The Duchess of Windsor – The death of the Duke of Windsor

edward windsor
The Duke of Windsor in 1965 - Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

In the summer of 1971, the Duke began to lose his voice. He had been a regular smoker for many years, and it was perhaps no surprise that doctors discovered a tumour in his throat in the autumn. Wallis later said, “I told him to stop smoking all those cigarettes. We had some friends who had died of throat cancer. He said he started smoking a lot when he was travelling around as Prince of Wales, making so many speeches. He was always nervous about making speeches, and that’s why he smoked so much.”1 The tumour proved to be malignant and inoperable. Nevertheless, the Duke immediately began cobalt treatments.

The treatments seemed to push the cancer into remission, but when the Duke was in hospital in February 1972 for a hernia operation, his blood work showed that something was terribly wrong. The cancer was back, and the Duke underwent further treatments in hospital as the Duchess sat with him every afternoon. He was eventually released under the care of nurse Shanley and returned home to their villa. Nurse Shanley later recalled, “The Duke and Duchess were in love, and their interaction was like a young couple in love. There was a real togetherness about them, and a harmony which must have been there always because such virtues don’t suddenly come into being.”2

As the disease spread, the Duke became very thin. Wallis later said, “He pretended up to the last minute that he was in no danger, and I did the same. I think we both knew the other knew. How strange it was, trying to fool ourselves, to save the other from suffering.”3

On 10 May 1972, the Duke suffered a cardiac arrest, but nurse Shanley managed to bring him back. She alerted Dr Thin who ordered, “an intravenous drip with saline/glucose, vitamins and cardiac remedies to improve and maintain better heart function.”4

In May 1972, The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were scheduled to visit Paris. By then, the Duke of Windsor was terminally ill. On 18 May, Wallis watched from the steps of their villa as the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, and Prince Charles arrived. She curtseyed deeply but almost lost her footing. The visit began with tea in the drawing-room before Wallis led the Queen upstairs to the boudoir. The dying Duke had received a blood transfusion that morning to have enough strength to meet his family.5

The Duke had insisted on getting dressed to meet his niece, but his clothes hung around his emaciated frame as he weighed less than six stone (84 lbs or 38 kg) at that point. He was on a drip, but his doctor had hidden the apparatus behind the chair in which the Duke was seated. The Duke rose slowly from the chair as The Queen entered to bow to her before kissing both cheeks. When she asked how he was, he replied, “Not so bad.”6

Wallis later told the Countess of Romanones, “The Queen’s face showed no compassion, no appreciation for his effort, his respect. Her manner as much as states that she had not intended to honour him with a visit, but that she was simply covering appearances by coming here because he was dying and it was known that she was in Paris.”7 The nurse on duty recalled that the Queen spoke amiably with her uncle. The nurse said, “As the Duchess brought Prince Charles in [the Duke’s] face lit up, and he started asking him about the navy… but, after a few minutes, I saw the Duke’s throat convulse, and he began coughing. He mentioned me to wheel him away, the Royal Family stood up, and I had the feeling that this was his way of avoiding any formal goodbyes. It had all been brief, immensely cordial, and very important to him, but he had no reserves of strength left.”8 The whole visit has lasted just 30 minutes.

The Windsors’ secretary later said, “That visit by the Queen was very healing. Nobody knows exactly what was said, but it was extremely important. The Duke always said that he loved the Queen.”9

The day after the Queen’s visit, the Duke seemed to improve a little, but on 25 May, he was unable to leave his bed. The following day, Wallis called their American physician Dr Arthur Antonucci to come to Paris to see the Duke. He dropped everything and was in Paris later that afternoon. After examining the Duke and conferring with Dr Thin and nurse Shanley, he told Wallis that there was nothing he could do. From then on, Wallis barely left the room.

Late Saturday night, the Duke told Wallis to get some rest. He said, “Darling, go to bed and rest. Oonagh (nurse Shanley) will look after me.”10 Just a few hours later, around 2.20 a.m., the Duke of Windsor died in his sleep. His nurse went to wake up Wallis, who kissed his forehead and cupped his face while saying, “My David, my David… You look so lovely.”11 The news was released by Buckingham Palace, and the text of a telegram sent by the Queen to Wallis was also released. “I know that my people will always remember him with gratitude and great affection and that his services to them in peace, and he will never be forgotten. I am so glad that I was able to see him in Paris ten days ago.”12


Our book The Duchess of Windsor – A Collection of Articles is available now in the US and the UK.

  1. The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.467
  2. The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.468
  3. The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.468
  4. The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.469
  5. Royal Feud by Michael Thornton p.316
  6. The American Duchess by Anna Pasternak p. 271
  7. The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.470
  8. Royal Feud by Michael Thornton p.317
  9. The American Duchess by Anna Pasternak p. 271
  10. The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.473
  11. The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.473
  12. The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.474

About Moniek Bloks 2223 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.