Author explores the secret life of controversial king

Ted Powell.

Ted Powell. - Credit: Archant

Infamous King Edward VIII was branded an embarrassment to the royal family after he abdicated to marry an American divorcee, but author Dr Ted Powell argues that Edward was a peace-loving man and a progressive prince.

Ted, a royal historian and lecturer at the University of Cambridge, will be talking at Hart’s Books in Saffron Walden next week about Edward’s love of America and the irresistible freedom and modernity he experienced there in his new book, King Edward VIII: An American Life.

Edward is the only British king in history to have voluntarily abdicated after refusing to give up his scandalous affair with married Wallis Simpson.

He had a series of love affairs with American women long before Wallis arrived on the scene - most of them unknown until now. His first took place in the Panama Canal Zone in 1920 when he was on his way to Australia for a royal tour. This ‘Cinderella’ affair made headlines in America, but it was not reported in Britain.

Edward also had an affair with Hollywood starlet Pinna Cruger, the wife of a New York millionaire.

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“He was having affairs with woman from 1920, long before he met Wallis Simpson,” Ted said. “He was having a string of affairs with American woman, including Thelma Furness, Edward’s mistress while he was still Prince of Wales.”

Edward lapped up American produce, music, the lifestyle and in 1919 he even bought a cattle ranch in Alberta, Canada, which he owned for more than 40 years. He loved American hot jazz, learned to surf at Waikiki beach in Honolulu and fell in love with living the life of a cowboy on the prairie.

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“America was equally fascinated by the prince, especially his love life, and he became an international media celebrity.

“He almost led a double life - he escaped his royal life in America, but back in Britain, he was still serving his duty in the monarchy,” Ted said.

When Wallis Simpson came along and Edward’s intent to marry her was revealed, she became known as the woman who stole the king.

“My mother remembers how strongly the people hated the woman back then when this was all happening.

“Wallis Simpson spent a year in Beijing and one of the rumours flying around was that she wooed Edward with exotic sexual techniques that she had picked up in China.

“It’s impossible to overstate how obsessed Edward was with Wallis. He was enslaved by her and he was determined to marry her.”

But Edward had kept the affair and plan to marry Wallis a secret until a letter arrived to the editor of The Times.

Edward, still at this late stage, was pretending he had no interest in marrying Wallis Simpson.

“But the editor sent the letter to the king’s private secretary and just 10 days later Edward abdicated,” Ted said. “It was only really when the prime minister called in to speak to Edward that he came clean.”

On the role of the royal family today, Ted says the question we should be asking is, ‘what purpose does it serve?’

“In the 1930s, the royal family was the focus for national solidarity - when under threat, it really was the focus of national belief. But today? I’m not so sure. However, the young royals are embracing modern life with their campaigning for mental health and other causes and helping give them a purpose.”

It’s difficult not to draw similarities between Edward and Wallis and Harry and Megan, also a divorced American woman and Ted says it shows how far we have come with acceptance and modernisation of the monarchy.

Ted, formerly a lawyer before moving into academia, hopes to start working on a biography about Richard Pankhurst, the wife of suffragette Emily Pankhurst. It would be the first biography on Mr Pankhurst and his suffragette work which began in the 1860s. Ted’s other writing plans include a novel about Winston Churchill’s relationship with the various royals he served under.

His talk at Hart’s Books is on Wednesday, September 12 at 6.30pm. Tickets are £5 and are available in store or over the phone on 01799 524 552.

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