Wallis probably first met her future sister-in-law at a skating party in January 1933. The Duchess of York, as the Queen Mother was then known, had been invited with her husband to join the Prince of Wales and Thelma, Viscountess Furness, for ice-skating near Fort Belvedere. Wallis has been the latest new addition to the party, but she was still not the Prince’s favourite. Wallis wrote to her husband, “It is cold for England now, and since arriving here, we have been skating out on the water with the Duke and Duchess of York. Isn’t it a scream! Also, you can imagine me on the ice, but due to having roller-skated, I have not been too bad.”1 There is no surviving record of what Elizabeth made of that skating party and the Prince’s new American friend.
The Duchess of York first mentioned Wallis in a letter to Queen Mary on 1 August 1933, and she wrote, “When I was at Cowes with you, Papa one day mentioned to me that he had heard that a certain person2 had been at the Fort when Bertie & I had been there, & he said that he had a very good mind to speak to David about it.[…] I do hope that you do not mind my mentioning this Mama, but relations are already a little difficult when naughty ladies are brought in, and up to now we have not met ‘the lady’ at all3& I would like to remain quite outside the whole affair.”4
They would meet on several occasions, such as in early 1935 when Elizabeth caught Wallis mimicking her in the drawing-room at the Fort. Wallis turned around to find the Duchess standing silently in the doorway before turning around and leaving. Elizabeth soon returned the favour and “makes jokes at her expense, doing her excellent imitation of an American accent.”5
In April 1936 (after the Prince of Wales had become King), Wallis also met the two Princesses. Wallis and the King had been staying at Fort Belvedere when a new station wagon he had ordered from the United States arrived. They drove the new station wagon to Royal Lodge, where the Duke and Duchess of York were staying with the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. The two joined them for tea and were accompanied by their governess Marion Crawford. Wallis later wrote, “They were both so blonde, so beautifully mannered, so brightly scrubbed that they may have stepped straight from the pages of a picture book.”
In September 1936, the King gave a dinner party at Balmoral, which has gone down in infamy. The Duke and Duchess of York had reluctantly agreed to attend, and the rest of the guests were already there when they arrived. Wallis apparently stepped forward to greet the Duke and Duchess and extended her hand. However, Elizabeth refused to greet Wallis and said in a loud voice, “I came to dine with the King.” No further attempts at a conversation were made by Elizabeth, and they were the first to leave.6 It was an awkward situation, and both parties seemed to exclude each other from that moment on. Wallis and Elizabeth would remain bitter enemies for the rest of their lives.
In November 1936, the King finally informed his mother and brother that he planned to marry Wallis and, if the government could not accept this, that he would abdicate. A horrified Elizabeth wrote to Queen Mary, “Bertie has just told me of what has happened, and I feel quite overcome with horror & emotion.”7 On 6 December, she wrote to her sister Mary, “I feel so sad, & yet there is only a very straightforward case – if Mrs Simpson is not fit to be Queen, she is not fit to be the King’s morganatic wife. The Crown must be above all controversy.”8
On 10 December, the King signed his abdication, and the following day the Duke and Duchess of York became the new King and Queen. By then, Wallis was in France, and after the former King made a radio broadcast, he left for Austria as they had to wait for Wallis’s divorce to become final before being able to reunite. Many years later, Elizabeth reflected on the abdication, “It was a terrible surprise to everybody when he decided that he had to leave. It was the whole Commonwealth who said no no, we don’t want you to marry this lady. And it was just a terrible tragedy, it really was. We all loved the Prince of Wales and we all thought he was going to be a wonderful King.[…]The only good thing is, I think he was quite happy with her.”9
As Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth rallied behind the new King, the Duke of Windsor, as he was now known, became focused on his upcoming nuptials with Wallis. They decided early on that no member of the royal family would be attending the wedding and that Wallis must never be granted the style of HRH.10 This drove the brothers even further apart, though the driving force behind this seemed to have been Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth to a lesser extent. Queen Mary wrote to the King, “It is unfortunate that he does not understand our point of view with regard to the HRH and that this rankles still, but there is no doubt that you must stick to this decision as it wld make great difficulties for us to acknowledge her as being in the same category with Alice & Marina.”11 The chosen wedding date was 3 June, which also happened to be the birthday of King George V. Queen Mary was appalled and wrote, “Of course she did it, but how can he be so weak, I suppose it is out of revenge that none of the family is going to the wedding.”12 Above all else, they feared that the Duke and Duchess would want to return to England, which could never happen. Elizabeth later wrote, “He couldn’t come back. You can’t have two Kings.”13
- Wallis and Edward edited by Michael Bloch p. 82
- She means Wallis
- which clearly wasn’t true
- Counting one’s blessings – The selected letters of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother p.198-199
- The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.133
- The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.171
- Counting one’s blessings – The selected letters of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother p.224
- Counting one’s blessings – The selected letters of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother p.227-228
- The Queen Mother by William Shawcross p.385
- This was, of course, against common law.
- The Queen Mother by William Shawcross p.421-422
- The Queen Mother by William Shawcross p.422
- The Queen Mother by William Shawcross p.423