On This Day: Edward and Wallis Wed At Château de Candé

  June 3, 2017 at 4:00 am by

The wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor on June 3, 1937 couldn’t have been more different to previous British royal weddings if it tried. For one thing, until December of 1936 the Duke of Windsor had previously held the title of King Edward VIII. For another, the bride was an American divorcee, the former Bessiewallis (known as Wallis) Warfield Simpson. Finally, the wedding took place not in England but in France. But before we discuss the wedding, it’s essential that we start at the beginning of the Royal Romance of the Century.

Following the death of King George V in January of 1936, his eldest son Edward (His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales) became King Edward VIII. He was in short, his generation’s Prince William: handsome and extremely popular and very much single….the future of the British monarchy. Like his great-nephew Charles, the current Prince of Wales, he thought that the way to keep the monarchy relevant in the 20th century was to modernize it. But the Prince of Wales also had trepidations about his future role. Some of his actions following his accession showed that his reign would not be easy. This was further exacerbated by falling in love with a married woman.

Wallis Warfield Simpson was an American living in London with her second husband, Ernest Simpson, when her relationship with The Prince of Wales began. At first, Edward entertained both Mr. and Mrs. Simpson, but after a while, Mr. Simpson was no longer present at events attended by the King and Mrs. Simpson. While rumors of the relationship had been brewing in the foreign and American press, the English press (through an agreement with the Government) had been strangely silent.

Things came to a head when the King informed the Prime Minister that he wanted to marry Wallis; because she was presently married, there were some concerns as to whether the government and the people would accept her as Queen. Wallis filed for divorce, with the King set on marrying her before his scheduled coronation. Then, a scandal of unprecedented magnitude ensued when the British press began reporting on the story. It was after all, 1936. With the government threatening to resign if he married Wallis, the King abdicated his throne in December of 1936 to be with the woman he loved. George V had said after his death, the boy (Edward) would ruin himself in a year. In almost chilling accuracy, Edward fulfilled his father’s prophecy almost to the day. His decision to put love before duty was to cause a permanent estrangement with his family, particularly his mother, Queen Mary. Upon his abdication, he was created the Duke of Windsor by his brother, the new King George VI.

The couple married on June 3rd at Château de Candé, on a property owned by a well-known Nazi sympathizer. Its worth noting that the wedding date was also the birthday of the late King George V, and just weeks following the coronation of George VI and Queen Elizabeth. To many, these were no coincidences.

Wallis Warfield (who had returned to her maiden name by deed poll) wore Mainbocher at her wedding. The wedding ensemble was a simple, floor-length dress with a matching long-sleeved jacket. The color was Wallis Blue….a pale blue crepe satin with a small veiled hat of coq feathers to match. She entered on the arm of Herman Rogers. The bridegroom held a prayer book given to him by his mother, Queen Mary. In a sign of the times, a week after the wedding, copies of the Duchess’s gown were being sold in American department stores.

Any wedding should be a joyous occasion, but this wedding was shadowed with two slights that the Duke of Windsor was to never forgive or forget: no member of the British Royal Family was present at the wedding (the Duke had wanted his brothers Henry and George to be royal supporters) and more importantly, the couple received documentation stating that Wallis would not be granted the title Her Royal Highness. She would, forever to the detriment of her husband, be referred to as Her Grace, The Duchess of Windsor.

While they were certainly happy with each other, following the ceremony Edward and Wallis found themselves somewhat adrift. After serving as Governor of the Bahamas during World War II, the Duke was never given a “proper job” by the British government. The couple never returned to live permanently in England. They were members of the jet-set who eventually settled in France. The Duke and Duchess were also inducted to the International Best Dressed Hall of Fame.

The Duke did visit England from time to time, but the Duchess was not received by members of the British Royal Family until 1967 at the unveiling of the Queen Mary statue. The Duke died in 1972, and for the first and last time, the Duchess stayed in Buckingham Palace while in England for the funeral. The Duchess died in 1986. Per an agreement with the Queen, the couple was buried in the Royal Burial Ground at Windsor Castle. Following her death, the Duchess’s personal property (including her famous jewelry collection) was auctioned for 45 million dollars, which benefited the Pasteur Medical Research Foundation. They had no descendants.

NB: A version of this article was first published on April 25, 2011.

Filed under Historical Royals, The United Kingdom
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