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209: W.E. with Andrew Lownie

The movie’s title W.E. stands for Wallis and Edward. Was the movie correct to suggest King Edward VIII’s reason for abdicating the throne in 1936 was so he could marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson? We’ll chat with author Andrew Lownie about the true story to find out more.

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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

Dan LeFebvre  01:58

Let’s start off with a high level view of the movie. If you were to give this letter grade for historical accuracy, what would it get?


Andrew Lownie  02:08

Well on a on a rating of 1 to 10, which is 10 is highly accurate. I’d give it a 2. I mean, the costumes are great. They spent a lot of money. They recreated the costumes. They had jewelry. They did years of research, supposedly. But I’m afraid histori–and in fact, there are bits that they quote, which are quotes from the actual letters that Wallace and Edward wrote. So to that extent there’s some accuracy, but most of it is complete twaddle.


Dan LeFebvre  02:38

Is that the official, technical term?


Andrew Lownie  02:41

It was panned by the critics and I think it took $183,000 at the box office. So it was a real critical disaster as well as commercial disaster. But as you say the best films are the ones that are perhaps the worst films in terms of talking about this for the program.


Dan LeFebvre  02:59

That’s true. Well, at the very beginning, the movie does open with some text it says we’re watching Wallace and Winfield Spencer in Shanghai in the year 1924. And right away, we can tell that this is an abusive relationship. Winfield doesn’t flinch to grab Wallace. He throws her to the ground, he kicks her out. She’s done. It’s it’s tough to watch. There are a few clues that we can pick up from the movie such as Winfield stormed into the room wearing a military uniform. Wallace cries out not the baby as Winfield kicks her. How old is the movie do setting up this introduction to Wallace before she became Mrs. Wallace Simpson? Well, it’s


Andrew Lownie  03:39

an interesting way to start because most people don’t realize that she had this period in Shanghai before she married Ernest Simpson. And there was a first marriage at the age of 19 with the sky when Spencer who was abusive, who was an American Air Force, captain, and so that is accurate. Now the question of whether she lost a baby through his abusive actions I think is more debatable. There’s some suggestion she couldn’t have had children. That other suggested she couldn’t have children later because she had an abortion. So I think there’s a big mystery there. But I think it’s a slightly odd beginning because we just don’t understand what’s what, how that relates to the abdication.


Dan LeFebvre  04:22

Honestly, I didn’t know I mean, without that little bit of text, I wouldn’t have known that they were married. And we’re just a relationship perhaps, but not. There wasn’t anything in the movie that suggested.


Andrew Lownie  04:32

Exactly, exactly. I mean, you know, they do mention later in the film that they’re married, and it goes through this sort of flashbacks, but that period in China was very important for her. It’s supposedly where she learned a lot of her sexual tricks that she deployed in later life. There’s some mystery about her if she was you aspire when she was out there. She certainly had lots of first then and later and indeed during her marriage to the Duke of Windsor, which I don’t think people realize.


Dan LeFebvre  04:59

Wow, so there were is a possible some rumors that she was a spy? I mean, yeah, movie doesn’t even mention that at all.


Andrew Lownie  05:04

No. I mean, it’s all because what we’ve done is saying is this woman, we see everything through the perspective of how it affected the king and Windsor rather than through her perspective. And I think what they do do well in the film is this idea that she’s like a caged bird that she is trapped in a marriage that she doesn’t want and that is accurate. But yeah, there’s a whole whole backstory there. Which, you know, you need to read the biographies to to really understand.


Dan LeFebvre  05:32

Wow, yeah. Yeah, I watched the movies, and I didn’t understand that at all. So that’s good to know. Yeah, it’s something else I was curious about, because because I’ve shot the movie. It kind of bounces between Wallace Simpson story and another woman who is in an unhappy marriage with an abusive husband named Wally Winthrop. At one point in the movie, while he mentions that she was named after Wallace, Walley story that was set in 1998 in New York City. Although the movie never I never noticed it. It actually mentioned the year in the movie, but in the in the summary for the movie on the descriptor. When you’re when you’re watching it, it mentions it there. But the movie itself is kind of vague about the timeline for Wally, it just seems to be more modern times. The impression that I got from the movie overall was that Wally’s storyline is completely made up. But I have to ask is there any historical truth to Wally’s story in the movie?


Andrew Lownie  06:25

No, it just completely made up but I suppose so lots of people, they use the the device of the big auction in 1998, where they sold a lot of the artifacts to bring to introduce her. And I suppose there were lots of people who are remain obsessed by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. And there’s an appreciation society people do trade in their artifacts, letters and things like that. So, you know, if there could have been someone like that, I mean, she’s sort of composite figure, I suspect, but I’ve never come across anyone who was as obsessive as that as to go and trace letters to go and see Hellfire to who owned the boiler below in the house that they’d had and owned a lot of the things that they left like the letters.


Dan LeFebvre  07:08

Okay, okay. But so the the auction was a real thing that happened in 98. So that maybe that was the the filmmakers were


Andrew Lownie  07:16

Yeah, absolutely. And that is true. That is accurate.


Dan LeFebvre  07:20

Okay, okay. Well, we won’t be talking about Wally story. That’s it was completely made up. But the first time that we see Wallace meeting Edward in the movie, is it it’s some sort of an event or party again, the movie is, again, kind of kind of vague about what this is that we’re seeing. It doesn’t give us really a time or place although it’s pretty obvious. We’re not in Shanghai 1924 anymore. Like at the beginning of the movie. As movie watchers, what we can deduce is that it’s an exclusive event. There’s some dialog where Wallace mentions to Ernest that she spent six months ingratiate herself to her friend, Thelma, to get an invitation so that she could meet Edward. Although the movie doesn’t really explain why Wallace wanted to meet Edward so that this is the first time in the movie that we find out that Wallace and earnest are married when Wallace calls or I’m sorry, Edward calls Wallace, Mrs. Simpson. So that’s the clue that she’s actually married now. So can you fill in some more historical context around? How and when Wallis and Edward met for the first time?


Andrew Lownie  08:19

Yes. Wallace married Ernest Simpson in 2018. But in 1931, at a hunting weekend in Leicestershire, so not fulfilled anywhere else. She was introduced to him at a sort of country house party. I don’t think she’d been maneuvering for six months, but she certainly was introduced to her friend Thelma Furness. It’s certainly true that filmer who’d been having an affair with the Prince of Wales wanted want to go off and have an affair with Agha Khan. And so she sort of passed Wallace across to basically keep keep what she called the little man happy. And Wallace was, I suppose, seize this opportunity to begin to have an affair with them. But I think what Wallace wanted was the financial security and the social, I suppose. Exposure she got by being linked to the royal household. I think she’d she this was a fling for her and an opportunity to mix in society that she wasn’t used to mixing in. You know, her husband had quite a modest income. He was not a great socialite. And this catapulted her into into society.


Dan LeFebvre  09:25

Oh, wow. So it was more almost Thelma was wanting her friend to meet Edward that not necessarily because the movie certainly implies that. It’s It’s Wallace that is but wanting, like I mentioned, six months of trying to get this invitation. It really makes it seem like she’s the one that wants to meet Edward. Not necessarily, Thelma.


Andrew Lownie  09:46

Yeah. I don’t think it was quite as as organizers that I think filmer was off and she thought her friend would get on well with the Duke. I don’t think she introduced her on the basis they would have an affair. It was just that she did you could find her amusing with the Prince of Wales. She was then. So yeah, that’s a little bit that’s that’s again, not quite right.


Dan LeFebvre  10:08

Back in movie there is one scene that gives a little bit of context. I had to pause the movie to see it. But there is a newspaper headline talking about how the Prince of Wales is outraged by the poor living conditions of the mining community. The date on that newspaper when you pause the movie is September 8 1932. Since most of the movie really focuses on Wallace and Edwards private life life, this is one of the only few times that we see Edward doing his duties as king or Prince of Wales as he’s visiting a mining village in South Wales. The impression I got though, was that Edward was loved by the people overall, is that a fair assessment of Edwards time on the throne?


Andrew Lownie  10:47

Yes, I mean, I think the interesting parallels with with Prince Harry now he was you know, young, charismatic prince who was popular, and things only incense went wrong when he met the American divorcee. He had been doing a lot of tours around the Empire to thank them for their contribution during the First World War, and to train him as king. And he did have a common touch, he was less stuffy than the others. And it is true that when he was introduced to these Welsh miners, he said something must be done. He didn’t follow through with it. And I think this is this has been slightly sort of exaggerated as interest in living conditions and the poor. I mean, he was a socialite that’s all interested in him were dancers and drinking, and having a good time. He didn’t have a huge social conscience in the way that I think later Royals did. So it’s certainly true. And the press made a big thing of this comment, something must be done. But he never didn’t think about it. He never fought it through tried to get government action. But he you know, and he was someone who was prepared to use his position as the heir apparent to try and influence politics, but only in favor of Germany in favor of the Nazis, not in favor of his own people.


Dan LeFebvre  11:58

Oh, wow. Okay. So almost like he was just doing a lip service. Like he’s telling the people what they wanted to hear almost is what it sounds like


Andrew Lownie  12:05

it exactly. And then that it was spun by the by the pilots and the way that so much stuff is still spun to this day. Yeah,


Dan LeFebvre  12:12

yeah. Well, there is some voiceover around that point in the movie that mentioned Edward was the king, then then there’s the newspaper, I mentioned that he’s the Prince of Wales. And of course, he’s also called the Duke of Windsor in the movie. So for those of us who may not be familiar with all of the titles that he held, can you clarify a little bit some, since the movie doesn’t really do a lot of clarification there? Did he really hold all those titles at the same time?


Andrew Lownie  12:36

No, he was the Prince of Wales until he inherited and Jan 1936. He then became King Edward the eighth. It’s confusing because his first name was David, that he became a King Edward the eighth. And that was from January to December 1936. And then, after that, he was almost immediately made Duke of Windsor. There’s one point where they talk about Mr. Edward winter or something. He was never that he was Prince Edward. And I think they actually play part of the application broadcast on the film. And he does talk about that. And that application broadcast is absolutely the the real thing. And in fact, you can hear it on on YouTube. But that’d be one of the confusing things about the Royals is they don’t always take their own name. So for example, his brother who was called Albert, became King George the sixth. And it said, Prince Charles is likely to become King George the seventh. So they just take the name that suits them.


Dan LeFebvre  13:32

I will admit, that was something that was it took a second for me to fit Okay. Bernie in the movie is not actually Bernie, like he’s called by this other name here. But then same with Edward. Yeah. Oh, but these people are calling him David. But some of them call them call them Edward. Because, you know, they don’t know Him personally enough to call him David, that kind of thing.


Andrew Lownie  13:53

Exactly. And then there’s another brother who’s actually called George Kent. So it’s really confusing,


Dan LeFebvre  14:02

of course. Well, speaking of some of some of that confusion with the name there. We already mentioned that Wallace was married to Ernest on Edward side. He wasn’t married yet in the movie, but the movie does show I’m in the relationship with Thelma while Wallace is friends. And then at one point, Thelma goes to America for a few months while she’s away. There are newspaper articles that spread rumors of her having an affair with Alcon and then even though Wallace tries to convince Edward that toma isn’t cheating on him. It still bothers him. As I was watching this, I got the feeling that Dalmas trip was really when Edward started to turn his attention away from her being Thelma and towards Wallace. And the movie really suggest this when talking about the names Thelma gets back to England they have this dinner welcoming her home. Edward accidentally tears Wallace’s dress during the dinner without thinking she blurts out, oh my god, David. Look at what you’ve done. You’ve torn my dress and that catches everybody’s attention because only fan Lee calls him David. And the movie doesn’t really show anything physical happening between them. But is it correct to show that about the time that Thelma was in America was when Edward and Wallace really got close?


Andrew Lownie  15:11

Yes, I think it is. The public really didn’t know about the relationship until pictures appeared in the press in the autumn of 1936. And literally only a few weeks before the application. The whole thing had been kept quiet. I think people in society, there were rumors going round, you can read diaries talk about the relationship. And clearly the people who are very close to them would have known there was some relationship. He actually sued successfully a paper that claimed that they’d slept together before marriage. But I think it’s pretty clear from all the evidence, I’ve seen that they were sleeping together from pretty much 9031 onwards. He was the man it was a very strange relationship, because he really was looking for a mother figure. And she played a very, she was of a dominant figure. And there was almost a sadomasochistic element to it. So it wasn’t really like a normal conventional relationship, sexual relationship.


Dan LeFebvre  16:07

For that, just for timing purposes, when was almost trip to America was that around that same time and 36, then


Andrew Lownie  16:13

that’s it. It’s nice. 31 Oh, she went to she went off. Sorry, notes, but later your rights, but 9035


Dan LeFebvre  16:20

Okay. Okay. So it was roughly around the same time then. Because the movie kind of ties those two together.


Andrew Lownie  16:26

Yes. Yes. Sorry. That’s that’s about right. Sorry.


Dan LeFebvre  16:29

Well done. That is away. There’s a scene where Ernest gets home and seems surprised to find Edward there with Wallis. And Edward says something about how this shouldn’t be surprising. He’s been there every night that week, is it? I’m guessing it’s not really common for a king to visit your home? It was Edward visiting Wallace as much as the movie shows.


Andrew Lownie  16:50

Yes, he was he shared a flat in central London, and he was often there. And he’s to say very unusual, because, you know, the king, even then had police protection officers, his motto with Prince Wales, you know, his movements were carefully organized, you know, in advance, so that he would come off and quite late at night. I think Simpson couldn’t have been surprised if some was well aware of this. Simpson was also a Freemason and actually enjoyed the fact that his wife had the attention to the Prince of Wales, he, he thought he would be given some sort of an honor for basically sacrificing his his wife for the for the monarchy.


Dan LeFebvre  17:29

Oh, okay. But he’s it he kind of knew that there was something going on. I mean, you would, I would assume he’s gonna figure that out of the people that coming to visit all hours of the night.


Andrew Lownie  17:39

Exactly. And he himself was was was in love with one of Wallace’s best friends, one called Mary referee. Kirk, who he married after they got divorced in October 1936.


Dan LeFebvre  17:49

Oh, wow. Yeah. movie doesn’t mention anything about that. It just shows him as being this faithful husband.


Andrew Lownie  17:55

Yeah, yeah. No, it’s much more nuanced than than when realizes this idea that the, you know, she was great love affair is not really true. And in fact, the film does bring that out. I mean, she says how difficult it is to live this life when everyone thinks it’s great love affair. And it isn’t.


Dan LeFebvre  18:17

The first time that we see you mentioned them in public, and the first time we see them in public in the movie is when they take a trip to Italy. Edward assures Wallace that all of these photos, you see kind of reporters taking pictures, he assures her that they’re not the photos aren’t going to run in England’s newspapers. But then a little bit later, we see Wallace walking down the street alone. And there’s some newspapers there. And there’s headlines like the Kings scandalous affair and the king and Mrs. Simpson tour the Mediterranean. And it kind of highlights that she’s still married. What was the initial reaction like when people started to find out that Wallis and Edward worked together?


Andrew Lownie  18:57

I think there was shock, because as you say, a lot of it was kept away from the British public, the newspaper, the newspaper, proprietors actually kept the stuff out. And so when I say it began to emerge, really, after that summer of 36 people then it was all great surprise. And I mean, there’s still a lot of news management around the Royals, we don’t get the full picture of what’s going on. But I think that it’s all Constantina then the disclosures about the relationship in those three or four months before we application December 36.


Dan LeFebvre  19:34

You mentioned earlier with earnest and there is a brief scene that we see after Edwards visiting and such that Edward and earnest have a talk and it is pretty much gives up he’s you know, says he’s, he only hopes that Edward will love Wallace as much as he does, and Edward says he will and for the most part, the movie suggests that Ernest obviously wasn’t happy with it, but he didn’t really try to get in the way What was his reaction to Wallace and Edwards relationship?


Andrew Lownie  20:05

Well, I think he was accepting of it I mean, partly because he had his own love affair with with referee Kirk. He was a gent his expenses for the divorce were covered by the Prince of Wales. So but he did the decent thing he in those days you could only get divorced if you were for example caught in adultery so he people would go off especially to hotels with a prostitute or someone that you know this case was very referee Kirk and then arrange to be found in bed by the detective or rather by a member of staff who then talk to a detective. And so they went through this force. Simpson went to a hotel just outside London with roughly Kirk and was caught in bed with her. And she was able to sue for divorce. So she looked like the innocent party, but of course she wasn’t. So you was a very decent man. We do things very strangely Britain. It doesn’t happen now. But that was what happened then.


Dan LeFebvre  21:03

Ya know that? Yeah. Just wrapping my head around that. That that concept? It’s obviously you’re just doing it for Yeah. Okay.


Andrew Lownie  21:13

That is doing it just ticked it was a ticking boxes exercise, but and there’s quite a lot. I mean, if you look at probably even more, there are all sorts of stories like that, in that in him. So I mean, it was it was very well known. And people sort of guessed that it was all Shirat


Dan LeFebvre  21:29

Yeah, yeah. And the poor woman who are the ones being used just to tick the box. That’s, that’s Wow. After ever, the newspapers start to break the reports of the scandal as the headlines call it. We see some scenes in the movies where Edwards parents King George the fifth and Queen Mary, just aren’t happy about Edward pursuing Wallace. How what did the movie do showing the king and queens reaction to Wallis and Edward?


Andrew Lownie  21:57

Well, they don’t do very much there’s there’s a moment with Queen Mary listening to the broadcast seem very looking very unhappy. But I’ve actually looked at the papers in the royal archives, and this is the private family correspondence. And the key was a very bitter breakup. And people felt that he, you know, was dereliction of duty there. They didn’t like Wallace. So I was surprised that they didn’t do more of that. Wallace. They said only came back once to Britain in for the Dukes funeral no 72. In fact, she came back once in 1967, when he was alive for the unveiling of a plot Queen Mary. But she was very much kept out he was able to come back and see members of the family. But she never came back and saw them. So again, shades of Meghan, really, you know, Harry comes back to see the Queen, but only until recently has Magan been laid back.


Dan LeFebvre  22:48

You mentioned the public perception initially was shocked. But once they kind of got over the initial shock that were they approving were they disapproving of this relationship?


Andrew Lownie  23:00

No, I mean, there was a there was a song at the time, which ran the Mr. Simpson store knocking. And so she got blamed, she was seen to be an adventurer, that she had seduced him. She was a you know, a terrible American divorcee twice divorced by then. And so, you know, as often happens, the woman gets the blame. And the man gets off scot free. The he was the man driving it. She didn’t want to bury him he threatened to commit suicide if she didn’t marry him. She was there is a bit where she pleads within the film saying, you know, look, we’re not really suited. You know, we should split. And I think what happened was events overtook her. And she got in way above what she expected. She enjoyed being the mistress, but she had no intention of marrying him. When he became so obsessed with her that she really had no choice. And I think that the film doesn’t really quite make enough of that. It suggests it plays into this myth of the great love affair and she’s desperately in love with him equally in this gritten of the greatest romance of the century. And that’s not what happened. It was about one very self entitled man, trying to get his own way with a woman who had sort of bitten off more than she could chew.


Dan LeFebvre  24:14

And so the whole charade of earnest going off and having an affair just to check that box for divorce seems like it almost didn’t matter at that point.


Andrew Lownie  24:27

Well, he went off and was caught in bed with Mary Africa, but I mean, he was in love with her and he married her. But there was a lot of maneuvering to make it easy for them for for her to get her divorce, to be appear to be innocent party, and for the King to look, you know, absolutely whiter than white, but he was the man who had been pushing this the whole time. I think what’s interesting is Wallace and Ernest Simpson continue to correspond even after they were both married to other people and remain very fond of each other.


Dan LeFebvre  24:59

Okay, so they They did have a good relationship and despite all of this that was going on.


Andrew Lownie  25:04

Yeah, absolutely. But I think, you know, then and I think it goes on now, people sort of had multiple, particularly those sort of circles had multiple relationships. And, you know, people married and then had affairs. And you know, within the royal family that was what happened with Prince Charles, you know, he married Dinah, but kept on his with his mistress and Dinah didn’t realize that was the game that was played. So and that was the same with Prince of Wales knew he had numerous affairs. And Wallace was just another one, but that one would became the serious one was for her gain. He was just another of her of her flings, and then she got sort of trapped.


Dan LeFebvre  25:48

You may have already answered this next question. But the movie, you could go back to the movie. While it does kind of go back and forth with the idea of even divorcing earnest. She’s discussing it with Edward in one scene, and she talks about how the law says she can’t be associated with any man for six months, you’ll have to live on a cow farm and Suffolk during that time, and then later in the movie, it shows that Wallace writing a letter to Edward saying that she can’t make him happy. He can’t make her happy. She has to return to earn us to live a calm life. And so the movie certainly pushes forward that she is kind of the one driving this and she’s not really sure. Did she have some indecision?


Andrew Lownie  26:30

Yes, you did. I mean, she pleaded with them. And in fact, she fled because of the attention. She was getting the hostile reaction to her. I mean, there were worries about her safety. bricks were thrown through window of her house and things. So she escaped to France. And we do have a scene in the film with her actually going through the mob and actually having to be put under a blanket in the car. So and that’s absolutely true. She goes to France, and in December, early December, and she stays in France until the Decree Absolute for her divorce comes through in the spring. And then she’s reunited with with the Duke of Windsor. And that was certainly true. They had to be in fact, in separate countries, he went to Austria, and then they were reunited in France, where they got married in June at 37. So that bit is is true. And she did she did say I’m, you know, this is not the right person for you. But you know, he became so obsessive. And I think there’s emotional blackmail, that she really just got, felt that she had no choice but to go through with it. But you know, it wasn’t a happy occasion, his family boycotted the wedding, there were only eight guests from Britain. And they were very much isolated the two of them against the world, really, the the Church of England refused to allow a clergyman to conduct the service. They were completely frozen out. And so in some ways, that behavior brought them closer together. But some If it’d been played in a more subtle way, I suspect that she might have been able to escape that, but I don’t, this idea that she loved him, I’m afraid is rather far fetched.


Dan LeFebvre  28:08

In the movie that really makes it seem like they they escaped together not that they’re escaping separately. Because when you mentioned, you know, her hiding in the car, he’s in the car with her?


Andrew Lownie  28:21

Well, it’s yes, again, that’s inaccurate. It’s it was a man called Lord Brownlow, who worked for him. So they they again, the I don’t know why they change that because in some ways, it’s more effective that he isn’t there. How could it be there? But, but there is a good line of the film that in order to escape his prison, the prison of the month of his role as future king, he had incarcerated her. And I think that that is true. I mean, he was never very keen to become king. He wasn’t temperamentally suited. He had no sense of public duty. And she gave him his his escape route. So I think that’s certainly true. And in some ways, it also gave the authorities and escape routes because they were concerned about him becoming king. They actually encouraged him to take up dangerous sports and hope he would be killed. And when that failed, they use the opportunity of Wallace on the scene to basically maneuver him off the throne, a supreme governor of the Church of England, he couldn’t marry a divorced woman. But there were plenty of other options that are open to him. He could have kept her as a mistress, you could have had a Morgan attic marriage. He could have married her after the coronation. So the application needn’t have happened, but it’s suited a lot of people’s purposes. He didn’t want the job, and other people didn’t want him to have the job.


Dan LeFebvre  29:39

Wow, that’s a lot more there’s a lot more politics at play there than the movies makes it seem like he’s doing just straight up doing this out of pure love like he wants. He’s like he wants to hold on to the title but he’s he’s willing to relinquish that for love and it sounds like me that’s not necessarily the case. Well, that’s


Andrew Lownie  29:59

no it’s not Watch, you know, and that’s always been the conventional line. So I was surprised when, you know, I read that Madonna had spent two years researching this, because you know, even even a few minutes researching it would have shown that was absolutely wrong that Madonna, like a lot of woman has has, I think just you know, who identifies with Wallace sees her as a victim, a victim of male oppression perhaps, I think Wallace was a victim of the system and of events and Edward. So I think that’s right. But she wasn’t white and white. She was a social climber. She was pretty manipulative. She took his jewels before they got married, he was very generous to her. So again, one of the concerns with the family that he was giving her lots of money, even before they got married. And one of the reasons that she wasn’t given a title is they thought the marriage wouldn’t last. And they didn’t want to have two judges as of winter. So it’s it’s a much more nuanced story than Madonna suggests no films can you have to simplify things, but they make some things more complicated than they need to be. And they simplify things, which actually shouldn’t be simplified because they’re plain wrong.


Dan LeFebvre  31:06

You mentioned not giving the title what was she not given the title? Duchess of Windsor, then


Andrew Lownie  31:11

we’re sorry, she wasn’t given Her Royal Highness. As much as Windsor, she should be Her Royal Highness. And in fact, her sisters in law were all Her Royal Highness. And the rules were if you married her, as His Royal Highness, you should became Her Royal Highness. But that’s the title that she wasn’t bestowed that title. But you’re right, sorry, I shouldn’t be clear. So they didn’t want to have to HRH his who were Duchess of Windsor.


Dan LeFebvre  31:36

Okay, okay, that makes sense. That makes sense. The movie does basically set up the the application as an ultimatum, either renounce Wallace for all time or stepped down from the throne. And the movie calls this a constitutional crisis for England. And the movie shows Edwards choice. It takes the time quite a bit of time in the movie actually to hear the radio speech to the country just hours after he gave up the title of Kenya with the aid of England to become Mr. David Windsor. How well did the movie do showing the actual application from Edward?


Andrew Lownie  32:12

Well, the application speech is absolutely as it was written, it was partly written by Winston Churchill. And you can hear it on YouTube. The scene is has his younger brother sort of watching it. And it’s done, as they say from Windsor, but in a lovely room with a fire burning oil very cozy. The reality was it was done in a very cold room in the tower. It was him alone. He was introduced by the head of the BBC, who literally slid out of the seat and he slid into the seat behind it. So it was a much bleaker affair than the one presented in the film. And it’s clever, they use that in some ways to tell the story. But this is where a lot of the myth comes from that particular application speech which talks about giving up the throne for the woman who loves but in his saying that he will, he will obey his brother. And he wishes him well, that’s absolutely in the speech. It’s not exactly how the Duke of Windsor then behaves. He was constantly trying to upstage his brother, he made life very difficult for him. There’s one scene where he’s bringing the new king, and you know, trying to boss him around. Now that’s exactly what happened. He couldn’t accept that he was no longer king. And he tried to boss his younger brother and he was the king.


Dan LeFebvre  33:33

So he couldn’t accept that he wasn’t king, but he also kind of didn’t want to be king.


Andrew Lownie  33:39

Exactly. I mean, you know, he wasn’t always very rational. And of course,


Dan LeFebvre  33:46

I was understanding that that’s


Andrew Lownie  33:48

I think he sort of wanted to he wanted the the, the benefits, the privileges, without incense doing any of the hard work. But I think one of the interesting things is in my book, treasure King, which looks at the period after the abdication. He is He could rather regrets giving up the throne. He needs to pick himself up in front of Wallace. He feels he’s been out maneuvered and cheated in some ways of his birthright. And that’s why he’s so keen for the Germans to put him back on the throne as a puppet King, should they invade Britain?


Dan LeFebvre  34:24

Can you clarify some they that the term constitutional crisis for England with that for those of us who aren’t familiar with English constitution, why was that such a crisis for the country?


Andrew Lownie  34:36

Well, it was a crisis because the they’ve never before been a king who abdicated his throne. And it’s almost a divine the sense of divine right when when people are crowned their crown for life. They can’t just give it up. And the Queen has said that she will serve till the end of the days we were going through a period now of what we call soft Regency where she is sharing some of the jobs with Prince Charles and deal with Prince William, but the idea that Monique can actually give up something that is, in some ways, inherited was is just not something that’s part of the British Constitution. And so this was why it was a constitutional crisis. It affected you know, clearly he, this was his birthright. And he, his job was to get to follow it through. It became a constitutional crisis. Also, because of the Empire. The decisions were required from other dominion. Leaders, empower leaders. So that’s why they had to take advice from Canada and South Africa, and Nelson, New Zealand and Australia. So it became not just a personal family crisis, but one that involve the government, and indeed, governments abroad, as well as the religious one, because, of course, he couldn’t be head of the Church of England and marriage of horsewoman. Now of course, that’s all changed now. I mean, in those days, you couldn’t go, for example, to the wrong enclosure, or asset, which is one of the big horse racing events. If you’re divorced, even if you were the innocent party. There was a huge prejudice against anyone who was divorced. And of course, later on, it emerges when Princess Margaret falls in love with Peter Thompson, the her father, Zachary. And she can’t marry him. Even though he is divorced and he was innocent party, because because he’s divorced.


Dan LeFebvre  36:23

You’re talking earlier about how people were almost using this Yeah, he was using Wallace as as an escape from the monarchy. And then perhaps others were also want, what not wanting him to be king because he couldn’t, couldn’t fit that, how, and then it sounds like you’re a lot of laws had to change, or a lot of things had to change, or they had to figure out a lot of things because this sort of thing had never happened before. How long was this process because the movie doesn’t really have any sort of a timeline for how long has happened other than the date at the very beginning of the movie. There’s not a lot of


Andrew Lownie  37:01

turmoil, it move very swiftly, you know, he had created in mid December, and was sent into exile that very night, not to return and Bertie became the new king and had you know, was the Acts of Parliament will push through literally that day. And you know, he was in Buckingham Palace, this king and his coronation that took place in May 1987 is actually the date that Edward would have been correlated the crowd, so it was all pretty ruthless. And I think one of the concerns was that it would be had become a focus for the fascist movement in Britain. And they didn’t want him to be around and and somewhere that they could group around. So it was a way of breaking up this fascist groups by sending him abroad and basically keeping him out and freezing him out. But, you know, we have to this day, I mean, it’s the shock shock subject the abdication and I think the royal family of values should never happen again, which is why there’s a queen won’t abdicate out Prince Charles whatever applicate so it’s the ramifications of have gone down through several generations, but in some ways we’ve got to remember this is all quite close. This is the Queen’s uncle. She knew him he was her favorite uncle. So for them it’s a very close and roll the roll thing


Dan LeFebvre  38:22

Yeah, and we do see a younger obviously Elizabeth in the movie as well. And she seems to Well, I mean, I guess it according the movie she she seems at least not be a big fan of Wallace and the their relationship. No,


Andrew Lownie  38:39

I think none of the royal family were fans Wallace. Again, what’s confusing is but his husband has called Elizabeth and the queen as she’s known the Queen Mother have felt that Bertie’s early death was as a result of taking on this burden, which she didn’t expect to inherit. She called her Wallace that woman. Wallace called her the witch from glands, which is a place in Scotland where she came from. So no love lost between the Queen’s mother queenless with queen mother. And I think that attitude was passed on down to the Queen. And that’s why there was no real reconciliation until 1972. Literally on his deathbed, the queen on a state visit to Paris visited the Duke, I think to try and just mend some of those fences, but also to ensure that material that was owned by the Duke, the lead some of the letters, and artifacts, got herbs, things like that will return to the royal family personal things that they wanted back. So in some ways, it’s extraordinary. There was such a huge option in 1998. It was also an early one in that phase six in Geneva for jewelry, because the royal family took three lorryloads material away from the house in Paris, after one has died in education. Next. You mentioned the sorry, after the Duke died, you notice of the two so there was a whole scale sort of clear out of their stuff.


Dan LeFebvre  40:09

Okay, you mentioned to him being the Duke and earlier we did talk about that the titles a little later in the movie when we see David Wallace staying at a room in Paris there and then later in the 1990s with the fictional Wiley Winthrop storyline, they talk about how the Duke and Duchess of Windsor stayed there. Which of the titles did they maintain after abdicated? Was it only the Duke and Duchess?


Andrew Lownie  40:35

Yes, they’re always known that that was the only title they had driven Duchess of Windsor. So I mean, normally, you would have several titles as the royal family, often an English title and Scottish title. But he lost all his titles, he lost his life interest in family properties like Balmoral and Sandringham. And the chance of income from some of the royal estates. So his only his only thing was two conductors of Windsor. And that’s why he was so crossed that she wasn’t a royal highness. So people didn’t for example, have to curtsy to her. But they did have to bow to him. But the hotel Marie’s where they did, in fact, film is indeed where they used to stay. They got a special rate, they’re very generous rate. And of course, it was good publicity of the hotel rooms. They also had a lot to do with the Ritz in Paris often entertain there, they took private rooms there to host dinner parties. So a lot of the time when they were in Paris, they didn’t just rent houses, but they also actually had suites rooms and hotels as well. In movie,


Dan LeFebvre  41:39

according once he’s no longer King, David now is having a hard time getting a hold of his brother on the phone. And he and Wallace are in Paris, they’re not able to return to England. And then there’s a scene where we see Mitch and Elizabeth talking to King George about how David had lunch with Hitler. And that makes people think he’s a Nazi. Now, the movie doesn’t really explain this very well. But of course, he mentioned your book trade called trader King, the scandalous exile of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. So I’m going to assume that the movie is correct, and suggest that they weren’t allowed back to England. Can you fill in some more historical context around this?


Andrew Lownie  42:12

Yes, the deal was that he wouldn’t upstage his brother he would keep out of Britain. Now the Duke thought that at some stage, he would come back, but actually he wasn’t allowed to come back ever. Fort Belvedere, which was his beloved sort of country house was was given to someone else. And when he gives us hope that he perhaps could keep that. And he one of the reasons he didn’t come back to Britain was if you will be taxed, and the last thing he wanted was to, to have to pay income tax on quite substantial earnings he had. So that was actually quite a clever way of keeping him out. But it is true that almost immediately after the wedding, he made a tour of Germany, visiting SS troops and meeting all the Nazi leaders. He actually had tea with Hitler rather than dined with him at his home in British garden. So it’s, that’s absolutely right. He the authorities in Britain were not told about the trip. They just sort of read about it literally as it was about to happen. Now, one argument is it doesn’t show that he’s a Nazi, just because he makes a trip to Germany, but he was it was a propaganda coup for the Germans. And I think it was one in the, you know, basically it was two fingers to his brother that he was doing what is suited him. And it does give us an early indication of his sympathies they’d always been suspected of being Nazis. Wallace had been close to a German leader called von Ribbentrop, who was later ambassador in London. He had tried to interfere in politics, he tried to downplay something called remilitarization of the Rhineland in March 1936, when Germany marched troops into an area that he wasn’t supposed to be in, and people let them get away with it. So he’d shown always his great sympathies to the Nazis, a number of his German cousins were Nazi generals. And it’s clear again, from looking at the Royal archives material that the royal family were monitoring his activities with the Germans. And so it was perfectly feasible for birdie and Moe 37 to suspect he was a Nazi. But they didn’t realize how much of a Nazi he was until the Second World War came along. And he literally got into bed with the Nazis in the hope that he will be restored to the throne.


Dan LeFebvre  44:26

Wow. So he was essentially trying to use the Nazis to get back into England and get the title back that he didn’t want earlier.


Andrew Lownie  44:34

Yeah, exactly. He changed his mind and the Germans knew this they targeted him. They offered him millions of Swiss francs to come back if they invaded, successfully invaded Britain in 1940. To come back as the German leader in Britain to depose his brother, he, in fact encouraged the Germans to bomb London as the best way of beating, beating Britain. So he became a company leat traitor to his country for his own personal ends.


Dan LeFebvre  45:04

He recommended bombing London.


Andrew Lownie  45:07

Yeah, I mean, we found this in the archives been reported. We know this because of material in a Franco when he was that he was this was also the Germans when he was in Spain and Portugal in summer of 1940. So we have these events recorded by diplomats down there by the German diplomats reporting back to Berlin and that that material was found in captured German documents at the end of the war, also from Franco’s own files, because the Spanish were keeping an eye on him. And also the Portuguese Secret Service. We have this vents, reports, and him going into now to the German embassy and the intercepted telegrams that were going to and fro. So we have chapter and verse and also his, his protection officer was not just protecting him, he was actually reporting on him back to the king and to the authorities. And


Dan LeFebvre  46:00

wow, well, that makes me wonder, too, because at the very end of the movie, we see an older Wallis taken care of an older Edward now David, at their place in Paris, and it’s obvious in the movie that David’s health is failing, he’s on on the bed, but they still seem happy. But what you’re saying it sounds like he wanted, he almost wanted his old life back did the Wallis and Edward story end up happily ever after, as the movie seems to suggest?


Andrew Lownie  46:28

No, I mean, the it’s not true at all that the he was dying in May 1972. And for the last two weeks of his life, he was crying out for Wallace to visit him. And even though she her bedroom was two doors away from him. She never once visited him in that two weeks, according to one call, Judy shatter, still alive who lives in Baltimore, who was the temporary Night Nurse brought in to take care of them. So this idea that that they were, they were sort of a lovely, loving old couple. In the film, she actually dances the twist from the 1960s for him, which is ridiculous, because I mean, that that wouldn’t have happened to me. She did wear miniskirts in the 1960s. But she certainly wouldn’t have danced the twist. But they were sort of rubbing along. I think what after he died, I think she realized what she’d lost because she had nothing. She had no family of her own. No children. She was an only child. So her closest relationship was with an aunt who was long dead. So she was there. And the only family she had was the royal family who weren’t interested in her. So I think she realized that, you know, he was the only thing in her life and now she had lost him.


Dan LeFebvre  47:44

You mentioned that at the beginning that you would give this a two out of 10. What would you say the biggest in historical inaccuracy in the film would be?


Andrew Lownie  47:54

Well, I think that the depiction of this being the greatest romance of the century. It was a pretty sordid arrangement really, of one obsessive man and one woman who was trapped. And they both had affairs before and during the marriage. So she, for example, had an affair literally within months into her marriage with William Bullock, who was the American ambassador in Paris. She later had a long affair with Michael Jimmy Donahue was here to the wall with Fortune and cousin of Barbara Hepworth a Barbara Woolworth. So it’s just ridiculous to suggest that there were this this this loving couple that went into the sunset together. They’ve robbed along but she was pretty terrible to me, is often sent to bed in tears. She was cuckolded him publicly, sometimes at a lunch party. And there’s a story of her leaving with Jimmy Donahue and going upstairs and making love quite noisily while he sits down at a table, you know, literally just a few feet away. So she she took pleasure in humiliating him. And the more humiliated he was, the more he was obsessed and loved her. So it was a very odd as they say, sort of mass masochistic relationship.


Dan LeFebvre  49:12

Wow. So she clearly didn’t love him nearly as much as he loved her.


Andrew Lownie  49:18

Absolutely not. No, I mean, she is she put up with it because she, you know, he gave a status he gave up a life she had no money, no other way of supporting herself. And she loved you know, Kathy society. She loved their very extravagant life. They had a staff of almost 33 cars and three chauffeurs. She would not have had that on her own. And she was not an attractive woman. I think people would even struggle to say she was handsome. Someone said she looked like a playing card. She was very thin and quite brittle. And it was only because he was this rather pathetic, weak figure that she was, you know the clearly drawn to her for whatever reason Let’s see. So she realized she had to stick with him she he was her best bet.


Dan LeFebvre  50:05

In the movie, one of the ways that they learn things at the at the end, we see Wally going to meet someone named Alpha Ed, who supposedly has this collection of private letters between the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Do those letters actually exist?


Andrew Lownie  50:20

Yes, that’s accurate. The man who owned Harrods here, Mohammed Al Fayyad took over the lease of the water balloon, in return for restoring it because it’s become quite rundown in the final 14 years after the Duke died when Wallace was there, but literally living out of one room. And he bought it with what he took it on, on the basis that he would restore it. But he inherited these letters. In fact, letters were published very shortly after Wallace died. Quite private letters, people were quite critical of these private letters being published, but they are a very important historical source, as Wally in the film says. And in fact, the actor who plays fired, it looks exactly like him so that they does absolutely right. And fired is still alive. Now in his in his 90s. He, of course, it was his son who was killed in the car crash with Dinah in 1998. And one of the reasons that the sort of 1997 One of the reasons that the auction took place in 98, rather than 87 was because God had died. And it just didn’t feel right to have an auction at the same time. So it was delayed,


Dan LeFebvre  51:35

say the most difficult for last, perhaps, and it might be most difficult question. If you could change one thing about the movie to make it closer to what really happened? What would it be?


Andrew Lownie  51:47

Well, I would change the script writer, and possibly the producer and write something that was accurate. What would Yeah, I mean, it’s it is a very powerful story. It’s a much more nuanced and interesting story than the story they presented. They’ve presented the myth, which, in some ways, which people have been challenging for a long time, I’ve perhaps gone further than most. So it’s really odd that they’re just playing the story that was presented in 1936, rather than the story that actually is now coming to light. Some, you know, 80 years later.


Dan LeFebvre  52:26

Yeah, yeah. I mean, it sounds like there’s a much bigger picture. I mean, they focus, like I mentioned earlier, they focus really on Edward and Wallace together. But they don’t talk about the bigger picture of the Nazis, or really even what what else is going on in the rest of the world? In the 30s? They obviously lead up to World War Two.


Andrew Lownie  52:48

Exactly. I mean, it’s it’s really weird. I mean, it’s it’s focused clearly around the application. But the most books are focused around the application. They cover the 50 years afterwards, till she died, it not only a few pages, which is what makes my book slightly different. But, you know, there had should have been some reference beyond the brother saying, I think he’s a Nazi, because it’s just thrown in without any real explanations as one short, short scene of newsreel, which is accurate of him on this visit in October 37th, visiting Nazi leaders, but they they sort of drop it in without any explanation, and then don’t develop it. And that’s sort of one of the problems of the whole film, it throws out odd little bits. And it’s very confusing, unless you’re a bit of an expert, and even even a biographer like me, is slightly confused at times what’s going on? So it’s, it’s a sort of wasted opportunity, I think, because Wallace, in some ways, I agree with Madonna was a rather tragic figure. And I think there would have been a lot more so it’s hard to get sympathy for her in the film as it stands, when it would have been very easy to to paint her as, as a woman more sinned against and sinned sooner.


Dan LeFebvre  53:58

Yeah, at least it wasn’t me. I was I was rather confused with what was going on in the movie, because, yeah, they throw a little bits in here and there, but they don’t give much context around it as like, oh, he had lunch with Hitler. Well, back and wait, what?


Andrew Lownie  54:13

Oh, and then suddenly later, we have we have a picture of you know, marrying an assumption or marrying when Spencer but they’ve already been talked about beforehand without being introduced, and then suddenly, they’re introduced later on. So I think maybe the film editor should be changed as well.


Dan LeFebvre  54:29

Go back to changing so well, I’m curious now because once since Edward, obviously, well, David lived through World War Two. Prior to he was perhaps more sympathetic to the fascists and the Nazis and with the potential of getting his his title back. What was do we know what his thoughts were, after the atrocities of the Nazi regime came to light it since he lives through that,


Andrew Lownie  55:02

yes, I mean the extraordinary thing he remained anti semitic all his life, he believed that Hitler was a good chap. When he was touring in October 1937, he actually saw concentration camp. I mean, there were no Univer had no illusions about or he’s Yeah, he wasn’t given the total toy it was a sort of prison or something. But, you know, he would have known from newspapers which you read avidly exactly what was going on. He remained friendly with the fascist leader Oswald mostly to the end of his life. And the sort of people he mixed with were very right wing American businessmen, people like Clint Murchison. So but you know, the war comes and people in Britain realize the only way to deal with it is to fight him. But he’s still broadcasting to Hitler on the eve of the war, saying, you know, we want we want peace. He’s intriguing with Nazi spies, right through till 1941. giving them support. He tries to keep America out of the war before the November 14 election by appealing to isolationists. He continues to say the postal censorship reports, pick up all sorts of conversations he has with people he’s posted to the Bahamas as governor during the war to keep them out of the way. But in fact, he’s a mischief maker there. He’s constantly trying to get to the states into surge ascension states. So he remains a pretty unrepentant Nazi, I would say to the end of his life.


Dan LeFebvre  56:35

One of the themes throughout the movie is, from her perspective, there’s a couple of different times in the movie where it talks about how everybody talks about what he gave up in the throne. But what about what I gave up from Wallace’s perspective? He talked a little bit about from the movie being more from her perspective.


Andrew Lownie  56:57

Yes, I think that’s a very good point. And I think that is true. I mean, she has this line what you know, people don’t ask what what I gave up, they just see me as a foreigner who fell in love. They use me to escape his prison to incarcerate me in mine. So there’s some good lines like that. And I think it’s a shame does that weren’t developed. And clearly Wally, in 1990, it’s subject to, you know, identifies with her and the abusive relationship that that Wallis Simpson had been in Not, not later the abusive relationship latest with Aspen. But I think that would have been a theme to really develop, because Madonna truly is very sympathetic to Wallace. And I think indeed, a lot of commentators who’ve written about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor tend to be more sympathetic to her than to the Duke, who’s seen as rather weak and stupid and wrong, privileged and selfish. But it’s, but it’s one of those things that again, like so much is sort of dropped in and not developed. So we get these odd moments where you sort of wait for some something more to come, and then they’ve moved on something else, which is a shame, because I think that would have been a very strong motif, which would would have had some resonance now, in a wave who’s trying to find something that was contemporary resonance, that would have been that would have been the


Dan LeFebvre  58:17

angle. Yeah, I definitely felt that it was kind of thrown in there. Although I also kind of got the sense that that was partially the story they’re trying to tell kind of from her perspective, but the way they show it, you know, what about what I gave up? Well, the only, obviously, the first marriage that she had was not a happy marriage at all. And so the only thing that I got that she kind of gave up was earnest. And because that seemed like a happy marriage in the movie. And so, but it also made it seem like she was perfectly happy with Edward and so yeah, she gave up a lot to, you know, maybe live this public life, but she seemed like she was happy, especially at the end. You mentioned earlier you were talking about the the ending scene. She seemed happy.


Andrew Lownie  59:05

It’s really tender. That scene. Yeah. I mean, you know, there’s, there’s a famous moment on the morning of the wedding where she actually comes to slips in separate rooms. So she came to his foot of his bed, and looked down to him and said, you know, what happens? Now? You know, we’ve the group, we’ve now got married. And, you know, she’s told friends, you know, how am I going to tell this man, his life has been used to all the way through to being controlled things happening, people doing things for him, and now it’s just the two of us and I’m responsible for him. And I think she was completely daunted by this. And I think in some ways that Kathy society lifestyle was partly just to keep them occupied and he was a man who had no interest. So the only thing to keep interested was to have dinner parties. But so that you know, there is stuff in the biographies that would have backed up Madonna’s thesis. But for whatever reason, she she chose not to to go down that route, but we have no real sense of that relationship, as you say, until we’d have that real a tender moment at the end where she’s sort of. He’s in bed with various bits coming out of him. And he asked her to dance and bring back his memories of the past. And I think she was a good dancer. They both were. But no, that was a scene I think that could have been developed. And we had no sense of this being a great partnership. Either of being a great partnership or being one word, you know, he was sent to bed in tears. So it was very hard to see what what it was all about.


Dan LeFebvre  1:00:36

Well, thank you so much for coming on to chat about W E. We have a moment ago mentioned your book called trader king, a scandalous exile, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Can you share a little bit more about your book and where someone listening can pick up a copy?


Andrew Lownie  1:00:49

Yes, of course. Well, I mean, they can get a copy I hope from bookshops, and certainly from Amazon. It’s just come out in the States. It’s published a few months ago in Britain and got quite a lot of coverage. He was a best seller here, top 10 best seller, and was the subject of a documentary made by Channel Four called traitor King, which I think is also available in the States. So people can can can get the story there. But basically, I argued that the period from 1936 to 86, when she died is actually much more important than people realize. It sheds new light on the abdication. I go through these Nazi sympathies the way he you intrigued against the British government had Churchill threatened him with court martial, how he was sent off the Bahamas where he was involved in covering up a murder and how he’s capturing his German documents. And then only 45 revealed just all the intrigues that he had been conducting with the Nazis going back to 1936. And so I think it paints a very different picture. The book also, I think, demolishes the myth of this great love affair showing. This was a very weird relationship, which was certainly not a love affair, in which she bossed him around. And he put up with this behavior, how also they were venal. They they basically exploited their position for their own commercial advantage as Royals. And it’s become quite timely because there are lots and lots of parallels with the Harry and Megan story. So the debates over finances and security, the breakdown of family relationships, the soothing of the press the curation of the story through time biographers, the unfortunate radio television interviews, all these took place with the Windsors and are being repeated again now 80 years later.


Dan LeFebvre  1:02:40

Wow. Yeah, I want to see a movie made out of your book. Sounds like the story, the story you tell there.


Andrew Lownie  1:02:44

I’d love to come and discuss it with you.


Dan LeFebvre  1:02:46

We love that. Thank you again, so much for your time. I really appreciate it.


Andrew Lownie  1:02:50

Thanks very much. It’s been great talking to you.



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