Harry and Meghan the Split Heard Round The World

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

The divisiveness is palpable

Families are feuding. Longtime Facebook friends are parting ways after bitter exchanges, angrily hitting the unfriend button in a self-satisfied rage.

Tempers and moods are at a fever pitch here in America and it is not about politics but about an event across the pond. I am talking of course about Harry and Megan.

The kerfuffle caused by “The Interview” has created an epic chasm of choosing sides. It’s splitsville and not just in the Royal family.

Are we missing those heated days of Trump with each side digging in their heels and when neither side would budge and there seems no middle ground?

Is divisiveness the new normal?

Picking Sides

Megan Markle is either a manipulative bitch, a seasoned actress skillfully playing on our emotions,  tearing poor pussy-whipped Prince Harry away from the bosom of his family aka The Firm. Or she is forthright, honest, and good-hearted and has been poorly treated by the racist, cold-hearted royals.

Apparently, there are only 2 roles.

She is cast either as this season’s evil Wallis Simpson or the long-suffering Princess Dianna. Royal wives of Princes have a long history in the Windsor family.

Oh for those innocent days when this particular Royal fairy tale really seemed to have come into the modern age. An American biracial woman was welcomed warmly into the Royal family in 2017 when they were engaged. It’s worth taking a look back.

From the Vault:

Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Prince harry Meghan Markle

For generations even American girls dreamed of growing up to be real-life princess. Now that one has actually happened it’s worth remembering one who wasn’t as lucky.

Someday My Prince Will Come

American. Bi-Racial. Divorced. Oh My!

The stuffy house of Windsor has finally opened a long stuck window to let in some fresh twenty-first-century air. With the joyous and welcoming engagement of Prince Harry to his longtime girlfriend Meghan Markle the royal rule book on who can and can’t be princess has been thrown right out that palace window too.

Despite the odds being pretty much stacked against them, for generations even all-American girls dreamed of the fairy tale notion of growing up to fall in love with a handsome prince across the pond and becoming a real-life princess. Now that the playbook has changed, it’s worth remembering some 80 years ago when another American woman wasn’t quite so lucky in love.

In fact once upon a time, being an American divorcee was indeed the death knell to join that most exclusive of clubs, the royals.

Today it is hard to imagine the public and the royal disdain felt for Wallis Simpson, the future Duchess of Windsor  whose relationship with King Edward VIII caused not only a scandal but a constitutional crisis ending in an abdication.

Much maligned, she was forever cast in the villainous mold of an evil Cruella Deville who robbed a nation of their adored King and nearly brought down an empire.

Unlike Meghan, Wallis’s reception was ice-cold chilly.

Shock waves

Duke and Duchess of Windsor

The American socialite’s charms may have caught her a king but they certainly escaped others.

Of course there were muffled racist rumblings in the press when Prince Harry and Meghan first dated and some tongues wagged concerning the suitability of this half black, divorced American actress seriously marrying a British Royal but nothing compares to the seismic shock waves and vitriol a twice married American woman caused in 1936.

Vilified

Not unlike today, the media couldn’t get enough of the fated Royal romance.

Vilified, the press was merciless, casting Mrs. Simpson as thoroughly unsuitable for their beloved King.

Not only had this Baltimore socialite been married twice before, she was pegged as a crass social climber and a commoner,  likened dismissively to Becky Sharpe the ambitious and amoral anti-heroine in the Thackeray novel Vanity Fair.  She was seen as a conniving seductress who manipulated a weak Prince leading to speculations she was really a man. Of all her failings, though it was the fact of her being an American that had the upper crust’s knickers in a twist.

But it was the endless sniping about her appearances that was particularly cruel.

In fact the snark about her looks knew no bounds, with articles referring to as “a commonplace cow.” Poor Mrs. Simpson was derided as “not being beautiful and not even being pretty.” She was, they sniped, a “jolly plain adventuress.”

Time Magazine Cover Girl

Time Magazine Cover Wallis Simpson Woman of the Year 1936

Time Magazine Cover Wallis Simpson Woman of the Year January 4, 1937

This major scandal thrust this jolly plain woman into having the distinction of being Time Magazines 1936 “Woman of the Year.”

It was in fact the very first time the magazine had ever given its “Man of The Year Award” to a woman. In a tumultuous year where other finalists for that honor included heavyweights like President Franklin Roosevelt, Eugene O’ Neill, and Benito Mussolini it was quite a major coup for a gal from Baltimore.

She was a controversial pick certainly, but it spoke to the public’s fascination with Simpson.

Time’s reason for this choice was explained in the issue:

In the single year 1936 she became the most-talked-about, written-about, headlined and interest-compelling person in the world. In these respects no woman in history has ever equaled Mrs. Simpson, for no press or radio existed to spread the world news they made

 A Fine Romance?

Romance Magazine Duke and Duchess of Windsor

In an age long before 24/7 news or the gossip culture of social media, news, and gossip the couple made. The American press jumped on the relationship between the dashing King and Mrs. Simpson, keeping reporters working overtime on this unfolding soap opera.

While the handsome Royal was smitten with Wallis as a Prince it had gotten little notice.

Rumors that Edward Vlll, then Prince of Wales, and future king, had fallen in love with the American divorcee Mrs. Wallis Simpson had swirled around British high society for some time. He wined and dined her, covered her with jewels, entertained her at his estate (without her husband).

However, once he became King after his father George VI’s death in January 1936 and he wanted to marry her it became was a different story.

In the Dark

Ironically while the American’s seemed to have an insatiable appetite for all the juicy details fed to them by a more than willing press, the British people were mostly kept in the dark about the romance, as the British press had a blackout on any story dealing with their King and his romance. But rumors were confirmed by gossipy stories cut from American newspapers and mailed to relatives back in the UK.

King Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson on holiday in Yugoslavia in summer of 1936 Wiki Commons photo

That summer when the King rented a yacht and took a party sailing off the Dalmatian Coast, Wallis was included though not her husband, and they were photographed intimately together by the press.

Armed with the photos, American reporters were now falling over themselves to tell the story about the American girl and the bachelor King and speculated about the romance. When these publications arrived in Britain the offending photos were cut out and the nation remained in the dark.

Once Mrs. Simpson got divorced in October 1936 opening the door for marriage, the press went into overdrive. Even respectable papers like The New York Times and the Chicago Daily Tribune began reporting daily on the soap opera that the relationship between the two had become.

It took a public denunciation by a British Bishop who bluntly condemned the relationship of the King and the divorced Mrs. Simpson, warning of the abdication crisis that might follow to finally expose the whole crisis to the British public.

With no gag order,  Fleet Street hurriedly churned out as much copy as they could in order to satisfy the public’s curiosity.

With the story confirmed the relationship between King Edward  and his unsuitable mistress was cause for grave anxiety in government circles. Could the King really intend on marrying her and making her Queen?

Newspaper Headline King Abdicates December 1936

It is reported that when the king announced to her his determination to marry her, she cried, “Are you out of your mind?”

After Edward broadcast to the nation revealing his shocking decision that he had given up his throne for the woman he loved, he bade farewell and sailed the channel into exile.

Known as Duke and Duchess of Windsor after his abdication the couple continued to capture the public’s imagination.

Duke and Duchess of Windsor cover of Look Magazine 1956

Twenty years later in 1956 The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were still captivating the public’s imagination. Look Magazine October 1956

Demonized for decades, Wallis Simpson was everything from a victim, a villainess, romantic heroine, and fashion icon. She was accused of everything from being intersex, to being a Nazi sympathizer.

In time the public saw their love affair as a storybook fantasy of romance winning out over duty and defying the contempt of government.

In the end, it was love that trumped hate. And still does

 

© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2021.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 comments

  1. Nick

    I watched the Oprah interview the other night. Frankly, it was hard to make up my mind as to whether this was a romantic young couple hard-done-by or a smart young couple getting off the first shot across the bows against the British establishment that was sure to villify them in turn for walking away from the Royals.

    Another possibility that presented itself to my mind is that perhaps they see the writing on the wall for the Royals: times they are a’changin’ and what with Prince Philip’s occasional racist remark and Prince Andrew’s inability to sweat, this street-smart young couple are publicly abandoning the sinking ship before it drags them down with it. Only time will tell.

    Certainly their announcment is muted compared to previous generations of Royals – Henry II’s children – encouraged by their mother – all rebelled against him in arms despite his lavishing gifts, titles and lands on them. Edward IV’s brother the Duke of Clarence plotted against him so often he ended up having Clarence drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine in 1478 (apparently the wine was Clarence’s choice).

    The Wallis Simpson ‘Nazi’ accusations probably stemmed from Edward VIII’s visit to Nazi Germany in 1937 – apparently he was an admirer of the Nazi regime (as were a number of European and US politicians or prominent citizens, let’s not forget, as long as Hitler was seen as the bulwark against Bolshevism and before the mask slipped)

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6251937/Never-seen-photos-Edward-VIII-visiting-Mercedes-Benz-factory.html

    No doubt this embarrassing visit was useful grist to the media when it wanted to see the demise of Edward and his mistress.

    I think one key lesson we can take from all this is the influence and power of the media in making or breaking people. It doesn’t just report on world events, but presents them according to its own agenda in order to shape them. And – as we saw recently with Meghan and Harry – that’s not something that’s changed.

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    • The media’s power and ability to shape the narrative has long been an issue, especially with the Royals. Thank you for providing the historical perspective. There were many who were early admirers of Hitler including many prominent Americans. But you are right once it came out later it was perfect grist for the mill to totally destroy the Windsors.

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  2. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    Parallels? Duke and Duckess of Windsor … “In time the public saw their love affair as a storybook fantasy of romance winning out over duty and defying the contempt of government. In the end, it was love that trumped hate. And still does … “

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  3. I’ve read a little about the Edward/Wallis relationship in several books the past few years. Of course, relationships are complicated (and some of the disdain’s easily seen in The King’s Speech with speculation about their sex lives). But he went all in and stuck with her til the day he died. While it can feel a bit heartwarming, I cringe a bit at that relationship because of the rumors of how unfaithful she was to him while they were together, and her ambitions which led to some attempts to re-write her own story.

    Sure, great to have all that money and whatnot, but at the same time… I wouldn’t be able to put up with all that stiff upper-lip protocol for an hour, let alone a lifetime. I think the age of revolutions proved that as the times may change, the royal bubbles were always far slower to do so… at least, until the peasants start smashing at the gates.

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