Sunday, June 02, 2019

"King Edward VIII - An American Life" by Ted Powell - A Contrarian View of The Erstwhile Prince of Wales

Author Ted Powell offers a contrarian view of the Duke of Windsor in his new biography, "King Edward VIII - An American Life." Powell makes a strong case for his premise that it was far more than simply his love for Wallis Simpson that caused Edward to abdicate the British throne in 1936.

Powell posits the there were in reality two Princes of Wales inhabiting the same body. There was the official "Edward," dutifully and begrudgingly carrying out the formal ceremonial duties of the office. Then there was "David," the free spirit who longed to mix with and to understand the commoners who were Edward's subjects. The American dream was a breeding ground for David's imagination and experimentation with freedoms - risk taking, horseback riding, flying airplanes, investing in a ranch in Canada, and bedding independent minded American women.

The book takes the reader through the tortuous journey that the Prince took - psychologically and geographically. As Prince, he traveled the world, visiting much of what remained of the crumbling British Empire. As David, he was frequently drawn back to America, the wild western provinces of Canada, and the American enclave that inhabited the Paris of the 1920s and '30s. His view of a more democratic monarchy removed fro the pedestal and mixing with the commoners was sharply at odds with the more conservative views of his Father, George V, and his court.

Wallis Simpson was simply the last of the lovers that Edward/David would take. His decision to defy the rest of the royal household and marry the twice divorced American was the final straw in a prolonged struggle for the heart and soul of the Prince of Wales. His decision to marry Mrs. Simpson, and the shocking decision to abdicate the throne, created a permanent break with the royal household. He spent the rest of his life trying to get Wallis Simpson officially recognized as his Duchess of Windsor.

The book is filled with colorful anecdotes of Edward's relationships with Churchill, Roosevelt, Will Rogers, Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford, Paul Whitman, Hitler, Mussolini, and an endless conga line of lovely "dance partners." His years after abdicating the throne were filled with frustrating attempts to be useful. During the war years, the British establishment worked hard to silence him because of his statements that implied Nazi sympathies.

Throughout the book, the author contrasts the vastly different approaches to the Prince of Wales/Duke of Windsor taken by the press on both sides of the Atlantic. Whereas the British press, Fleet Street, were deferential to the royal family, keeping personal issues out of the papers, American journalist knew no such hesitation. Edward became an American celebrity on par with Clark Gable. His every move and every dance partner was fodder for reporting, gossiping, and speculation on whether she could be a perspective bride. He was not prepared for such relentless scrutiny, and it took its toll on him.

This book as a fascinating addition to the already rich trove of books written about Edward and Wallis.



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