The Duke & Duchess of Windsor’s Wedding 80 Years Later

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It was a modest affair. The bride, for her third trip down the aisle, wore blue crepe. The only note of ostentation was a large diamond and sapphire brooch. Though perhaps the other note was the groom himself, the Duke of Windsor, eldest son of King George V and Mary of Teck, the former King Edward VIII.

The couple were wed at the Chateau De Cande in Monts, France, a glamorous setting by anyone’s standards except, perhaps, their own. It was a far cry from the pomp and ceremony of Westminster Abbey, the setting they would likely have chosen were they any other royal pair. But Edward was less than six months away from having abdicated the throne, an unprecedented act to have undertaken by choice, and one to which he was driven by the simple fact that Britain would never have accepted Wallis Simpson as queen.

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The foreign setting was reinforced by the fact that they weren’t wholly welcome in England at the moment – indeed, while Edward had assumed they would eventually return “home” after the dust had settled from the abdication, the simple truth was, it was unfathomable to have a former king living in a country ruled by his successor.

Press photos weren’t allowed during the ceremony, though day-of reporting did capture the events, including that the bride walked down the aisle to Handel’s Judas Maccabeus:

I’ll let TIME take it away:

“With a brand-new red, white & blue sash wrapped round his stomach, the 46-year-old mayor of Monts, Dr. Charles Mercier, was noticeably nervous, forgot to bring with him the Livret de Famille, official handbook on how to raise a family that is the French Republic’s official present to all marrying couples. The mayor made a speech, the register was signed and the civil ceremony, witnessed by but seven souls, was over in five minutes.

“In the music room an altar had been hastily improvised on an old oak chest on which stood a gold cross and two yellow tapers. By it in a clean white surplice stood the Rev. R. Anderson Jardine awaiting the greatest moment in his life. Hollow-eyed, the Duke of Windsor stepped in a moment later, accompanied by his elegantly groomed best man, Major Edward Dudley (“Fruity”) Metcalfe. While Organist Dupré played the march from Handel’s Judas Maccabeus, entered (Bessie) Wallis Warfield (Spencer) (Simpson) on the arm of the faithful Herman Rogers. She wore a dress that most U. S. department stores were soon to feature: soft blue crepe with a tight, buttoned bodice, a halo-shaped hat of the same color, shoes and gloves to match. At her throat was a tremendous diamond-&-sapphire brooch. Mrs. Warfield carried a prayer book, had no bouquet but wore a large lavender orchid at her waist.

“Only two incidents disturbed the ceremony. When Vicar Jardine asked, ”Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor and keep her?” overwrought Edward cried “I will!” in a shrill voice that was almost a scream. 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.

“Later there were champagne, salad and a few speeches. To tactful Herman Rogers, unofficial press minister of the affair, combined newshawks presented a gold fountain pen. His last official statement was a request: “Please do not follow them.” The Duke & Duchess of Windsor climbed into their limousine, were driven by George Ladbrooke, the Duke’s chauffeur for 17 years, disappeared through the château gates. Ahead of them went 226 pieces of luggage, including 183 trunks.

“Newshawks did not have to follow the honeymooners to a destination everyone knew. But a few had secured compartments on the same Simplon-Orient express to which the ducal car had been attached and as the train rolled southeast across France they brought each other word that the private car contained one large double bed, covered with the usual Thomas Cook & Sons-Wagon Lits brown blanket — and a complete bathroom. Later reports announced that the Duke was going to bed in a pair of bright red pajamas, that he had early tea alone, that both Duke & Duchess enjoyed a hearty bacon & egg breakfast.

“In Venice, where the train stopped for several hours, the Duke & Duchess went for a motorboat ride, strolled in the gardens of the Hotel Excelsior at the Lido and were showered with flowers from Fascists anxious to do their little best to enrage the Chamberlain Government. Edward Windsor was reported to have given the Fascist salute.

“Other reporters were waiting when the royal honeymooners reached Wasserloenburg Castle in Austria. The moon was shining as the Duke carried his Duchess over the threshold.”

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The real question, of course, was not about who was there, so much as who wasn’t – the Royal Family. And, indeed, the warning of that significance went to the heart of the couple’s future – what role would they have? Would Wallis be accepted as duchess? Would the marriage be recognized within Britain?

The answer to the second was yes, in part. Wallis was accepted as Edward’s wife and granted the title of Duchess of Windsor, but she was not to be a Her Royal Highness (or HRH), the title any other wife of Edward’s would have expected in any other circumstances. It was viewed as a grave insult by both, however to Edward it was an unforgivable offense, one that embittered him against his family for the rest of his life and against which he never stopped fighting.

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The answer to the first was simple: none. They were given brief stints as ambassador-figures, however neither was trusted by the government, particularly given political sensitivities around World War II.

As for the third, yes, they were recognized, but not welcomed back. They would spend the rest of their lives in France with a few short-lived exceptions. Neither was truly a part of the family anymore, a rift that Edward had seemingly failed to consider before he left.

In short, his wedding day marked the completion of his divorce from the House of Windsor, for all that his title indicated otherwise.

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