The duchess was late, which was most unusual. For social events, she was deliberately late, but definitely not for her business meetings. Her heightened sense of duty and purpose forbade being late – cold, combative, sometimes amusing or sarcastic, often aloof…but not late and she had a agreed to attend today’s meeting in order to help me.
The duchess was in a fine mood and ready to engage. “Do you mean to imply, mister Chairman, that you have actually had VD?” she asked, in a tone of both amusement and sarcasm, followed by her hearty laugh.
“Had it, duchess?” he responded, “Good God, Madame, I was state distributor.”
The duchess was neither unnerved nor amused by the inappropriate comment.
By early 1940, London was being bombed. Churchill, now Britain’s new prime minister, wanted to relocate the Windsors as far away, and with as small a presence, as possible. In spite of Edward’s hopes to become either governor of Canada, or viceroy of India, he was appointed governor of the Bahamas. Once again, the Windsors felt insulted. But, as military hostilities mounted they realized they had to flee Europe and the dangers of war. The Bahamas would have to suffice.
With a drink in hand, I walked around the crowded main drawing room. The walls were a silver blue and the furniture was all Louis XV with ornate upholstery. On one delicate table stood two gold candlesticks, framing a black and white picture of Edward in his investiture robes when he became Prince of Wales. His boyishly handsome face seemed a bit sad and his eyes looked tired for such a young man. There were candlesticks everywhere, as well as a candle-lit Baccarat chandelier. This room was more formal than the others and contained fewer memorabilia: only one porcelain Pug and a few famous pictures, but no family portraits. It was different from the rooms that contained more royal memorabilia, pictures of Edward and his mother, Queen Mary. Conspicuously absent in any room were pictures or paintings of Edward’s father, King George V.
During their entire life together, Edward always gently, but consistently demanded the impeccable service he received during his upbringing. Dining room tables had to be perfectly set with different ornaments and decorations each night, his personal belongings had to be gathered wherever he left them, flawlessly cleaned and replaced to their proper locations. A chain smoker, he dropped ashes everywhere: on tables and floors. He placed glasses without coasters on furniture and important documents, even while he was king and looking at papers sent to him in the famous “red boxes.” Wallis overlooked these potentially disturbing habits, and learned how to provide her husband luxuries in great, varying and specific detail. To the amazement of those close to the Windsors, it was thanks to Wallis’ ingenuity and creativity that the famous couple was able to lead a life of enormous luxury.
Now the duchess was ready to deliver her coup de grace. “Gentlemen, I believed that I was doing my bit to help the hospital by joining the board. Perhaps this was a mistake. I had no idea that I was actually putting myself and my good name, as well as all of yours,” she waved her frail arm around the table, as her charm bracelet glittered, “at risk. I want to hear someone propose a motion recorded in the minutes to reflect what Mr. Silvin has said.” She looked around the awestruck table of high-powered businessmen, who were suddenly reduced to jelly.
One can only quote the motto of Edward VIII’s Order of the Garter when one hears people exaggerate her flaws, invent scandalous stories, fail to consider her many talents, and speak disrespectfully of the duchess during her tragic last years:
Honi soit qui mal y pense.
Shame to those with evil thoughts.