Americanisation of a King: How Edward VIII had a secret love affair – NOT with Mrs Simpson


Americanisation of a King: How Edward VIII had a secret love affair – NOT with Mrs Simpson
BEFORE he fell in love with Wallis Simpson and abdicated the throne, King Edward VIII had a longtime secret love affair – with America.

Whether surfing in Hawaii, partying in New York or carousing until dawn with America’s blue-bloods, Edward found a freedom in the United States that was forbidden him behind Buckingham Palace gates.

“America meant to me a country in which nothing is impossible,” said Edward, who in 1936 gave up his crown and country for the love of an American.

His passion for the former British colony lost by his great-great-great grandfather George III and its importance in his abdication is brought to life in a new book King Edward VIII: An American Life by Cambridge historian Dr Ted Powell.

“He was completely gobsmacked by America,” says Powell.

“Edward hated the formality and pageantry that attended his royal life in Britain. He wanted nothing more than to live his own life, and America offered that opportunity.

As a young man he had terrific charisma and was very good looking

Dr Ted Powell

King Edward VIII with his wife Wallis Simpson dancing in Palm Beach (Image GETTY)
King Edward VIII with his wife Wallis Simpson dancing in Palm Beach (Image GETTY)

“It represented modernity and freedom from the staid traditions and constraints within Britain. They adored him. In the 1920s and 30s he was the biggest celebrity in the US, on a par with movie stars like Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin.”

Edward first visited the US in 1919 as Prince of Wales, feted by President Woodrow Wilson at the White House. Returning the following year, he surfed in Hawaii where he impressed locals by standing up on a longboard and riding the waves.

However, it was his visit in 1924 that captured US hearts and cemented his decadent playboy reputation.

King Edward walking with his wife Wallis Simpson (Image GETTY)
King Edward walking with his wife Wallis Simpson (Image GETTY)

“He spent much of his day playing polo and partying at night until dawn. He became known as the Jazz Age Prince, dancing until sunrise at grandiose mansions in New York’s Long Island. He was almost like a character in The Great Gatsby,” says Powell of F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel set amid Long Island’s mega-mansions.

“It’s that Jazz Age moment with wild partying and hugely wealthy people having a wonderful time in the middle of the roaring Twenties. He fell in love with American women: very egalitarian, forthcoming and speaking their mind – not like the deferential British women he was accustomed to meeting.”

Edward enjoyed numerous affairs in America, with beauties including millionaire silent movie actress Pinna Nesbit Cruger.

King Edward walking with his wife Wallis Simpson (Image GETTY)
King Edward walking with his wife Wallis Simpson (Image GETTY)

When their affair ended he gave her an engraved diamond-encrusted gold cigarette case. Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda wrote a short story The Girl The Prince Liked, about a prince’s affair with an American heiress, which Powell says “was clearly based upon the Prince of Wales”.

Edward was also bedazzled by the luxury, writing in his memoirs: “Compared to the creature comforts Americans took for granted, the luxury I was accustomed to in Europe seemed almost primitive. My hosts spared no expense in demonstrating the splendour of a modern industrial republic.”

The Prince’s third US tour coincided with the rise of cinema newsreels, boosting his image.

“As a young man he had terrific charisma and was very good looking,” says Powell.

“For the first time large numbers of the US public were able to see him in newsreels and he became an American celebrity.”

The Duke of Windsor riding with Mr Lane at Bar U Ranch (Image GETTY)
The Duke of Windsor riding with Mr Lane at Bar U Ranch (Image GETTY)

His passion for America was reciprocated. Fans swarmed and cheered Edward at every turn, crowding him at racetracks, airshows and on city streets in scenes that were precursors of Beatlemania.

But the fanfare outraged his father George V, dismayed that Edward’s partying until dawn inspired such as headlines as ‘Prince gets in with the milkman’.

“He was not at all pleased,” says Powell. “His father forbade him to visit for the next few years.”

Thwarted, Edward brought the country to him. “He cultivated American friends and took American lovers,” says Powell.

“He adopted American modes of speech – his favourite expression was ‘jazzin’ around’ and acquired American products. He liked American chewing gum and cars.”

Edward befriended Hollywood cowboy star Will Rogers, bought a horse ranch, learnt lasso tricks and dreamed of escaping the constraints of his royal duties to live as a cowboy.

A jazz lover, he took dance lessons from an American hoofer and became an amateur jazz drummer, once even sitting in with Duke Ellington and his orchestra.

King Edward VIII dressed as an Indian Chief (Image GETTY)
King Edward VIII dressed as an Indian Chief (Image GETTY)

Long before many politicians, Edward recognised the desire for an Anglo-American “special relationship”, writing after one visit: “We must be closely allied with the USA, closer than we are now.”

He did his bit personally by getting closer to several American women. Scandalously, he danced all night with an American shopgirl in Panama, enjoyed a romance with American singing twins the Dolly Sisters and had a passionate fling with the American wife of Lord Furness, who introduced him to Wallis Simpson.

“He was a notorious womaniser,” says Powell. “It was said in the 1930s that he was never out of a woman’s legs.”

Perhaps it is unsurprising that Edward found love in the arms of an American.

“Wallis Simpson was strong-willed, independent, quick-witted, irreverent and lacked deference, representing all Edward admired about modern America,” says Powell, of the romance that sparked in 1934.

Taking the throne as Edward VIII in 1936, the new monarch had long been isolated from his family and the royal court, living a public life as Edward but known by friends and lovers as David – the last of his seven given names.

“It underscored the extreme isolation he had felt within the Royal Family,” says the author.

“Wallis destroyed his psychological equilibrium. He’d struggled for many years with his royal role and she tipped the balance.

“Their love affair completed the process of Americanisation that Edward had began 15 years before. The divide between the public and private personas, between “Edward” and “David”, widened until it became unbridgeable.”

The Royal Family’s antipathy toward Edward’s paramours was long-standing and had driven a wedge between them before Simpson’s arrival on the scene.

After George V attempted to break up his son’s secret affair with British mistress Freda Dudley Ward in the 1920s, Edward wrote to her: “Christ! How I loathe and despise my bloody family.” In other letters Edward confessed he’d grown “cruelly bitter” towards the Royal Family, concluding: “God’s curses be upon them!”

Meghan Markle isn’t the first American divorcée to marry into the Royal Family – Wallis Simpson beat her by 80 years.

But in 1936 the Church of England condemned remarriage after divorce and Edward was left with a heartbreaking choice: monarchy or marriage.

His decision ranks as one of the greatest sacrifices for love and one of the most shocking of all Royal scandals. Even after his abdication Edward, rebranded the Duke of Windsor, remained an American favourite. “He was persona non grata in Britain but a beloved celebrity in America,” says Powell.

Though the couple chose Paris as home for tax reasons, they spent long periods in the US, embraced by high society and were White House guests of presidents including Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Nixon.

“To Edward, America represented the future, as the British Empire slipped away.

“The US always held a special place in his heart, influenced his life and altered the fate of the Royal Family.”



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