The women seen off by Wallis: Edward VIII LOVED the ladies

The women seen off by Wallis: Edward VIII LOVED the ladies — debutantes, prostitutes, wives and a dominatrix. Then along came the American Mrs Simpson

  • Rachel Trethewey shares accounts of the women Edward VIII almost married 
  • He proposed to Rosemary, daughter of the Dowager Duchess of Sutherland
  • However Queen Mary forbade the marriage because of Rosemary’s background
  • The Prince of Wales found chemistry with married woman Freda Dudley-Ward
  • The misery of being unable to be with her led him to Thelma, Lady Furness
  • Thelma was aware throughout their relationship Edward wrote letters to Freda



by Rachel Trethewey (The History Press £20 320 pp )

A petulant, self-pitying Prince of Wales? We’ve heard a bit about these characteristics recently in new biographies of our current P of W, some of which claim he gets tetchy if his office is not exactly the right temperature or if he’s forced to fly in ‘incredibly uncomfortable’ first class.

Well, the Prince of Wales before him, the young Edward VIII-to-be, certainly scored high in the petulant, self-pitying stakes, as this fascinating book by Rachel Trethewey about his ‘women before Wallis’ recounts.

Perhaps being king-in-waiting brings out the worst in people, causing, as it does, a toxic mixture of dread and entitlement.

Rachel Trethewey recalls the love life of Edward VIII (pictured) before he met Mrs Simpson in a new book. She recalls how the Prince of Wales had a fondness for prostitutes and dominatrix

What this book reveals is Edward’s whingeing, clingy, needy ways with women and especially Freda Dudley Ward, No 2 in this chronicle of the three main women before Wallis Simpson (not counting the prostitutes). What if he’d married the first one, Rosemary Leveson-Gower! He so nearly did. There would have been no abdication, no Queen Elizabeth II.

Rosemary, daughter of the Dowager Duchess of Sutherland, was an English rose: high-born, high-spirited, good, kind, charitable and beautiful.

Edward started courting her when she was working as a nurse in France in 1917 in a Red Cross hospital set up by her mother and he was visiting, aged 23, with his parents.

This was in the dawn of the era when it was (at last) becoming acceptable for a royal prince to marry a ‘commoner’, rather than being forced to marry a foreign princess.

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Edward proposed; Rosemary accepted. She would have made an excellent 20th-century queen: a woman with a strong social conscience, trained to do charitable work through a childhood of helping her do-gooding mother, Millicent.

How bitterly must Queen Mary later have regretted forbidding this marriage! She had heard there was a strain of madness in Rosemary’s mother’s family. Also, her uncle was a gambler and her mother a divorcee — this would not do.

Little did she know that Rosemary would be the last aristocratic single girl Edward would ever seriously consider as a possible wife and that he would go on to marry not the daughter of a divorcee, but a twice-divorced American.

Edward proposed to Rosemary Leveson-Gower (pictured), daughter of the Dowager Duchess of Sutherland however Queen Mary forbade the relationship 

There was one hitch in his relationship with Rosemary: he liked to be dominated. Sweet, innocent Rosemary was (one gets the feeling) not quite dirty enough for him. While courting her in France, he was also driving to Deauville in his open-top Rolls-Royce each evening to spend the night with a Parisian courtesan called Maggy, a dominatrix whom he called his ‘bébé’. He made sure he was back with his parents by 7am.

Sacked from her position of royal-wife-to-be, Rosemary went on to marry Lord Ednam. They had three sons, one of whom was run over and killed on his bicycle aged seven.

Rosemary was tragically killed in an air crash over Kent, aged 36. ‘All parties were cancelled as a mark of respect,’ writes Trethewey, giving a flavour of the brittle party-going world in which they all lived.

In March 1918 came a coup de foudre for Edward — almost literally, because it happened during a deafening Zeppelin raid. A young married woman called Freda Dudley Ward happened to take refuge from the raid in the doorway of a house in Belgrave Square where the Prince of Wales was at a party. She was welcomed in and the chemistry was instant.

Edward had a passionate affair with Freda Dudley Ward (pictured) who was married to MP William Dudley Ward 

Freda was ‘a dream of beauty’, ‘an angelic waif’. They embarked on a passionate affair. He called her his ‘precious darling little Mummie’ and signed off letters: ‘Your very, very own little David.’ He was her ‘little slave’ and cried when he had to be away from her on his long royal travels. King George, horrified on hearing of the affair, was snooty about middle-class Freda, referring to her as ‘the lace-maker’s daughter’.

Freda’s husband, the MP William Dudley Ward, graciously put up with it in order not to ‘rock the boat’.

When all this became too difficult (Freda wanted a divorce, but dreaded her husband having custody of her two daughters), she tried to ‘break the deadlock’ by embarking on another affair, with an American polo player called Rodman Wanamaker. This caused Edward to go off the rails completely and he began drinking heavily.

To allay his misery, Edward started an affair with Thelma, Lady Furness. The two met at an agricultural show in 1926, when Edward was pinning a blue ribbon on to a prize cow. Thelma had briefly married an abusive alcoholic the first time round, but was now married to Marmaduke Furness, 20 years her senior and the owner of a shipbuilding firm. Like Dudley Ward, ‘Duke’ Furness took his wife’s affair in his stride — he, too, had a roving eye.

Edward also had an affair with Thelma, Lady Furness (pictured) who introduced him to Wallis and Ernest Simpson 

It’s clear Edward’s relationship with Thelma was more superficial than his one with Freda — which carried on. Thelma joined the prince on a safari in Kenya, which she remembered as blissful, but Edward was still writing love letters every day to Freda.

Thelma and Edward did have their own soppy side: when they were separated, they had a ritual of exchanging tiny pink and green Harrods teddy bears, so that they would each have something to remind them of the other.

George V had a stiff word with his eldest son in 1932. He pointed out that England had never had an unmarried king and that Edward would feel lost in Buckingham Palace if he had to live there alone. This did not do the trick.

A year earlier, Thelma had made the mistake of introducing Edward to Wallis and Ernest Simpson.

BEFORE WALLIS: EDWARD VIII ’S OTHER WOMEN by Rachel Trethewey (The History Press £20 320 pp )

Sensing that she was about to be replaced, Thelma sailed to America, where she had an affair with Prince Aly Khan, and returned to find that her surmise was correct: Edward was now in thrall to Mrs Simpson.

Freda’s days were numbered, too. The end of her 16-year relationship with the prince was brutally abrupt. She rang him as usual, but was told: ‘I have orders not to put you through.’ They never spoke again.

Thelma, when asked towards the end of her life whether she had any regrets, said: ‘I’d do it all again. The only thing I would not do again is introduce Wallis Simpson to the Prince of Wales.’

When she died of a heart attack in 1970, one of those threadbare Harrods teddies was found at the bottom of her handbag — a souvenir of the love affair of her life.


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