People who haven’t engaged with the minutiae of the tale of Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII tend to believe that she – a grasping, ballsy, twice-divorced American – forced him to abandon the throne in order to marry her.

That is not the case. In this new account of the pandemonium of 1936, the truth is laid out in exquisitely researched detail. Time and again we see that Wallis had enjoyed being the mistress of the Prince of Wales, had loved the attention, the house parties and the Cartier jewels that he lavished upon her. But she did not want to pay the heavy price for his abdication. She did not want the prize she ended up with.

‘I am sure you and I would only create disaster,’ she wrote to him. ‘Isn’t it best for me to steal away quietly,’ she implored.

His steadfast view, meanwhile, was: ‘She is the only woman in this world; I cannot live without her.’

The Crown in Crisis depicts a spoiled and irresponsible king – possibly even a mad one with arrested development and a bad case of Peter Pan syndrome – who pursued Wallis to the detriment of every person, nation and institution involved.

It also begs the question: how much was it that he couldn’t live without Wallis and how much was it that he couldn’t live with the responsibility of the throne?

He seems never to have been suited to it. Even his father, King George V, was heard to say: ‘I pray to God that my eldest son [Edward] will never marry and have children, and that nothing will come between Bertie and Lilibet and the throne.’

The Crown In Crisis

Alexander Larman is an author, journalist and historian – previous subjects include the Earl of Rochester and Lord Byron – with a pleasingly light touch. Having immersed himself in archives and previously unseen sources, he has produced a book that is packed full of detail and intrigue. Even if you know the story before you pick up The Crown in Crisis, elements of its fresh take will stay with you after you put it down.

Among these is the description of the weary politicians, courtiers and friends who sat, dumbfounded, around their fires, clutching tumblers of whisky, the night the announcement of the abdication had been made in Parliament. ‘The trouble is,’ wrote the diarist and Secretary of State for War, Duff Cooper, ‘that while everyone is tired of the subject, nobody can talk about anything else.’

In the years since the action of this book took place, certain things have changed immeasurably (it certainly jars today to read about the Nazi sympathisers at the heart of 1930s society). Others, though, seem to be repeating themselves (it sure is easy to draw parallels between the Wallis/Edward scenario and the Harry/Meghan one).

It is not fun to read of the distress the saga caused its protagonists, and, as you do, you spend a lot of time willing Edward VIII to behave better. But, 84 years later, you finish this gripping book proud that we, the nation, came through that unthinkable disaster with our customary aplomb.

Evelyn Waugh took it one step further. He wrote in his diary: ‘The Simpson crisis has been a great delight to everyone. At Maidie’s nursing home, they report a pronounced turn for the better in all adult patients. There can seldom have a been an event that has caused so much general delight and so little pain.’

Alexander Larman’s books are available at amazon.

By Becky Ladenburg
September 2020

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