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Edward ‘humiliated’ on New Year’s Eve at crowning with ‘paper crown’

Edward VIII ‘was a traitor’ says Andrew Lownie

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In his book, Traitor King, Andrew Lownie chronicles the lives of King Edward VIII and his wife Wallis Simpson after the abdication. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were exiled from Britain after Edward chose to give up the throne in order to marry the twice-divorced American socialite. Edward and Wallis spent most of their time in France, residing in a luxurious private estate just outside of Paris. And as Mr Lownie discovered, the couple were even a subject of interest to intelligence services there, with the discovery of unknown files suggesting that there was ongoing observation. Some of the reports compiled by French spies shed further light on Wallis’ relationship with Jimmy Donahue, a known playboy who had befriended the Windsors in 1950. 

Donahue was heir to the Woolworth family fortune and lived an extravagant life at the heart of New York high society. Until he met Wallis, Jimmy’s romantic pursuits were exclusively homosexual. He was a gay man living at a time when homosexual activity was still illegal, so, as arranged by press agents, he was often seen with female escorts.

Jimmy claimed he had a four-year affair with Wallis, an assertion that was verified by Lady Pamela Hicks, daughter of Earl Mountbatten of Burma, a cousin of the Duke of Windsor. 

Mr Lownie wrote: “Jimmy intrigued Wallis with his unpredictable and flamboyant behaviour and the fact that he was the opposite of her husband. Where Jimmy was carefree and impulsive, the Duke was organised and precise. Where Jimmy was generous, the Duke was penny-pinching. Where Jimmy was exciting and cheerful, the Duke was dull and depressed. Where the Duke reminded her of her age, Donahue made her feel young again. 

“She had had to entertain the Duke for the last thirteen years, now Jimmy entertained her. Tired of emotionally supporting her husband, she relished being swept up in Donahue’s dynamic and spontaneous world. ‘She gave herself willingly to the charms of Jimmy Donahue,’ says Grace, Countess of Dudley. ‘It is easy to see why. He was very amusing.’” 

According to the 2013 Amazon Prime documentary, The Royals, the Duke was hurt by his wife’s extramarital affair. 

Wallis’ biographer, Anne Sebba, said the affair “caused enormous sadness to Edward”.

Nonetheless, Wallis and Jimmy’s affair continued throughout the early Fifties, “with the Duke trailing in their wake”, and Mr Lownie recounted a particularly humiliating moment for Edward that took place on December 31, 1953. 

“It [the affair] reached a notable humiliation on New Year’s Eve,” he wrote, “when the couple were photographed sitting awkwardly in the El Morocco nightclub on a zebra-striped ‘throne’ and, to widespread laughter, being crowned with paper crowns by Jimmy.”

The following year, Jimmy chartered a yacht to cruise around the Mediterranean, visiting Rapallo, Capri, Naples, Ischia, Ponsa, Livorno and Venice, where they stayed at the Gritti Palace, a five-star hotel in the heart of the city. 

However, according to Mr Lownie, tensions between the three “were mounting”. 

“Jimmy was bored by them,” he wrote, “not least stuck playing gin rummy with the Duke afternoon,” adding that the millionaire had become “annoyed at their sponging”.

This all came to a head during a five-night stay in Baden-Baden, Germany when Jimmy “took exception to a disparaging reference by Wallis about his breath”. 

“He kicked her under the table leaving her bleeding and her stocking torn,” said the author. “It was the final straw for the cuckolded Duke, who told Jimmy to leave.” 

After the summer of 1954, there was no further contact between the Windsors and the Donahues. Wallis made no reference to her former lover in her memoir, with Jimmy “airbrushed out of the Windsors’ lives”. 

Twelve years later, in December 1966, Jimmy was found dead by his mother in their apartment on Fifth Avenue. While the official explanation was “acute alcoholic and barbiturate intoxication”, suspicion was that it was suicide. 

“In his bedroom were found thirteen framed photographs of Wallis,” wrote Mr Lownie. 

Edward and Wallis lived out the rest of their lives in France. The Duke was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1971 and died at his home in Paris on May 28, 1972.

Wallis died at her home in Bois de Boulogne 14 years later on April 24, 1986. 

Originally, the couple planned to be interred together in a plot at Mount Green Cemetery in Baltimore, US, but Queen Elizabeth II allowed them to be buried at Frogmore, in the Royal Burial Ground. 

Traitor King: The Scandalous Exile of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’ was written by Andrew Lownie and published by Blink Publishing in 2021. It is available here. An updated version was published earlier this year. 

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