From their first meeting on 10 January 1931, Wallis Simpson slowly rose to become the Prince of Wales’ favourite. At the time, the Prince of Wales’s favourite was Thelma Furness, Viscountess Furness, who was unhappily married to Marmaduke Furness, 1st Viscount Furness. They eventually divorced in 1933 and Thelma became known as Thelma, Viscountess Furness as the divorced wife of a peer. Wallis and the Prince of Wales would not meet again until several months later.
On 15 May, Wallis and her husband Ernest were invited by Thelma to a cocktail party she was giving for the Prince to celebrate his return from a tour of South America. The Prince of Wales whispered to Thelma that he thought he recognised Wallis and she reminded him of the weekend in January. He then told Wallis how much he had enjoyed that encounter. Shortly after their second meeting, Wallis was presented at court. As she was a divorcee, Wallis could only be presented if she was the injured party and she had to send her divorce papers to the Lord Chamberlain, hoping that she would be accepted – which she was.
On 10 June 1931, Wallis borrowed a dress, train, feathers and a fan from Thelma’s sister Consuelo and bought herself a large aquamarine cross necklace and white three-quarter-length gloves. Wallis dutifully curtsied for King George V and Queen Mary. The Prince of Wales was also present, and she overheard the Prince muttering something about the light making all the women look ghastly. Afterwards, Wallis and Ernest were invited over to Thelma’s house where the Prince was also present. He made an admiring remark about her gown to which Wallis retorted, “But Sir, I understood that you thought we all looked ghastly.” He was quite amused rather than offended and offered to drive Wallis and Ernest home that night.1
In early 1932, Wallis and Ernest entertained the Prince in their flat at Bryanston Court for the first time. He stayed until 4 a.m. and even asked for one of her recipes. At the end of January, they were also invited to spend the weekend with him at Fort Belvedere. Wallis was surprised to find him doing needlepoint. He told her, “This is my secret vice, the only one, in any case, I am at any pains to conceal.”2 Wallis also received a private tour of the grounds from the Prince. Over the coming year, they received regular invitations to the Fort, partly because Thelma was afraid of losing the Prince and she wanted to surround him was amusing guests.
In January 1933, Wallis found herself on ice skates alongside Thelma and the Duke and Duchess of York (the future King George VI and Queen Elizabeth). She also became acquainted with Prince George, later the Duke of Kent. When Wallis travelled to the US in March, she received a radiogram from ‘Edward P.” wishing her a good trip and a speedy return. After her return, the Prince threw her a birthday party, and she gave him a specially engraved Bryant & May matchbox for his birthday four days later, followed by an Independence Day dinner at their flat. Although she was slowly rising in the ranks, her and Ernest’s finances were suffering, and she had barely seen her husband in 1932 as he travelled a lot for business. More weekends at the Fort followed. Wallis could now clearly count herself amongst the Prince’s friends.
She began the year 1934 celebrating with the Prince until 5 a.m, following by dinner later that day, also with the Prince. Then came the trip that changed everything – Thelma was leaving for a trip to the United States, and according to Wallis, she asked, “I’m afraid the Prince is going to be lonely. Wallis, won’t you look after him?”3 According to Thelma’s memoirs, it was Wallis who initiated the topic with the words, “Oh, Thelma, the little man is going to be so lonely.” To which Thelma replied, “Well, dear, you look after him for me while I’m away.”4 Thelma sailed on 25 January 1934 – paving the way for Wallis to rise from friend to favourite.
The following day Wallis wrote to her aunt Bessie, “He will miss Thelma terribly but leaves himself in a couple of weeks.”5 The following weekend they were again invited to the Fort and the Prince came over for dinner. A few days later, he telephoned her directly for the first time to ask her to a dinner party.
That dinner took place on 30 January, and Wallis later wrote, “Before, the Prince had never dwelt upon his duties and the particular function he fulfilled in the imperial scheme of things. In fact, I deliberately kept the conversation from these topics, as if the subject of his working hours was something to be thrust aside in hours of relaxation. But on this particular evening, some chance remark of mine broke through his barrier, and suddenly, while the others, as I recall, were away from the table dancing, he began to talk about his work, the things he hoped to do, and the creative role he thought the Monarchy could play in this new age, and also dropped a hint of the frustrations he was experiencing. I was fascinated. It was as if a door had opened on the inner fastnesses of his character. What I now saw in his keenness for his job, in his ambition to make a success of it, was not dissimilar to the attitude of many American businessmen I had known. I cannot claim that I instantly understood him, but I sensed in him something that few around him could have been aware of – a deep loneliness, an overtone of spiritual isolation.”6
Something surely had changed. The Prince began visiting her home several times a week, and Ernest was surprisingly tolerant of the entire situation. He found ways to excuse himself as Wallis and the Prince talked until the small hours. On 12 February, Wallis wrote to her aunt, “I am sure the gossip will now be that I am the latest.” However, she was already a bit exasperated and ended the letter with, “Forgive me for not writing, but this man is exhausting.|7 On the 18th, she wrote, “It’s all gossip about the Prince. I am not in the habit of taking my girlfriends’ beaux.”8
Meanwhile, the Prince had begun showering Wallis with gifts of jewellery and money and even a puppy. On 22 March, Thelma returned from the United States, and on the journey back she had seen much of Prince Aly Khan and rumours had found their way back to the Prince. She wrote in her memoirs, “Suddenly he said, ‘I hear Aly Khan has been very attentive to you.’ I thought he was joking. ‘Are you serious, darling?’ I asked. But the Prince did not answer me. At the Fort, the Prince, although formally cordial, was personally distant. He seemed to want to avoid me. I knew that something was wrong.”9
The following Easter weekend was spent at the Fort with Thelma and the Simpsons. Thelma wrote, “At dinner, however, I noticed that the Prince and Wallis seemed to have little private jokes. Once he picked up a piece of salad with his fingers, Wallis playfully slapped his hand… Wallis looked straight at me. And then and there I knew the ‘reason’ was Wallis… I knew then that she had looked after him exceedingly well. That one cold, defiant glance had told me the entire story.”10 Thelma left the following morning.
The reign of the new favourite had begun.
- Anne Sebba – That Woman p. 88-89
- The Duchess of Windsor – The Hearts has its Reasons p.192
- Anne Sebba – That Woman p. 96
- Wallis and Edward edited by Michael Bloch p.103
- Wallis and Edward edited by Michael Bloch p.103
- Wallis and Edward edited by Michael Bloch p.104-105
- Wallis and Edward edited by Michael Bloch p.106-108
- Wallis and Edward edited by Michael Bloch p.109
- Wallis and Edward edited by Michael Bloch p.110
- Wallis and Edward edited by Michael Bloch p.111