Today in 1937 saw a union that effectively took a British King away from his duty: Edward VIII married Wallis Simpson in France.
The wedding came six months after his abdication from the throne, on 12th December 1936, which rocked the British Monarchy to its core. In his broadcast to the nation, the King explained his decision came as he ‘found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love’.
Wallis had been by the King’s side from the very beginning: he watched the proclamation of his own accession at St James’s Palace, and the American was by his side.
David, as the Duke of Windsor was known to his family, married twice-American Bessie ‘Wallis’ Simpson at the Chateau De Cande, in Monts, part of France’s Loire Valley, in a small ceremony.
No members of the Royal Family attended, but a few of the couple’s friends were present, including Randolph Churchill – son of Winston Churchill – as well as Baron Eugène Rothschild of the famous dynasty, Herman Rogers (left) and best man Major Edward ‘Fruity’ Dudley Metcalfe, who was the Duke’s equerry and friend (right).
Reverend Robert Anderson Jardine, a vicar from Darlington, had offered to perform the wedding ceremony after the Church of England refused, and the Duke accepted.
The press weren’t allowed to photograph the event, but journalists were present and documented the events in great detail.
The bride wore pale blue fitted dress for the occasion, and Time magazine reported the Duke of Windsor was “hallow-eyed” as Wallis walked down the aisle. She also wore a ‘halo-shaped hat’ and ‘a tremendous diamond-&-sapphire brooch’ at the neck.
Upon closer inspection, however, it is two overlapping fan-shaped brooches, which you can see drawings for below; it seems to have been created by Van Cleef & Arpels.
The Duke, meanwhile, looked sharp in a morning suit and a large flower in his lapel.
Amusingly, we get a glimpse into the enthusiasm David showed at the ceremony, clearly thrilled to have finally wed his love: “When Vicar Jardine asked, ‘Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour and keep her?’, overwrought Edward cried ‘I will!’ in a shrill voice that was almost a scream,” wrote the Time reporter.
“When he put on her finger the plain wedding ring of Welsh-mined gold that has become a tradition in the British Royal Family, the trembling of his hands was noticeable even to the farthest watchers.”
The couple followed the nuptials with champagne toasts and celebrations.
David and Wallis spent their honeymoon at Wasserloenburg Castle in Austria, where the press were awaiting them. “The moon was shining as the Duke carried his Duchess over the threshold,” we are told.
New King George VI had created his brother the “Duke of Windsor”, allowing him the style of His Royal Highness as the first act of his reign (although it wasn’t effected until May 1937).
The title also meant that Edward could not stand as an MP or speak on political subjects in the House of Lords, which would prevent him from exerting his influence in matters that could effect his brother’s reign.
The Letters Patent that gave him this title, however, made sure that ‘his wife and descendants, if any, shall not hold said title or attribute’.
In order to get around his government’s objection to the match, Edward had proposed a morganatic marriage to Wallis, meaning, she would not receive a royal title, but this was rejected.
David felt this was a snub, meaning his wife could not be an HRH. This, it seems, largely prevented the couple from returning to visit the UK, as Wallis would have had to bow to all her Royal in-laws.