Winifred May Birkin, better known as Freda Dudley Ward, was born on 28 July 1894 as the eldest of the three daughters and one son of Charles Wilfred Birkin and Claire Lloyd Birkin (née Howe). Freda’s first husband was William Dudley Ward, and they married on 9 July 1913. They had two daughters together: Penelope (born 4 August 1914) and Claire (born 25 May 1916).
Freda is perhaps best known as being the mistress of the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VIII, before she was supplanted. They met in March 1918 during a chance encounter. At the time, she was already disenchanted with her marriage, and she was out for the evening with a friend when she was caught up in a Zeppelin raid. As the air alarm sounded, Freda sought refuge in the doorway of a house in Belgrave Square. There was a party going on inside, and the hostess Maud Kerr-Smiley (who happened to be the sister of Ernest Simpson) invited Freda inside. Inside the cellar where the guests had taken shelter, she met the Prince of Wales. When the air raid was over, the party continued upstairs.
The relationship developed quickly after that, and they were soon the talk of society. He was passionately in love with her, and when they were not together, he would call her four or five times a night. When writing to her, he called her “My Angel” and signed with “tons and tons of love from your E.” Nevertheless, while Edward was in Italy during the final months of the First World War, Freda had another affair with Captain Reginald Seymour who wrote, “Do you like him making love to you better than me? […] I fully accept my position as No.2.1 But Freda and Edward knew where they stood. They would never be able to marry, even if they had wanted to, but it didn’t matter. He soon opened up to her about everything.
Edward soon moved out of Buckingham Palace and into York House, part of St James’s Palace, and Freda helped him to turn it into something livable. In 1919, Freda herself moved to a house in Cumberland Terrace, and they would spend more time there than at York House. It seemed that Freda’s husband was accepting of the situation, and they increasingly began to lead separate lives. She did remain a fully devoted mother to her two young daughters. Edward genuinely came to care for them as well and he wrote to Sheila Loughborough, “I am so fond of those two babies, and they are so sweet to me, and we all have such fun together sometimes the four of us!!”2 The girls took to calling him “Little Prince.”
When the relationship became more well-known to the outside world, Freda tried to break it off – fearing for her reputation and that of her daughters. He would have none of it and almost had a breakdown while on tour. Afterwards, he became even more dependent on her than before. Like with Wallis later, it would appear that he was more in love with her than she was with him. She also had an affair with a wealthy banker named Michael Herbert during most of their relationship as Edward was away a lot, and it was rumoured that Edward had flings of his own too, including with Freda’s sister Vera.
The letters he wrote to her show a need to be dominated by women. For example, “You know you ought to be really foul to me sometimes sweetie and curse and be cruel; it would do me worlds of good and bring me to my right senses!! I think I’m the kind of man who needs a certain amount of cruelty without which he gets abominably spoilt and soft!! I feel that’s what’s the matter with me.”3 With a more sexual background, he wrote “I do need you so so badly to chase me into bed with a big big stick.”4 But mostly, he needed a mother figure to look after him.
The relationship between Freda and Edward lasted until both Thelma, Viscountess Furness, and Wallis Simpson appeared on the scene. Edward was seen dancing with Freda as late as February 1934, but by then, Wallis was rising in the ranks. He visited Freda less and less, and she did not realise she had not heard from him for a while until after her eldest daughter had recovered from appendicitis. The end of their relationship was brutal. Freda called St James’s Palace and was told, “I have orders not to put you through.”5 They never spoke again.
Freda had divorced her first husband in 1931, and she remarried to Pedro Mones, Marques de Casa Maury in 1937. She died on 16 March 1983.