At the end of October 1936, as the ‘King’s matter’ was close to becoming public, Wallis received a letter from her friend Herman Rogers promising his friendship and a way out. He wrote, “We are with you always… Come to us if and when you can – or call us if you want us.” 1 She would take him up on his offer sooner than expected.
The King had already told his Prime Minister that he was prepared to go, and Wallis had begged him to let her go abroad. Wallis later wrote, “In the weeks before the abdication, I was willing to do anything – anything – to prevent his going. I lied to our friends, I lied to the King – all in the hope that someone would put a stop to it.” 2 A morganatic marriage proposal was floated, but it had no precedent, and legislation would be needed.
On 27 November, feeling ill with the strain, Wallis and her aunt Bessie left London for Fort Belvedere. On 30 November, she wrote to her friend Sibyl, “I am planning quite by myself to go away for a while. I think everyone here would like that – except one person perhaps – but I am planning a clever means of escape. After a while, my name will be forgotten by the people, and only two people will suffer instead of a mass of people who aren’t interested anyway in individual feeling but only the workings of a system.”3
On 3 December, the storm broke, and the newspapers were full of the issue. Wallis later wrote, “I was braced for a blow, but nothing had equipped me to deal with what faced me on my breakfast tray in the morning.” 4 The King now finally agreed that she should leave the country, and Wallis telephoned Herman Rogers in France. Arrangements were quickly made for her to travel to the Rogers’ villa in Cannes. She was to go to Cannes with the King’s Lord-in-waiting Lord Brownlow and Inspector Evans of Scotland Yard, leaving behind aunt Bessie and her dog Slipper. As Wallis packed her things, the King did the last thing he could think of to stay on the throne – he wrote a speech intended to appeal to his people.
In the late afternoon, Wallis’ suitcases were loaded into two cars. She later wrote, “Hurried as were my last moments at the Fort, they were nonetheless poignant. I think we all had a sense of tragedy, of irretrievable finality. As for me, this was the last hour of what had been for me the enchanted years. I was sure I would never see David again.” 5 At the front door of the Fort, Wallis hugged her aunt Bessie and then turned to the King, who took her in his arms. He said, “I don’t know how it’s all going to end. It will be some time before we can be together again. You must wait for me no matter how long it takes. I shall never give you up.” As Wallis climbed into the car, the King reached through the window to touch her hand and told her, “Bless you, my darling!” 6
Wallis boarded the ferry at Newhaven under the name Mrs Harris, but customs’ officials quickly learned of her real identity, and within a matter of hours, the French press had learned of her arrival. From Dieppe to Cannes, Wallis and the press played a game of cat and mouse. At 2 in the morning, they stopped at a hotel in Rouen where a frightened Wallis begged Lord Brownlow to leave the door between their rooms open. She then began to sob and begged him to sleep in the other bed. He later recalled, “Sounds came out of her that were absolutely without top, bottom… that were primaeval. There was nothing I could do but lie down beside her, hold her hand, and make her feel that she was not alone.”7
As they made a run for the car the following morning, the lobby was already filled with people. An altercation ensued, and the Inspector smashed a camera. Their next stop was in Evreux, where Wallis called the King. However, the line was so bad that Wallis had to shout down the receiver to make herself heard. She begged him not to abdicate, but the King was distant. That night they slept in a hotel in Blois where the lobby quickly filled up with reporters. Lord Brownlow told them they would leave at nine the following morning, but the intention was to leave at dawn. He woke Wallis up at 3 in the morning, and they quietly crept out of the hotel. Despite this, wherever she travelled, her car was followed by several cars with members of the press. After stopping at a cafe to once again call the King, she was forced to climb out a first-floor window to avoid the press.
At 2.30 in the morning of 6 December, as Wallis lay on the floor of the car covered with a rug, the car pulled through a mob of reporters into the grounds of the Rogers’ villa. Herman and his wife Katherine were waiting at the front door and quickly pulled her inside. She was safe at last.
She wrote to the King that very same day, “I am so anxious for you not to abdicate and I think the fact that you do is going to put me in the wrong light to the entire world because they will say that I could have prevented it.”8
- Wallis and Edward edited by Michael Bloch p. 232
- The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.191
- Wallis and Edward edited by Michael Bloch p. 236
- The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.213
- The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.215
- The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.215
- The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.217
- Wallis and Edward edited by Michael Bloch p. 243