Documents released last week by the British government recalled the Duke and Duchess of Windsor's more than flirtatious interest in Nazi Germany and his abdication 60 years ago this week.
H. L. Mencken, the Baltimore journalist, described the story of the couple's love affair and his eventual abdication on Dec. 11, 1936, as the "greatest story since the Crucifixion."
After the abdication and until his death in 1972 and hers 14 years later, the couple remained wealthy curiosities from another age and another time. International vagabonds, they moved from one fashionable resort and hotel to another, endlessly searching for the acceptance that had been denied them by the royal family.
'I lay down my burden'
In his abdication address, broadcast throughout the world from Windsor Castle, the king said: "I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility without the help and support of the woman I love. I now quit altogether public affairs, and I lay down my burden."
The impending furor over his determination to marry the twice-divorced American, Wallis Warfield Simpson, who was born and raised in a Biddle Street rowhouse, caused her to flee England earlier that month under an assumed name. Her destination was the Chateau de Cande, near Tours, France, where she would await the arrival of Edward.
It was there that Philip M. Wagner -- who had been assigned to The Sun's London bureau and witnessed what he later called "the serio-comic Simpson-Edward VIII abdication episode" -- scored a major news scoop in May of 1937. Shortly before her marriage to the Duke, he sat for an hour in the drawing room of the chateau conversing with the former Baltimorean.
At her death in 1986, Mr. Wagner described her as an "entertaining and stylish person. She was an attractive person. She was apparently what [King Edward] needed."
His account of the 1937 meeting began, "This is not an interview with Mrs. Simpson because Mrs. Simpson is not giving interviews. She has not granted any in the past, despite the fact that some plausible ones have been printed, and so far as anyone can discover she does not foresee the time when she will grant any."
Mr. Wagner continued, "So this 'non-interview' is merely an account of a pleasant hour spent at the Chateau de Cande, where she has observed a very simple life for the last few months."
After being greeted by a female gatekeeper in slippers, he drove his car to the the house and was greeted by a footman in plum-colored livery.
"The footman passes you to the butler and the butler passes you into the enormous drawing room, high-ceilinged and furnished in the grand manner with sofas and chairs in brocade," he wrote. "There one stands wondering what is next on the program when in bounds Mr. Rogers, lord high scapegoat of the chateau, followed by a bevy of dogs."
Herman L. Rogers, who was Simpson's spokesman, said that she would be "delighted to meet a representative of The Sun, but of course, one realizes, it is out of the question actually to interview her, to ask questions, to try to pin her down, to quote her and so on," wrote Wagner.
Wagner was then led by Rogers from the drawing room to the library and Simpson.
"And there, before a great carved stone fireplace in the middle of another sumptuous sofa surrounded by high shelves of beautifully bound books, sits Mrs. Simpson, looking exceedingly decorative," he wrote.
"Mrs. Simpson rises and is cordial," he observed. "She is much prettier than photographs of her would lead one to believe. She is wearing a suit (French, not English) of gray material trimmed with blue. Her brown hair and vivid coloring go well with the suit and made the room somber by contrast. It may be added that the celebrated Simpson coiffure has been altered somewhat."
Over refreshments of what Wagner described as "sticky" red crayfish, Simpson asked about the news from Baltimore.
"There is conversation of a pleasant, non-committal sort. Is it true that everybody in Baltimore now lives outside the city and has dear, old Baltimore changed? One wonders whether the new bridge over Jones' Falls would interest her and concluded probably not," wrote Wagner.
"Well, perhaps it is time to be gone. One rises to depart murmuring thanks. Mrs. Simpson graciously conceals her lack of disappointment at the prospect of one's departure."
Earlier in 1937, Wagner wrote, "One still hears occasionally discussions of the ethical principles involved in King Edward's decision. But the discussions are mildly humorous, and quite without heat. Indeed, if the Duke of Windsor could know how calmly his lately-loyal subjects have transferred their loyalty to another, his pride could not but be badly jolted. His action was the stuff of which high tragedy is, or might be, or should be, made."
Wagner, who retired as editor of The Sun in 1964, went on to establish Boordy Wines at his Riderwood home, where he is still living at the age of 92.
Pub Date: 12/15/96