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The Weird Windsors - uncensored: Explosive notebooks of an official royal biographer invited into exiled Duke's gilded cage that are confessional, controversial - and so vivid it's as if you're there

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 5/01/2019 James Pope-hennessy
a group of people standing next to a person: The Duke of Windsor and Duchess of Windsor (wearing a necklace by Cartier) at a Ball in Versailles on June 17, 1953 © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited The Duke of Windsor and Duchess of Windsor (wearing a necklace by Cartier) at a Ball in Versailles on June 17, 1953

The official life of George V’s widow, Queen Mary — published in 1959 six years after her death at 85 — is regarded as one of the finest royal biographies. But late author James Pope-Hennessy, who interviewed members of the Royal Family, former courtiers and ladies-in-waiting, omitted some of the juiciest — and funniest — material, knowing it would never get past the royal censors.

Here, in this extract from his newly-published private jottings, is an extraordinarily detailed account of the few days he spent in 1957 with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at the converted mill house they had just bought near Paris. It was 21 years since the Duke — Queen Mary’s eldest son — had, as Edward VIII, abdicated the throne in order to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorced American socialite.

At 12.30, I was at the Gare du Nord (in Paris), where the long blue station wagon (Cadillac) of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor was waiting, with a plump pigeon-shaped English chauffeur, dressed in discreet black with a black rosette in his cap.

We drove out through jammed streets to Le Moulin de la Tuilerie, which the Duchess has converted into her Petit Trianon. The car hooted at the wooden door in the gatehouse, and this was opened. We drove to the front door where the liveried butler (French) and an English footman were waiting.

I was directed to walk across the sunny courtyard to the French windows of the Duke’s study, a colossal room made from a barn, with great log fires smouldering either end, French windows in the middle, maps of his world tours on the walls, souvenirs and uniform buckles everywhere.

Wallis Simpson wearing a suit and tie: Duchess of Windsor and the Duke of Windsor  outside Goverment House in Nassau, the Bahamas © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Duchess of Windsor and the Duke of Windsor  outside Goverment House in Nassau, the Bahamas

‘This room,’ the Duchess told me, ‘represents the Dook’s life.’

The floor is covered with a curious tufted carpet in three shades of green, very fresh and pretty: ‘What a pretty carpet, Duchess; I’ve never seen one like it before.’

‘Ah call it mah lawn.’

The Duke of Windsor is, on first sight, much less small than I had been led to believe; he is not at all a manikin, but a well-proportioned human being. Just then his hair was blown out in tufts on either side of his head, and he was looking crumple-faced and wild.

a person standing in front of a building: The Duke and Duchess of Windsor standing on stone steps © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited The Duke and Duchess of Windsor standing on stone steps

He has his father’s eyes, and some, I fancy, of his mannerisms. He was drinking milk; for what the Duchess calls ‘that lil’ old ulcer’. I should say she is on the whole a stupid woman, with a small petty brain, immense goodwill and a stern power of concentration.

Like her house, she is tremendously American, and specifically Southern — it was like being back in Montgomery, Alabama, without the tree moss.

I should therefore be tempted to classify her simply as An American Woman par excellence, were it not for the suspicion that the Duchess is not a woman at all. She is one of the very oddest women I have ever seen.

She is flat and angular, and could have been designed for a medieval playing card. The shoulders are small and high; the head very, very large, almost monumental; the expression is either anticipatory (signalling, ‘I know this is going to be loads of fun, don’t yew?’) or appreciative — the great gig-lamp smile, the wide, wide open eyes, which are so very large and pale and veined, the painted lips and the cannibal teeth.

There is one further facial contortion, reserved for speaking of the Queen Mother, which is very unpleasant to behold, and seemed to me akin to frenzy.

Her high smooth flat forehead is cloven by a deep vertical line of concentration. Her neck makes her age (61) apparent — a tendency to wattles. Her jawbone is alarming, and from the back you can plainly see it jutting beyond the neck on each side.

a person sitting posing for the camera: James Pope-Hennessy (pictured above) had interviewed many members of the royal household © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited James Pope-Hennessy (pictured above) had interviewed many members of the royal household a group of people posing for the camera: The couple had visited the Bahamas in 1942 - the Duke of Windsor had served as the Governor there  © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited The couple had visited the Bahamas in 1942 - the Duke of Windsor had served as the Governor there 

She is wildly good-natured and friendly; but with both of them one somehow feels that so much enthusiasm might suddenly gel up and one would be in the limbo reserved for the many, many people who have treated them badly or turned out a disappointment. I like having my jokes laughed at; but there’s no need to make the mill-beams rock with appreciation of them.

The house itself is full of very pretty colours and ideas and objects. Every conceivable creature comfort is conscripted, to produce a perfection of sybaritic living. They are like people after a cataclysm or a revolution, valiantly making the best of infinite luxury.

It is, of course, intensely American, but I would think consciously aimed. The Queen Mother at Clarence House is leading a lodging-house existence compared to this.

a group of people posing for the camera: Duchess of Windsor (1896-1986) and the Duke of Windsor (1894-1972) outside Goverment House in Nassau © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Duchess of Windsor (1896-1986) and the Duke of Windsor (1894-1972) outside Goverment House in Nassau a man standing in front of a group of people posing for the camera: Duchess of Windsor (1896-1986) and the Duke of Windsor (1894-1972) outside Goverment House in Nassau © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Duchess of Windsor (1896-1986) and the Duke of Windsor (1894-1972) outside Goverment House in Nassau

My room in the stables was very pretty and convenient, and prepared or planned by a perfectionist; there was nothing on earth that you might conceivably want that wasn’t there — every kind of writing paper, nail file, brush, fruit, ice-water; the bathroom loaded with scent bottles like a counter at a bazaar.

After pottering in my bedroom, I wandered up the hill past the millstream, attracted by a stream of German oaths. Round the corner of the house I found the Duke, wearing a cerise felt baseball cap. He was jumping about rather wildly, and shouting ‘Jawohl, Jawohl’ and other military German expressions to a troop of French gardeners who were lugging the stone base of a sundial on to its mount.

The Duchess, flat against the inside of the drawing room window, was looking on in a disinterested angular way, one hand on the window pane.

‘Are the gardeners German?’ I inquired. ‘Well, no — one is Alsatian and one is Spanish, and that lil’ boy is only 14.

‘But as the Dook’s German is sort of better than his French, he likes to talk German with them.

‘Now I hope you’ll get in your talk with the Dook this afternoon,’ she continued. ‘You must catch him; but you’ll find the Dook is kind of a slow starter’ — said with a great wide smile.

a man and a woman sitting on a table: The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, sitting in the drawing room of their Paris home, with their four Pug dogs at their fee © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, sitting in the drawing room of their Paris home, with their four Pug dogs at their fee

About 3.30pm the Duke came in, sitting on the sofa opposite my chair to talk. The pugs gambolled about — Disraeli, Trooper and Davy Crockett.

‘We did have a fourth, called Peter Townsend (the divorced Battle of Britain pilot whom Princess Margaret had wanted to marry),’ the Duchess explained with her least nice grin. ‘But we gave the Group Captain away.’ The whole atmosphere was intensely unstrained and unshy, owing, I should say, to the Duchess and the job she has done on the Duke. He talked with complete freedom, even of the delicate subject to which he obliquely refers as ‘1936’.

‘My mother (Queen Mary) loathed the country,’ he said. ‘She used to say to me: “I was born in Kensington and I am a Londoner.” She hated Sandringham; Balmoral was a bit better; but we were always there too long. Sandringham was dreadful.’

He added: ‘Off the record, my father (George V) had a most horrible temper. He was foully rude to my mother.

‘Why, I’ve often seen her leave the table because he was so rude to her, and we children would all follow her out; not when the staff were present, of course, but when we were alone.’

I remarked that I was puzzled by the shutting down of his mother’s high spirits after marriage.

an old photo of George V: King George V with the his Consort, Queen Mary pictured on a visit to Liverpool © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited King George V with the his Consort, Queen Mary pictured on a visit to Liverpool

‘Well, you’re right there, I think. My father was a very repressive influence. I well remember when he used to go banging away for a week or two at some shoot in the Midlands; we used to have the most lovely time with her alone — always laughing and joking.

‘She was a different human being away from him.’

He said suddenly: ‘You realise there are only three completely royal persons alive now? My sister, my brother and myself.’

a man wearing a suit and tie: The Dowager Queen Mary with her son Edward, who abdicated as King in order to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited The Dowager Queen Mary with her son Edward, who abdicated as King in order to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee

Tea was a serious, perfectionist meal, with the Duchess struggling manfully with the teapot (she evidently hates tea, and looks very out of place pouring it out; but the Duke drinks, she assured me, cup after cup all day; ‘He leaves haff the cup, too, so it gets cold,’ she added.

When we got to the drawing room again, the Duchess settled herself on a low wide day-bed, her legs tucked up; she does not curl up but somehow dismantles herself, so that she looks like a puppet lying in the wings of a toy theatre.

Duchess: ‘We-e-ell, and has the Dook been much help?’

King George VI et al. posing for a photo: This photo taken in 1937 shows King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with Queen Mary and at the front their children Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret on the balcony at Buckingham Palace, after the Coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited This photo taken in 1937 shows King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with Queen Mary and at the front their children Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret on the balcony at Buckingham Palace, after the Coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey

‘Oh, a tremendous help, Duchess; I can’t tell you.’

Duchess: ‘He was pretty close to his mother, you know. I suppose you’ve had to see everybody about yah book?’ ‘Oh yes,’ I said. ‘The Duke’s sister has been very helpful, and the Queen Mother.’

Duchess (in a slightly steely tone): ‘I don’t think the Queen Mother would know about Queen Mary.’ She went on: ‘Just everything happens to me. When I was over in England last, I wanted a new maid; so I intervood one who told me she had been five years with the Queen Mother!

‘Well, I brought her over here but I had to get rid of her.

‘I had a Balenciaga dress with a crinoline. Well, Irene ironed that crinoline so that you couldn’t see what it was by the time she’d finished. I took it back, but even Mr Balenciaga himself couldn’t decide just what she had done to that crinoline.

‘And she just burned up five more of my dresses. Well, that surprised me, because I thought that, after all those years with the Queen Mother, if she hadn’t learnt to iron a crinoline, what had she learned?’

a man in a green dress: Queen Mary © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Queen Mary a person standing posing for the camera: Queen Mary © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Queen Mary

‘And, you know, whenever I see pictures of those poor girls (Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret) with their suits all screwed up under the arms, I think of Irene. I’d like to take those girls’ clothes apart and loosen them up.’

Before dinner, having had my bath and changed, I was standing by the fireplace in the hall, when the front door flew open and the Duke scampered in, making a yelping noise on seeing me; he was wearing red trousers, a fur coat, and a peaked flying cap with fur ear-flaps. He was followed by the valet carrying some clothes.

He dashed upstairs. When he came down again, very spick and span in a Balmoral tartan kilt, he smiled with great charm: ‘I say, you saw a pretty quaint apparition just now? Whatever did you think, I wonder? Why they put me into red pants I can’t imagine.’

Presently, a tapping of high heels and the creak of stiff silk announced the Duchess, who wound her way down the staircase sheathed in a red-orange very tight, almost hobbled, dress. After dinner, the Duke lugged me off for a preliminary look at his papers, which were in a spare bedroom.

A tall white tin filing cabinet, with five or six drawers, stood on a groundsheet at the foot of a green chintz bed. He unlocked it and we sat down side by side on the bed.

‘There’s a lot of valuable stuff here, you know,’ he said. ‘Unlike the Duchess, I am very well documented. But I keep them all under years, not under people. Let’s take a look now at 1936.’

Wallis Simpson, Dirk Bogarde standing next to a person: The Duke and Duchess of Windsor look lovingly at one another  © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited The Duke and Duchess of Windsor look lovingly at one another 

He seized one of the two 1936 files and showed me various letters — until we reached one from Queen Mary, begging him not to broadcast (his abdication speech).

‘Surely you might spare yourself this strain and emotion,’ he read out. A look of real disgust crossed over his face.

‘She even tried that! Well, I ask you...if I hadn’t done that...’

We began to talk about the abdication. ‘People can say what they like for it or against it, I don’t care; but one thing is certain: I acted in good faith. And I was treated bloody shabbily.’

Wallis Simpson in a white bowl © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Wallis Simpson a person posing for the camera: Queen Mary © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Queen Mary

One random example of this treatment, with which I strongly sympathised, was the fact (attested by receipted bills) that he had produced £4,000 of the £8,000 for the St George’s Chapel monument for his father, Queen Mary paying the other half, and he had not even been invited to the dedication of it; nor had it ever been published anywhere that he had contributed.

I said: ‘I think one of Queen Mary’s chief difficulties in understanding your dilemma was the fact that she had never been in love herself.’

‘No, I don’t think she had,’ he said. ‘You’re right. My mother was a cold woman, a cold woman. And I, you see, I suppose I had never really been in love before. No, I hadn’t. I thought I had, but I hadn’t ever been in love.’

a person standing in front of a wedding cake: The Duchess of Windsor © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited The Duchess of Windsor a man sitting on a bench: The Duke and Duchess of Windsor © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited The Duke and Duchess of Windsor

Before we went back to the drawing room, he said with tired charm: ‘Well, I did my best, you know. I tried to bring the monarchy into touch.’

But didn’t George V and Queen Mary start that, with their industrial tours in 1913 and so on?

‘In a way they did, but not really. And think of my grandfather (Edward VII).’ His face lit up mischievously and boyishly: ‘Why, look at my grandfather. He’d just sit in an open landau, receive an address, snip a ribbon and declare something open, returning to dine with his girlfriends.

a black and white photo of a person: The Duke of Windsor and Duchess of Windsor on their arrival in Madrid from France, July 1940 © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited The Duke of Windsor and Duchess of Windsor on their arrival in Madrid from France, July 1940

‘Didn’t even leave that landau. I did my best to change all that.’

In the drawing room, the record player was booming; it lives in a concealed cupboard.

The Duchess went off to change a record, walking with difficulty in her sheath of orange satin.

‘Have you heard “Love, Love, Love”? The record about us?’ she asked. ‘Well, I’m going to put it on for you. The Dook hasn’t heard it.

‘I only heard it two nights ago after dinner in Paris. They put it on as a kind of surprise, and it certainly surprised me, I can tell you.’ She then put on the record, a calypso: ‘It was love love love and love alone that caused King Edward to leave his throne.’

Another line was: ‘I don’t know what Mrs Simpson got in her bone that caused the King to leave his throne.’

‘I’m going to call our lawyers Monday about it. I think it’s libellous,’ she said. We played it twice, the Duke jigging vaguely to it.

‘I don’t quite see where the libel would reside, Duchess,’ I volunteered. ‘You can’t now say it wasn’t love, so to speak.’

‘You’re right there. But I think it just so un-dig-ni-fied. And so offensive to the monarchy,’ she said with a squaring of the angular shoulders and a slight, stiff flounce. ‘I’m going to call our lawyers all the same.’

The rest of the evening passed in general conversation, wit, jokes, laughter, whiskey; till it was suddenly (as it was left to me to point out) 12.45am. The servants were still up, the breakfast times and foods were fixed. The next morning, I repaired to the filing cabinet in the spare room.

I soon found it irresistible to read letters other than Queen Mary’s for this period.

If ever published, many years hence, these documents give a complete picture of the abdication chaos: grave letters from Ministers; earnest pleas from the Duke of Buccleuch; helpful offers from the Duke of York; brilliant résumés from Churchill; screeches to ‘Darling Wallis’ from Lady Oxford; notes from Diana Cooper; messages of good cheer from Sibyl Colefax; one or two bleak letters from Queen Mary — all crowded together.

After two hours, the Duke put a quizzical head round the door and said, ‘Well?’ rather as one might to a child one had left with a wonderful new electric train. I said the documents gave an authentic picture of 1936.

‘Don’t they, though?’ He sat down on the bed. Talking of Queen Mary’s part in it all, he said: ‘I’m afraid my mother was a moral coward. She would never, never, talk to me about it. Right up to the end, if I said anything to her, she’d just cough slightly, hm, hm, like that, and that was all. She evaded all discussion.’

We went on talking, and then there was a dog scratching at the door, and in came the Duchess, this time in green corduroy, the same suit as the day before in a different colour.

She was pulling a silk handkerchief backwards and forwards through her jewelled hands. ‘Daisy has been on the horn (phone),’ she said to the Duke. ‘She says to tell you will you lunch with her tomorrow after all.’

I went on with the files. The last 20 years were very pathetic: someone trained to work now had nothing to do but answer with scrupulous politeness letters from the Pelly Bible Foundation, Inc, or notes about snipe shooting at Tallahassee, Florida. Theirs is a small pond, I fear. At 1.30, a telephone message told me that Her Royal Highness (the Duchess wasn’t entitled to use HRH) was expecting me for a cocktail in the big room. Lunch was trout stuffed with trout and almonds, a Virginia ham of total perfection, and so on.

Before dinner I demonstrated an Indian wire toy I’d bought and gave it to the Duchess to bring her luck.

She says she will have it copied in gold and coral at Cartier’s. She was wearing a full short skirt encrusted with gold thread.

The evening passed in gossip and talk. After dinner, I was in a corner with the Duchess and we discussed Them and England, and she looked so very fierce when saying how badly they had been treated and kept referring back to the Queen Mother.

Later we went over to an adjoining cottage to see (another guest’s) new mink coat.

The Duchess modelled it and some other garments (belonging to the woman), coming in and out of the room like a mannequin. Her final appearance was in my own overcoat.

‘Now this, David, is the sort of coat you should have.’

‘My God, what a frightful coat — where did you get that?’

(The following day, the Duchess decided to go to Paris.) In the morning, about 10, I found her vast car was panting at the door, laden with maids and luggage, and she soon pattered downstairs looking very fresh and vase-shaped, in a tight white tweed costume with a pale fur collar.

I followed later in the station wagon. Thus ended a not uninteresting visit, during which I had been treated with very great kindness.

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