Before Wallis by Rachel Trethewey

Before Wallis by Rachel Trethewey

Author:Rachel Trethewey
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: The History Press

10

THE ACCIDENTAL MATCHMAKER

Rather than being remembered for her great love affair with the prince, Thelma Furness is most well known for her role in introducing Wallis Simpson to the heir to the throne. A fellow American, at that time Wallis was married to her second husband, Ernest Simpson, who was an Anglo-American shipping broker, when she met the Prince of Wales. During her first years in London Wallis had been lonely; she felt that she did not fit into British society. She searched for like-minded friends among the American colony in the city. Ernest and Wallis began to socialise with young diplomats and managers of American banks and businesses.1 It was an important moment for Wallis when she first met Thelma’s sister Consuelo, who was married to Benjamin Thaw, first secretary of the American embassy in London. Consuelo and Wallis became close friends and then Consuelo introduced Wallis to Thelma. The two women immediately got on well as Thelma found Wallis ‘fun’.2

In their memoirs, Thelma, Wallis and the Prince of Wales all recorded slightly different versions of how and when Edward first met Mrs Simpson. According to Thelma, it was in late 1930 or January 1931, when Consuelo first brought Wallis over to cocktails at Thelma’s house. Gloria and her friends also dropped in, making an impromptu party. The prince arrived to see Thelma and she introduced him to her new friend, Mrs Simpson. Thelma later wrote that it was an uneventful meeting; there was no electric tension between Wallis and Edward that night.3

Edward remembered it differently. He recalled in his memoir that he first met the woman he would marry when he went to Lady Furness’s country house, Burrough Court, for a weekend’s hunting with his brother George during the winter of 1931. Wallis was there with her husband. She did not ride, and she was suffering from a bad cold. The prince made conversation with her, saying that she must miss central heating. Always prepared to say what she thought, Wallis told him that, on the contrary, she liked cold houses. A mocking look came into her eyes when she said that every American woman who came to England was asked that question and she had hoped for something more original from him. Her willingness to challenge him immediately attracted Edward’s attention and made her more interesting to him.4

In her memoir, Wallis corrected both Thelma’s and the prince’s accounts. She agreed with Thelma that their first meeting was in the winter of 1930–31, but it was at Burrough Court, not in London. Biographers confirm that the fateful date was 10 January 1931.5 Thelma had planned a hunting weekend with the heir to the throne. Lord Furness was away on safari so, to keep up appearances, a married woman was required to act as chaperone. Wallis and Ernest Simpson were invited because Consuelo could not be there. At this point, Wallis hardly knew Thelma as they had only met at a couple of parties. At first, she was reluctant to go because she did not know what would be expected of her.



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