The Duke of Windsor and Château Candé

Posted on Sep 2, 2018 by


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Château Candé is one of the unexpected delights of the Loire Valley, especially for English tourists because this is where they lost their King to love. This is where Edward VIII married Wallis Simpson, the woman for whom he gave up everything, his Crown, his country, his family, his very identity of who he was and his place in the world. He seems never to have regretted it. For some, such as he, love comes only once.

It wasn’t as if he was wet behind the ears. He was almost forty when he met Wallis as was she. As the Prince of Wales, the most eligible bachelor in the world, he had had lots of affairs so was able to recognise true love when he met it.

As for Wallis, she comes over as the bewildered love object. She seems never to have seen the relationship as anything more than yet another affair, a bit of fun, a diversion. She was horrified when it resulted in the King’s abdication, his permanent exile from the country he loved and estrangement from his closely knit, but not loving, extended family. Not only did she have to live with the guilt of being the cause of all that pain she had to endure the hatred poured upon her by his family, his Church and – apart from Winston Churchill who defended him – his government.

Edward, as heir to the throne, assumed he could have it all and found to his surprise, shock, horror and dismay he couldn’t, but there really was no contest. A throne can’t provide companionship, gives little comfort when you get the blues, you can’t cuddle a crown. All he wanted from Life was to be with Wallis until the day he died.

Their love affair has gone down in the annals of history as one of the most famous and romantic ever witnessed up there with Napoleon and Josephine, Elizabeth and Robert Browning, Burton and Taylor, Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron. It is also the most tragic.

Candé is one of the least known of the châteaux in the Loire Valley. When we stopped for petrol less than a mile away, staff there had never heard of it. We found this very surprising. We were even more surprised when staff at Candé asked how we had heard about it. We are English, we said, this is where our King got married but do you know what? Even without its claim to fame, Château Candé is well worth the visit. Our only regret is, because it has such a low profile, we assumed an hour would be long enough to whiz around. How wrong we were. It doesn’t happen often you find yourself in a place of which you have no expectations to find to your utter delight it has the WOW factor.

Candé is like the Kodak Logo from the 1970s: The gift that keeps on giving. The day got better and better. The first pleasant surprise was free parking. Some châteaux charge a small fortune. The next was that the entrance fee is modest, half that charged by many châteaux. The beautifully kept grounds – no Keep Off The Grass notices – are dotted with red bell tents swinging from the trees. Are they for visitors to shelter from the sun? They are. Adults can be children again. A real treat.

The welcoming woman in the Gift Shop/Cafe who sold us our tickets is also the Guide. There is not much she doesn’t know about Candé. She said how disappointed staff were when the film WE came out and told the world Edward VIII married Wallis Simpson in the Côte d’Azur. Because of that film, Cande misses out on the tourist trade. WE, a real turkey of a film made by Madonna, is choc full of other historical inaccuracies.

The exterior of the Château is lovely, the interior does not disappoint. Many, impressive on the outside are a let down once you get inside. Candé is not one of them. A photographer’s dream, Candé is, to use modern jargon, extremely user friendly. Every room has seats for the weary and thoroughly researched, very interesting Information Boards.

As for Unique Selling Points, to use more market speak, it‘s hard to know where to begin but talking about marketing, Charles Bedaux, the millionaire Franco-American owner of the Château, founded the world’s first management consultancy. He devised what he called The B(edaux) System, which we would now call Time and Motion Studies. Cometh the hour cometh the man as the saying goes. He was in the right time at the right place. He introduced the concept just as the western world was becoming industrialised installing assembly lines. Employers loved him, the workers hated him. Charlie Chaplin lampooned Bedaux and his system in Modern Times in which a factory worker goes mad screwing nuts onto pieces of machinery at an ever-increasing rate.

The B System made Bedaux a multi-millionaire enabling him to bring his Château into the twentieth century, American style. He installed his own Bell International Telephone Exchange, imported eight stunning American state of the art bathrooms, a Titanic size Gymnasium and an astonishing Skinner organ, the only one left in Europe.

The entrance to Château Candé is one of the most famous in the world. Today, few visitors can resist the temptation of posing where on 3 June 1937, a groom and his bride posed for their wedding photographs. This is where the saddest, the most tragic, the most scandalous wedding in history sparked a constitutional crisis which changed the British monarchy forever.

A very happy Edward, who, six months ago was His Majesty, King of England, and at the same time, a very sad Edward, spitefully demoted to the Duke of Windsor, posed with Wallis for the famous photographer Cecil Beaton. Happy because he had married the love of his life, sad because only a handful of the invited guests attended. It was a modest, low key, almost sombre wedding. Not one member of the Royal Family, his family, are in the photographs.

The civil ceremony between Edward and Wallis took place at 11:42 on June 3, 1937 in the beautiful library built by Charles Bedaux for his American wife Fern who was a voracious reader. Some of her books are still on the shelves. One is a biography of Queen Mary, Edward’s mother. He was heartbroken when this cold, unforgiving, woman refused to acknowledge Wallis.

Charles and Fern Bedaux, who loved music and held concerts in the library, imported a massive organ. Rising through three floors of the château, it was designed and built by Ernest Skinner, a famous American organ maker. His Company exported only two organs to Europe. This one was commissioned by Bedaux in 1928.

3 June would have been Edward’s father’s 72nd birth day. He had died eighteen months previously. Edward’s mother, who was still in mourning, took this as a personal insult. Some say Edward was told in advance that none of his family would attend so chose that day to protect Wallis’s feelings of public rejection. He told her they did not attend because they were remembering his father on what would have been his birthday.

There was no pageantry, no nod to Royalty, just the marriage of two people who had suffered a lot together before they reached this Library.

French weddings are not romantic. Vows are not made, rings are not exchanged. Marriage is simply a legally binding civil contract between two people as demanded under French law.

The local Mayor, wearing his tricolour scarf of office, arrived on time and waited for the couple behind a walnut table covered with a pink velvet cloth. It stood in a bay window framed in heavy damask curtains, looking out over the lovely Lys valley so often featured in the novels of Balzac. On either side of the table was a large vase of pink and white peonies. In front of the table were four armchairs.

Edward was baptised a Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. His father changed the family name to Windsor during WWI when his subjects were being killed by Gotha planes. Twenty-One Gothas bombed Folkestone and the nearby army camp. Many were killed, many more were injured. A few weeks later Gothas made a daylight raid on London. One hundred and sixty died.

Simpson was the name of Wallis’ second husband. She changed her name by British Deed Poll back to Warfield, her maiden name. If she thought the name Simpson would fade from public memory, she was wrong. She would forever be known as Wallis Simpson.

At half-past eleven a small door in the wall panelling opened. The Duke of Windsor looked in, hesitated, then, accompanied by his Best Man and closest friend Major Edward (Fruity) Metcalfe MC came towards the guests. He wore a black morning coat, a dark yellow waistcoat, a double collar, a grey checked tie and a white carnation in his button hole. Then came something characteristic of Edward. After greeting Wallis’ aunt and Mrs Rogers, her close friend, he stopped in front of Mr Graham, First Secretary to the British Embassy and the British Consul at Nantes. “I have seen you before – in South America,” he said. “Yes, your Royal Highness has a good memory,” Mr Graham replied. After greeting the Mayor, the Duke shook hands with the five invited pressmen.

A minute or two later Wallis came through the main doorway of the library escorted by her close friend Herman Rogers. He stood in for her father who died when she was a child, to symbolically give the bride away.

A large bouquet of red, white, and blue flowers tied with a tricolour ribbon, the gift of Monsieur Leon Blum, the French Prime Minister, was presented to Wallis by the Prefect of the Department of Indre-et-Loire.

Wallis wore a distinctive silk crêpe dress designed for her by Mainbocher, an American couturier working in Paris. He created the colour ‘Wallis Blue’ to match the colour of her eyes. An exact replica is on display in the Château. Her co-ordinating blue hat had a halo of pale blue tulle. Her matching gloves were made from the same blue silk crêpe as her dress, one of the most copied dresses of all times. In 1950, Wallis presented it to the Metropolitan Museum.

After the signing, Charles Bedaux asked Edward and Wallis to burn their names into the wood panelling (the way lovers do on trees) as a permanent reminder of the historic event. They can still be seen on the right hand side of the fireplace. The poker they used, a pyrograph bought by Bedaux especially for the occasion, is on display in the Château.

On that very strange wedding day, the most famous organist in France, Marcel Dupré, played Bach, Schumann and Handel. Today, as visitors enter the library they hear the strains of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March played by an invisible organist.

After the very short civil ceremony, the bride, groom and guests went next door to the lovely flower filled Music Room, which had been converted into an Anglican chapel for the occasion.

Right up to the last minute, it was touch and go whether there would be a religious ceremony. A Press Release from Château Candé announced there would not be. No-one was prepared to do it. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the vindictive Cosmo Lang, was one of the most strident voices forcing Edward off the throne. He forbade Church of England clergyman to perform the ceremony knowing that without it in the eyes of the Church of England they would not be married. Cosmo Lang spitefully ordered that Edward’s name be removed from the list of members of the Royal Family congregations were asked to pray for. In the opinion of the Head of he Christian Church in England Edward was not deserving of anyone’s prayers. Punishing him was not enough, revenge was not enough, humiliating him was not enough the only thing that satisfied the Establishment was kicking a man when he is down.

The nastiness increased. A further slap in the face came when Wallis was denied the title of Royal Highness and Edward was removed from the Civil List. George VI paid his brother an allowance on the cruel condition that Edward never returned to Britain.

In Darlington, in the north of England, an ordained priest of the Church of England, the completely unknown Reverend Robert Jardine, was upset by vindictiveness a man of the cloth meted out to his erstwhile King.

Dubbed ‘the Poor Man’s Pastor’, Jardine who had worked in a very deprived area for more than ten years, said no-one should be denied a Church of England blessing. The Bishop of Durham warned him he was “without episcopal licence or consent to unite the Duke of Windsor and Mrs. Simpson’. Jardine, a happily married man with a five children, asked himself what Jesus, who often got himself in hot water with rabbis, would have done. He then telegrammed Château Candé offering his services. Edward and Wallis were very touched and very grateful.

Jardine made his way from Darlington to London, London to Dover, Dover to Calais, Calais to Paris, Paris to Saint Pierre des Corps in the Loire Valley where the Duke’s chauffeur met his train and took him to Château Candé a half hour’s drive away.

When Jardine met the Duke he had a lump in his throat to see this kind, gentle man, an ex King of England so crushed, so hurt, as to be grateful to a vicar from a run down parish in an unfashionable part of England. He wrote later it was one of the greatest tragedies in history. A tragedy is something which, if someone had responded differently, would not have happened.

The Duke put Jardine at his ease talking about Darlington which he had visited.

In the Music Room, a large wooden chest made do as a makeshift altar. The couple kneeled on white satin cushions on low stools as the Reverend Jardine conducted the religious ceremony which would make them man and wife in the eyes of the Church of England of which Edward was, until six months ago, Head.

When the ceremony reached ‘Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour and keep her?’ Edward, in his joy, almost shouted ‘I will!’. He then put on his bride’s finger a plain wedding ring of Welsh-mined gold all English Queens traditionally wear.

Edward was not the only man who had lost everything that day. Unknown to either of them, Jardine’s offer to carry out the wedding as a sacrament of a church which opposed it, cost him his home of ten years, a twelve roomed vicarage, his vocation and his career. When he returned home he was ostracised and asked to resign his living. He said he had no regrets and if given his time over would do the same again.

Waiting for him were 3000 letters of support from people in all walks of life. Edward had always been the most popular member of the royal family.

When the Service was over everyone went into the salon. Glasses of champagne were drunk in a toast to the bride and groom proposed by Major Metcalfe, who wished them many years of happiness. The Duke replied: “Ladies and gentlemen. We both want to thank you very feelingly for your kind and friendly attendance on this very important occasion for us. That is all I can say – thank you.” The bridegroom and his bride chatted with guests before going out to the front of the château to pose for press photographers. They insisted that Rev. Jardine joined them for photographs before everyone went back in for the wedding breakfast.

Because of the tragic situation, because none of his family attended, because only a few friends remained loyal the wedding was low key. However, there was nothing low key about the splendid surroundings where the newly weds held their wedding buffet. The dining room, with its Spanish Cordoba embossed leather walls and stained glass windows is superb. It dates from the 1500s when the Château was owned by the Briçonnet family. Katherine Briçonnet is famous for having built the magnificent Château Chenonceau.

The dining table laid with exquisite porcelain dishes, is from Château Plessis les Tours where Charles VII and his son Louis XI

lived and held Court. Plessis became famous when Walter Scott featured it in his novel Quentin Durward.

Tourists are delighted to see a replica of the wonderful wedding cake which graced the centre of the table. The original, crafted by a renowned patissier from nearby Tours, was baked in the Château kitchen.

French newspapers reported that guests dined on lobster, chicken and strawberries and that wedding gifts included one from Adolf Hitler, a friend of Charles Bedoux, a photo frame decorated with precious gems.

The wedding celebrations ended after lunch when the couple left Candé to spend their honeymoon aboard the Orient Express bound for Venice then on to a castle in Austria.

In the Touraine, as this area is called, the marriage of Edward and Wallis is called the wedding of the century.

Reporters were waiting when the royal honeymooners reached Wasserloenburg Castle in Austria. The moon was shining as Edward carried his bride over the threshold.

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