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Wallis Simpson: What Is the Truth About Her Later Years?

BritFlorida loves to track down historical stories, especially scandals and mysteries from the UK.

Read on to learn about the possible scandal surrounding the final years of Wallis Simpson.

Read on to learn about the possible scandal surrounding the final years of Wallis Simpson.

What Happened to the Duchess of Windsor?

At one time, Wallis Simpson was probably the most talked-about woman in the world. And if not the world, her name was on everyone's lips in Britain and America in the 1930s.

The long-time mistress of King Edward VIII, she was described by him as ‘the woman I love’ when he declared on BBC radio, to the world, that he was renouncing his throne to which he had ascended only a year before so that he could marry her.

Britain had been horrified at the thought of their king marrying a twice-divorced American woman. Americans, I rather suspect, were secretly rather pleased that one of their countrywomen was creating such a furor in ‘stuffy’ Britain.

As you know, the king became the Duke of Windsor and Wallis became his duchess when he married her shortly after he had abdicated. Their lives together make a strange and intriguing story but what is even odder is what happened to Wallis after the duke’s death.

The Duchess of Windsor

The Duchess of Windsor

Wallis Simpson's Strange Widowhood

A journalist who worked for London’s Sunday Times was the first to uncover the story that all was not well.

Society photographer (and Princess Margaret’s ex-husband) Lord Snowdon decided—this was in 1980—that he wanted to photograph the duchess. She had been widowed for eight years and had hardly been seen since but lived as a recluse in Paris.

The journalist, Caroline Blackwood, was commissioned to write a short article to accompany the photographs.

The duchess at this time was either eighty-four or eighty-five. The year of her birth was in doubt because she was allegedly born before her parents were married, so falsified her birth year.

So no one knew what her condition was. Was she ill and bedridden, as some people said? Others suspected that she might be a victim of dementia and that this was the reason she hadn't been seen in public.

It was discovered that her life was stranger than first thought.


Maitre Suzanne Blum

The journalist discovered that the duchess was completely under the control of her female French lawyer, Suzanne Blum.

Maitre Blum was almost the same age as the duchess but still a practising lawyer in Paris. She had spent a great deal of time working in America where she represented several major Hollywood studios and major movie stars.

At some point after the Duke of Windsor’s death, she had gained the duchess’ power of attorney and ran her entire life.

Caroline Blackwood went to Paris to interview this formidable old French lawyer. She was told, in all seriousness, that if she wrote one word which was derogatory about the duchess the lawyer wouldn’t sue her—she would kill her.

Try as she might, the journalist could get no information about the duchess and certainly no permission to visit her.


Friends of the Duchess

Caroline interviewed several of the duchess’ friends from the old days. (You’ll see later why she had such great access to them). One of the first was Diana, Lady Mosley (formerly Diana Mitford).

Diana and her husband had also been exiled from England, and they had been neighbours and close friends of the Windsors. Indeed, Diana had written a book about the duchess.

Lady Diana confirmed to the journalist that none of Wallis’ old friends had seen her for several years. They had tried, but Maitre Blum had prevented it.

Caroline went on to interview a number of the duchess’ closest friends, and they all had the same story to tell—that Maitre Blum prevented them from seeing their old friend.

What Was the Duchess of Windsor’s Condition?

Over a series of interviews with Maitre Blum, the journalist received conflicting information. To me, the account of the old lawyer makes her seem on the fringe of madness.

Sometimes, it was reported that the duchess was in a coma. Sometimes Caroline was told by Maitre Blum that Wallis was sitting in a chair by the window admiring the garden, chatting in an animated fashion and listening to Cole Porter records.

Maitre Blum assured the journalist that the duchess received the best possible care with a team of resident medical staff. Plus, she was carefully protected by her faithful old retainer, her butler Georges.

Caroline Blackwood was relentless. At one time, she was shown photographs taken by a Spanish photographer using a telephoto lens pointed towards the duchess’ bedroom in her palatial Paris home.

These showed the duchess to be in a completely pitiful situation. Nurses were turning her in her bed (to avoid bedsores, presumably). She was what the journalist describes as ‘cigarette-thin’, she was hooked up to various medical apparatus, and her head was lolling with no strength in her neck. It was as if she was indeed comatose.

Yet Maitre Blum, who visited the duchess every week, continued to report that the duchess was happy, compos mentis and enjoying her Cole Porter records.

Selling the Windsor Jewellery and Possessions

The journalist discovered that Maitre Blum, having the duchess’ power of attorney, was secretly selling various items of the Windsor’s wealth.

The old lawyer had complete control over every possession, every letter, every diary, every item owned by the duchess.

Was she selling these goods for her own personal gain? Or was she selling them to fund the duchess’ medical care?

Either way, it reflected badly on the lawyer. She was arranging these sales secretly. In fact, had these items been sold as ‘previously owned by the Duchess of Windsor’ they would have had more value but Suzanne Blum didn't want the world to know that she was selling Windsor possessions.


The Austrian Baron

The journalist then heard a disturbing story about ‘a certain Austrian baron’, a friend of the duchess, who’d had a phone call from her two years previously. She was crying and wondering why all her old friends had cut her off since the duke died.

The baron was concerned enough to fly to Paris because he had tried to call Wallis several times in the last few years and been told by her butler Georges that she was too ill to talk.

Georges had also explained that these were the orders of Maitre Blum. The baron’s first visit to Paris was fruitless but on the second, he bullied Suzanne (which sounds like an almost impossible task) and was finally allowed to glimpse his old friend in her home.

He reported that she was shrivelled to less than half her original size, and curled up almost as though she was reverting to an embryo. She was unconscious and, to his horror, illness had caused her skin had darkened so that it appeared to be completely black.

He said that she looked like ‘a shrivelled prune’.

Was the Duchess Alive or Dead?

Caroline Blackwood became acquainted with a French businessman who told her that an antique dealer friend had been offered the Duke of Windsor’s enormously valuable collection of Sevres snuffboxes. The dealer had refused.

This businessman was appalled by Caroline’s stories of how the duchess was kept in seclusion and approached a friend, a detective, to find out more.

When Caroline met the detective, he asked a question that chilled her to the bone. ‘How do you know’ he asked ‘that the duchess is still alive?’ He explained that although, of course, it was illegal not to report a death, it was something that happened often in France especially where trust funds and inheritances were concerned.

Could this possibly be the case?

The Official Death of the Duchess of Windsor

Wallis Simpson died in April 1986. She was at least (bearing in mind that her true birthdate was in question) ninety years old.

She was buried in England alongside the duke, and members of the British royal family—including the queen—attended the ceremony.


The Author: Caroline Blackwood

As I was reading her book, I was surprised that the author had such access to the Duchess of Windsor’s friends. One of the duchess' old friends was the author's aunt.

During her investigations, she lunched with Lady Diana Mosley. She telephoned the Countess of Mountbatten. She visited Edward’s long-time mistress, Freda Dudley Ward. She dropped in to see Laura, the Duchess of Devonshire.

These people are almost legendary figures.

She contacted aristocratic elderly ladies in the same way that you or I would get in touch with close friends.

On investigation, I discovered that the author was actually Lady Caroline Maureen Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood and from an aristocratic family herself. She was married several times—first to an artist, then to a composer and finally to an author.

When she wrote the book about the duchess, it was two years after her own teenage daughter had died of a drug overdose. Caroline 'went to pieces'. (See the video below).

Her husband had also recently died.

A few years after she’d written the book it was accepted that her writing abilities had been seriously affected by her alcoholism.

Do these facts alter the situations she wrote about regarding the Duchess of Windsor? The book is still available, and I’d urge you to read it and make up your own mind.


Find Out More

You can find out more about the author in the video below. Her life is almost as fascinating as that of the duchess.

The video shows her daughter who seems to be a wonderful woman. Unfortunately, the female interviewer is pretty po-faced with no sense of humour, but learn more about Ivana Lowell and how she discovered the truth of her paternity.

Learn More About the Author

I imagine that the video above has whet your appetite and that you'd like to know more about Caroline Blackwood's story, her husbands, her Guinness family and her daughters.

Use the link on the right to see more about Ivana's book on Amazon.

You'll find it fascinating.

She has a wonderful sense of humour and is remarkably down to earth, as you saw on the video.

Sources and Further Reading

Blackwood, Caroline. (2012). The Last of the Duchess: The Strange and Sinister Story of the Final Years of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor. Vintage.

Lowell, Ivana. (2011). Why Not Say What Happened?: A Memoir. Vintage.

© 2014 Jackie Jackson


Christi Caldwell on October 01, 2019:

My family is related to Wallis Simpson. Are there other relation out there???

Jackie Jackson (author) from Fort Lauderdale on October 31, 2014:

@klidstone1970 - it's funny you should say that because I was talking to a friend yesterday who also said it reminded him of Psycho. I hadn't made the connection but you're right.

இڿڰۣ-- кιмвєяℓєу from Niagara Region, Canada on October 31, 2014:

Boy, everything is always shrouded in mystery. It reminds of Alfred Hitchcock's film, Psycho, where Norman Bates keeps his mother's corpse. Life is definitely stranger than fiction. I would love to know if the lawyer hid her death for the money.

Jackie Jackson (author) from Fort Lauderdale on October 30, 2014:

@bravewarrior - doesn't it? Her lawyer had every reason to keep her 'alive' for financial reasons. I'm not saying that's what happened but it's an interesting speculation,isn't it?

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on October 30, 2014:

Such mystery! Did the duchess really die in 1986 or before? The description of her lying in bed with blackened skin certainly describes a corpse. Creepy.

Jackie Jackson (author) from Fort Lauderdale on October 28, 2014:

@Merrci - thanks so much for pinning :)

Jackie Jackson (author) from Fort Lauderdale on October 28, 2014:

@BarbaraKay - it makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Jackie Jackson (author) from Fort Lauderdale on October 28, 2014:

@Chris Neal - thanks so much for dropping by.

Jackie Jackson (author) from Fort Lauderdale on October 28, 2014:

@Nancy Hardin - you leave such lovely comments! I have so many more stories - I wish there were more hours in a day. Now that's a great idea about a book :)

Merry Citarella from Oregon's Southern Coast on October 28, 2014:

Fascinating! It makes one more curious, doesn't it? Great article BritFlorida. Pinned!

Barbara Badder from USA on October 27, 2014:

These old stories are interesting. I wonder what really was going on with Wallis Simpson.

Chris Neal from Fishers, IN on October 27, 2014:

Very interesting, very well written. Thank you!

Nancy Carol Brown Hardin from Las Vegas, NV on October 27, 2014:

Well you did it me immersed in one of your scintillating stories of the British royals. I promised myself not to read this until tonight when I had some work done, but gave in to my own weakness and read it in the middle of the afternoon. I just can't get over these stories, they fascinate me so much I can hardly pass one up. You always present opposing situations that keep a reader engrossed, wondering which is the correct answer. Lovely, just lovely and I so enjoy every one of your stories. If you ever put all these in a book, I'm your first customer!