Thursday, April 21, 2011

Royal Wedding Special -- Installment Two -- A Journey Through The Past

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor meeting Adolf Hitler in Germany, 1937  

I. Views concerning Mrs. Simpson (1930s):

          "Reactions to her differed markedly. King George had had strong views about Mrs Simpson and was furious when David [1] introduced her at Buckingham Palace. Chips Channon, upon meeting her at Emerald Cunard's in the January before the King died, wrote 'she is a nice, quiet, well-bred mouse of a woman with large startled eyes and a huge mole. I think she is surprised and rather conscience-stricken by her present position and the limelight which consequently falls upon her.'  Cecil Beaton's first impressions were less flattering.  Writing in November, 1936, when Mrs Simpson was the talk of the town, he recalled 'the great brawny cow or bullock in sapphic blue velvet' whom he had first met at the beginning of the decade: 'To hear her speak was enough.  Her voice was raucous and appalling.  I thought her awful, common, vulgar, strident, a second-rate American with no charm.'"

[1]  Edward, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII and the Duke of Windsor following his abdication), was called David by his family.

Emerald Cunard, nee Maude Alice Burke (1872-1948), American-born, British-naturalized grand society hostess (according to The Times, "the most lavish in her day"), wife of Sir Bache Cunard, founder of the Cunard Shipping Lines, mother of writer and muse Nancy Cunard, and supporter of Mrs. Simpson, it was Lady Cunard's great hope to be appointed as Mistress of the Robes, the Senior Lady in the British Royal Household in the event Mrs. Simpson became Queen to Edward VIII. 


Sir Henry "Chips" Channon (1897-1958), American-born, naturalized British citizen and politician, friend and supporter of King Edward VIII.  Regarding the expurgated version of his diaries (the unredacted manuscripts are held in the British Museum and their contents cannot be published until after 2018), Malcolm Muggeridge wrote in The Observer: "Grovellingly sycophantic and snobbish as only a well-heeled American nesting among the English upper classes can be, with a commonness that positively hurts at times. And yet – how sharp an eye! What neat malice! How, in their own fashion, well written and truthful and honest they are! … What a relief to turn to him after Sir Winston's windy rhetoric, and all those leaden narratives by field-marshals, air-marshals and admirals!"   Nancy Mitford observed: "You can't think how vile & spiteful & silly it is. One always thought Chips was rather a dear, but he was black inside; how sinister!"

Sir Cecil Walter Hardy Beaton (1904-80), English fashion and portrait photographer, interior designer and stage and costume designer for theater and film.

II.  Behavior of Edward, the Prince of Wales, upon the death of his youngest brother, Prince John of the United Kingdom (1905-19),  following an attack of epilepsy.

          "For both parents [1], the death was 'the greatest mercy possible', yet May was hurt by her older son's cold attitude toward his brother and his death.  When he heard how he had hurt her, David did write to apologise, explaining, 'no one can realise more than you how little poor Johnnie meant to me who hardly knew him.' At least the poor child had one brother who cared about him." [2]

[1]  King George V and Queen Mary (known to her family as May).
[2]  This refers to Prince George (later the Duke of Kent).

Prince John of the United Kingdom (1904-19) photographed in 1913.

Edward, Prince of Wales, in Canada, 1919.

The Duke of Windsor reviewing SS troops, Germany, 1937.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor being entertained at the White House, Washington, D.C., 1970, with President Richard M. Nixon.

Reader Note: Text in I and II above excerpted from:  Sophia Watson, Marina:  The Story of a Princess.  London, Weidenfield & Nicholson, 1994.


  1. Where did you get that picture of Nixon? A wonderful complement to the Hitler photos.

    I want to read Channon's unexpurgated diaries, in which he is reported to have said that he was rivetted by lust and furniture. A great pairing.

  2. Well this is quite a gallery of wanted-to-be's, eh? Nixon included. Fascinating. Great photos.

  3. Thank you. I just trolled around. There's a lot floating out there. I kind of recall the Windsors' White House visit, but don't remember seeing that image. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Julie Nixon Eisenhower and her husband, Prof. David Eisenhower of the University of Pennsylvania, are our neighbors, by the way, meaning that they live about 4 minutes away. We've never met nor seen them, though. I also would like to read the Channon diaries when they are eventually published. Channon and Lady Cunard make such a strange subtext to the Mrs. Simpson matter. As someone who has had plenty of reason to formulate apologies in my life, I find Prince Edward's "apology" letter to Queen Mary simply astonishing. What a strange, strange group. I will probably tune into the William-Kate Middleton wedding, even though it will be difficult to find acceptable coverage unless BBC America runs the straight BBC feed (which I hope they do). I watched the Charles-Diana union in 1981 because it took place on the morning of the second day of the bar exam and I was up really early, restless, etc. It was so pretty. No glass coach this time and Prince William has discontinued the charming term "supporter" in favor of the more contemporary "best man". I think that's too bad and also a p.r. mistake. But as an American, I can't really say that I greatly care. Curtis

  4. Hello Joanie and thank you. I'm so glad you liked this. I think "wanted-to-be's" is an excellent way of describing all of the individuals in this post except, actually, Cecil Beaton, on the one hand, and Nixon and Hitler on the other. The latter two really "rang the bell" in terms of achievement, notwithstanding the nature of their achievements. I agree that it's an unfortunate, portentous and possibly revealing portrait of Nixon, who you would like to think would have known better. As for Beaton, he was incredibly talented, but that stupid knee-jerk anti-Americanism really irks me. That being said, I still found his remark amusing and I think the Beaton portrait is really beautiful. Yesterday it was warm here; today it's freezing. Curtis