Before Wallis – Thelma, Viscountess Furness (Part two)

thelma furness
Smith Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

Read part one here.

Her marriage with Marmaduke ended in 1933 in divorce on the grounds of adultery – his, not hers. Marmaduke had not wanted to cite a member of the royal family as a correspondent. The divorce did not mean that Thelma intended to marry the Prince; she held no such fantasies. In early 1934, Thelma travelled to the US to see her twin sister Gloria. According to Wallis, she asked, “I’m afraid the Prince is going to be lonely. Wallis, won’t you look after him?”1 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.”2 Thelma sailed on 25 January 1934 – paving the way for Wallis to rise from friend to favourite.

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.”3

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.”4 Thelma left the following morning. Soon after, Freda was cut from his life as well. 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.

Thelma rebounded with Prince Aly Khan, and they jetted all around the world over the next few months. As this relationship cooled, Thelma rushed to the US to be by her sister’s side as she was fighting for the custody of her little namesake daughter. Gloria lost the custody battle, but Thelma supported her. In 1935, the sisters set up a fashion business, but it lost money from the start, and it eventually went bankrupt.

Thelma began to divide her time between London and New York, and she eventually managed to have an amicable relationship with her former husband, Marmaduke. He turned out to be quite ill with cirrhosis of the liver, and he died on 6 October 1940. A few months before, her stepson had gone missing in action and his body was never found, though he was found to have died in May 1940. Her stepdaughter Averill had died in 1936 of heart failure at the age of just 27. Thus when Marmaduke died, Thelma’s son became the next Viscount Furness.

Thelma, Anthony and Gloria began a new life in California. The twin sisters were soon the toast of society, and they lived the socialite life. Anthony had poor eyesight and bad health due to diabetes, and he never really fitted in. After turning 21, he took his seat in the House of Lords, and Thelma was there when he made his maiden speech. He became a Catholic and considered becoming a priest. He reportedly lived a celibate life after being turned down by a woman. Thelma continued to live with her sister, and they even wrote an autobiography together.

Gloria died on 13 February 1965 with Thelma by her side. Thelma herself died of a heart attack on 29 January 1970 on her way to the doctor. In her handbag, they found one of the teddy bears she used to exchange with the Prince of Wales. Thelma was buried with Gloria in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, Los Angeles.6 Her son never married or had children, and upon his death in 1995, the title went extinct.


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

  1. Anne Sebba – That Woman p. 96
  2. Wallis and Edward edited by Michael Bloch p.103
  3. Wallis and Edward edited by Michael Bloch p.110
  4. Wallis and Edward edited by Michael Bloch p.111
  5. Before Wallis by Rachel Trethewey p.177
  6. Read more: Before Wallis by Rachel Trethewey

About Moniek Bloks 2732 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.

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