Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Duke, The Duchess, and the Jewels

More than 70 years after England's King Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, some of the couple's jewels are being auctioned by Sotheby’s.  The twenty items that will be auctioned in November are currently owned by millionaire businessman Wafiq Said. 

Some of the pieces are estimated to bring more than 1 million pounds ($1.5 million) each.  Cartier, one of the couple’s favorite jewelers, made pieces for them during the 1930s and throughout their marriage.  A standout piece is a panther bracelet by Cartier.  Designed in 1952, the bracelet was among the finest of designer Jeanne Toussaint's "great cats."

Also up for sale is a flamingo-shaped diamond brooch with feathers of rubies, sapphires and emeralds, and a citrine beak. 

Another of the items in the collection is a bracelet consisting of gem-set crosses, which bear inscriptions representative of special moments in the couple’s life together. 

A heart-shaped brooch of rubies and diamonds, commissioned for the Duke and Duchess’s 20th wedding anniversary, features the initials W.E. (for Wallis and Edward) in emeralds. 

Edward had been on the throne for just eleven months when he gave up the crown in December 1936 to marry Simpson, the American divorcee. The abdication speech he gave on December 11, 1936, has become famous for his declaration that he had “found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.”   

Although the Duke and Duchess’s story has been the inspiration for many a girl’s dreams of marrying her prince (or king), at the core, the story had a dark heart. 

After the abdication, the erstwhile king was created Duke of Windsor.  In 1937, against the advice of the British government, he and his Duchess toured Nazi Germany.  It is believed that the Duke was sympathetic to the Nazi movement and that Hitler mourned his abdication.  During World War II, the Duke was stationed with the British Military in France, where he and Wallis had settled.  But, at this time, the Duke’s actions proved so distressing to the British war effort that Prime Minister Winston Churchill threatened the Duke with a court-martial if he did not return to British soil.  It was then, in the summer of 1940, that the Duke of Windsor was installed as Governor of the Bahamas.  The Prime Minister thought that in the Bahamas the Duke would do the least harm.  He held that post until the end of the war in 1945. 

After the war, the Duke of Windsor was never given another official appointment, and spent the rest of his life in retirement in France.  The empty life of vacuous society figures that the Duke and Duchess led in France until their deaths (he in 1972; she in 1986) is well documented.  Their tale of “star-crossed” lovers triumphant leaves a lot to be desired.

'Til next time.  

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