsor's animal pieces became her signature.

Wallis and Edward with best man Edward "Fruity" Metcalf at their royal wedding, June 3, 1937, at the Chateau de Cande, Mont, France

Wallis and Edward with best man Edward "Fruity" Metcalfe at their royal wedding, June 3, 1937, at the Chateau de Candé, Mont, France

Necklaces, bracelets, lapel pins – she had them all. The only gap in her jewelry collection was rings. The Duchess hated her hands. She thought they were big and ugly. (Notice the black gloves in the first photo above). Acclaimed British photographer Cecil Beaton photographed the Windsors many times. He took their wedding photos at the Chateau de Candé. Beaton remembered of that session that Wallis

“twisted and twirled her rugged hands. She laughed a square laugh, protruded her lower lip. Her eyes were excessively bright, slightly froglike, also wistful.”

 

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Wallis Warfield marries the former King Edward VIII of Britain on June 3, 1937, in France. The day before the wedding, the Prince's brother, the new British king, George VI, sent him a letter granting him and Wallis new titles: the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The titles were hollow; there was no dominion of Windsor to rule. Even worse: the King's letter contained a bomb - the Prince, despite his abdication of the throne, could continue to "hold and enjoy...the title, style or attribute of Royal Highness," but his bride, the Duchess, could not, nor could any of their offspring. She, though a duchess, was denied what her sister-in-laws would enjoy - that her name would be preceded by the magic initials 'H.R.H.' "What a damnable wedding present!" Windsor shouted. (J.Bryan III and Charles J.V. Murphy,

Wallis Warfield (Simpson) marries the former King Edward VIII of Britain on June 3, 1937, in France, after he gave up the British throne to be with her. Wallis Warfield Simpson was an American divorcee. For the King to have married her and tried to install her as his Queen would have precipitated a constitutional crisis in Great Britain....The wedding day dawned bright and sunny. It was Wallis' third wedding; her dress was not white but blue. Blue was also the mood. The day before the wedding, the former king's brother, the new British king, George VI, sent Edward a letter granting him and Wallis new titles: the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The titles were hollow; there was no dominion of Windsor to rule. Even worse: the King's letter contained a bomb - the former king, now titled the Duke, despite his abdication of the throne, could continue to "hold and enjoy...the title, style or attribute of Royal Highness," but his bride, the Duchess, could not, nor could any of their offspring. She, though a duchess, was denied what her sister-in-laws would enjoy - that her name would be preceded by the magic initials 'H.R.H.' At her entrance, no women had to curtsey, no men to bow. She would not be referred to as "Her Highness" but with the lower form of "Her Grace." "What a damnable wedding present!" Windsor shouted upon reading the King's letter. (Bryan III, J. and Murphy, Charles J.V., The Windsor Story. New York: Dell, 1979.)

In 1937, after King Edward VIII had given up the British throne to marry his American divorcee, Wallis Warfield Simpson, the two tiny, trim party animals were exiled to France, where they were doomed to live a life of idle nothingness. They were given the new but hollow titles of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Accustomed to a lifetime of adulation and privilege yet denied a kingdom, the Duke (and the Duchess), set about creating an imaginary realm of their own that would given them the validation they craved as royals. This new kingdom:

“…was a region whose borders were outlined in society pages, peopled mostly by glamorous nobodies lucky enough to have been born into wealth. It was an ornamental place, whose citizens, according to Andrew Bolton, the curator of ”Blithe Spirit” [a past costume exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum], were unsurpassed ”in the beauty, elegance and craftsmanship” of their dress. For self-indulgence, they were also hard to beat.”

The people who congregated around the Duke and Duchess were dubbed the “Windsor set.” They were all-consumed with the photographic image.

“They arranged those lives to suit the lens. Voluntarily estranged from the real aristocracy, the Duke of Windsor, with the aid of his wife, the former Wallis Warfield Simpson, set up a parallel court composed of people like Elsie de Wolfe, the interior decorator and social arbiter; Mona Bismarck, a gorgeous adventuress who was the daughter of a stableman on a Kentucky horse farm; and Daisy Fellowes, whose fortune derived from sewing machines and who had the distinction of being one of the first people on record to alter her nose surgically.”

the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at home with their precious pug dogs. The Duchess, the former Wallis Warfield Simpson, often appeared in her stylish best in public with a pug tucked under one arm. It became a fashion trend - to carry a dog around with you when away from home.

the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at home with their precious pug dogs. The Duchess, the former Wallis Warfield Simpson, often appeared in her stylish best in public with a pug tucked under one arm. It became a fashion trend - to carry a dog around with you when away from home.

Granted, the Windsors were despicable people, dining with Adolf Hitler in 1937 and hobnobbing with fellow Nazi sympathizers and British ex-pats Oswald Mosley and wife Diana Mitford. Nevertheless, the Duke and Duchess - and their fancy friends – obsessed with clothing,  had tremendous style.

Adolf Hitler kisses the hand of the Duchess of Windsor as her husband the Duke looks on, admiringly. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor visited Germany in 1937 before WWII broke out across Europe. They were outspoken supporters of Nazi fascism and suspected of spying for Germany. At the beginning of the war, the Windsors were whisked out of France to safe haven in the Bahamas, where the Duke served out the war years as governor. There he could do Britain little harm - and he was less likely of being kidnapped by the Germans who were reportedly interested in installing him as a puppet king in a conquered Great Britain under German rule.

Adolf Hitler kisses the hand of the Duchess of Windsor as her husband the Duke looks on, admiringly. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor visited Germany in 1937 before WWII broke out across Europe. They were outspoken supporters of Nazi fascism and suspected of spying for Germany. At the beginning of the war, the Windsors were whisked out of France to safe haven in the Bahamas, where the Duke served out the war years as governor. There he could do Britain little harm - and he was less likely of being kidnapped by the Germans who were reportedly interested in installing him as a puppet king in a conquered Great Britain under German rule.

Fashion designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel (French, 1883-1971) at Lido Beach in 1936

Fashion designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel (French, 1883-1971) at Lido Beach in 1936

"Evening Dress," 1938. Gabrielle ("Coco") Chanel. Black Silk Net with Polychrome Sequins. The Metropolitan Museum of ARt, New York. Special Exhibit: "Blithe Spirit: The Windsor Set" The decoration of sequined fireworks on this evening dress, which was worn by the Countess Madeleine de Montgomery to Lady Mendl's seventy-fifth birthday party in 1939, is a fitting climax to le beau monde of the 1930s. It was the end of an era when, on Sept. 1, 1939, Parisians heard an early-morning radio announcemen from Herr Hitler in German, at once translated into French, that "as of this moment, we are at war with Poland." The thirties were over; the Second World War had begun.

"Evening Dress," 1938. Gabrielle ("Coco") Chanel. Black Silk Net with Polychrome Sequins. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Special Exhibit: "Blithe Spirit: The Windsor Set" The decoration of sequined fireworks on this evening dress, which was worn by the Countess Madeleine de Montgomery to Lady Mendl's seventy-fifth birthday party in 1939, is a fitting climax to le beau monde of the 1930s. It was the end of an era when, on Sept. 1, 1939, Parisians heard an early-morning radio announcement from Herr Hitler in German, at once translated into French, that "as of this moment, we are at war with Poland." The thirties were over; the Second World War had begun.

The Windsors were famous for their elegant Paris dinner parties, creating a demand for expensive clothes and jewels for them and their guests. Thus, the prewar years in France from 1935-1940 were rich in the decorative arts, putting trendy fashion designers front and center. It was a time when Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was “rethinking the suit” to allow for the way women really move and Elsa Schiaparelli* was designing lobster dresses with surrealist Salvador Dali.*

Then Hitler invaded Poland and World War II shattered the fantasy world of endless cocktail parties and silk and organza gowns made to order. The Germans invaded and occupied France.

Shockingly, Coco Chanel spent the war years living at the Ritz in Paris with a Nazi officer. After the war was over, Chanel was arrested by the free French for suspicion of collaborating with the Nazis. She purportedly offered this explanation for sleeping with the enemy:

 “Really, sir, a woman of my age cannot be expected to look at his passport if she has a chance of a lover.”

It is generally believed that Winston Churchill  intervened with the French government, convincing them to let his old friend Coco Chanel escape to Switzerland rather than be paraded through the streets of Paris with her head shaved like other female Nazi collaborators.

Women accused of being Nazi collaborators are humiliated after the liberation of France, 1944. © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis

Women accused of being Nazi collaborators are humiliated after the liberation of France, 1944. © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis

Jackie Kennedy in her pink Chanel suit and pillbox hat, riding through Dallas in a motorcade just minutes before a sniper kills her husband, President John F. Kennedy

Fast forward 19 years. It's November 22, 1963. Jackie Kennedy,* in her pink Chanel suit and pillbox hat, is riding through Dallas in a motorcade just minutes before a sniper kills her husband, President John F. Kennedy

*For more on the Kennedys on this blog, please see right sidebar – Categories – People  – the Kennedys.
See “Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor,” which follows this blog post.

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