Queen Mary is perhaps most remembered in the tale of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor as the one at whose insistence the style of Her Royal Highness was withheld from the Duchess. King George VI had promised his brother that Wallis would take her rightful place in the family; the Duke was outraged to learn that Wallis would be deprived of the style shortly before they were to be married. Both Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth declared that they would not receive Wallis and demanded of King George VI that he find a way to deprive her of the style of Her Royal Highness. Queen Mary’s biographer, who studied her private papers, later admitted that the decision had been “at the insistence of Queen Mary.”1 Queen Mary was clearly chanelling her anger at her son’s decision at the person she held responsible – Wallis. Although it was against common law to do so, Wallis was indeed denied the style.
On 3 June 1937, Wallis and Edward were married in France – it was also the late King’s birthday. Queen Mary wrote in her diary, “Alas! The wedding day in France of David (Edward) & Mrs Warfield!”2 At the beginning of September, the Duke and Duchess of Kent were nearby on holiday, but they had received strict instructions not to visit them. When the Duke of Windsor learned of this, he wrote to his mother, “I, unfortunately, know from George that you and Elizabeth instigated the somewhat sordid and much-publicized episode of the Kents to visit us… I am at a loss to know how to write to you and further to see how any form of correspondence can give pleasure to either of us under these circumstances… It is a great sorrow and disappointment to me to have my mother thus cast out her eldest son.”3
When the Second World War came to France, the Duke and Duchess briefly returned to England, but only the Duke was able to see his family. As Queen Elizabeth wondered what to do about “Mrs S,” Winston Churchill had the thankless task of arranging something for the returning Duke and Duchess. He arranged for a naval guard of honour at Portsmouth, and as they descended the gangway, they were saluted by the Royal Marine Band. However, they did not even have a place to stay, and they spent the first night with Sir William James, commander in chief at Portsmouth. They then stayed over at the Metcalfes – Fruity Metcalfe was a friend and the Duke’s former equerry – but requests for accommodation were denied by the Palace, and a car for their use was also out of the question. Queen Mary had not seen her son in three years, but she deliberately avoided him.
It wasn’t until 1944 that Wallis wrote to Queen Mary. By then, the Duke of Windsor was Governor of the Bahamas, and the Archbishop of Canterbury had appointed the Bishop of Nassau to a post in London. In an attempt to repair the relationship between mother and son, Wallis suggested to Queen Mary that if she wished to learn about her son’s life, she might speak to the Bishop. The Bishop was indeed invited by Queen Mary, and he spoke glowingly about the work that the Duke, and the Duchess too, had been doing. Although Wallis had received no reply, Queen Mary later wrote a rare letter to her son which ended with, “I send a kind message to your wife.”4 It was the first time she had acknowledged Wallis as his wife, and it left the Duke astounded. Nevertheless, when the war was over, and the Duke and Duchess returned to France, both Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth still refused to receive Wallis. Wallis began to refer to Queen Elizabeth as “that fat Scotch cook, the Dowdy Duchess and the Monster of Glamis.”5
On 6 February 1952, King George VI died in his sleep, which cemented the hate Queen Elizabeth had for the Duchess. The Duke and Duchess were in New York at the time, and the Duke immediately planned to return home. He was firmly told that Wallis would not be received by any of the three Queens. The following year, the same awkward situation was repeated. On 24 March 1953, Queen Mary died. Wallis reportedly burst into tears upon hearing the news of her mother-in-law’s death. She would keep a photograph of the Queen on a table in her bedroom for the rest of her life. The Duke returned home with his sister Mary, Princess Royal and wrote to Wallis from the ship shortly before Queen Mary’s death, “The bulletins from Marlborough House proclaim the old lady’s condition to be slightly improved. Ice in place of blood in the veins must be a fine preservative… Mary seems to have become more human with age and has revealed a few interesting family bits of gossip.”6
Queen Mary had remained stoic until the end. She had never written to Wallis, and Christmas cards were directed to the Duke alone. After attending his mother’s funeral, he wrote to Wallis, “My sadness was mixed with incredulity that any mother could have been so hard and cruel towards her eldest son for so many years and yet so demanding at the end without relenting a scrap. I’m afraid the fluids in her veins have always been as icy cold as they now are in death.”7 Wallis commented sadly, “He spent his entire life trying to win her approval. Now it’s too late.”8
- The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.267
- The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.282
- The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.284
- The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.384
- The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.385
- Princess Mary by Elisabeth Basford p.233
- The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.402
- The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.402