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Case Studies

Edward and Mrs Simpson and bodyguards: part two

A file at the National Archives at Kew details the bodyguards arrangements for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, before and after their marriage, and the interest police took in the security of Mrs Simpson, before King Edward VIII abdicated to marry the divorced American, and even before he became king in 1936.

Days after the abdication, in December 1936, Mrs Simpson – wintering in the south of France as then was the fashion for the rich and famous – motored to Nice, and on the way back called at a shop in Cannes. “The car with Insp Evans in front was soon recognised and in a very short time a number of press photographers took up positions outside the shop,” police in London were told. Mrs Simpson was ‘very annoyed’ and Evans had to call for the French police. That was presumably among the reasons why the English bodyguards felt their position at Mrs Simpson’s villa was ‘humiliating’. For one thing, only French police had powers in France. As for Mrs Simpson hiring a private detective to guard her, as Evans put it delicately ‘she has no intention of pursuing this question whilst he and the other Metropolitan Police officer are available’.

Evans evidently heard (or over-heard) a midnight phone call between Mrs Simpson and Edward because he passed on to his bosses in London Mrs Simpson’s end of the conversation; she threatened to tell her story to the press, including ‘your mother is even persecuting me now’. She wanted one of her protection officers changed because she called him ‘not loyal’. At this stage Mrs Simpson was waiting for her divorce so that she and Edward could marry. Evans was duly withdrawn in January 1937.

Another Met bodyguard, or ‘shadow’ as the papers of the day described it, David Storrier, was reporting by letter to Game direct. After giving up the throne for his brother now King George VI, Edward was in Austria, mainly golfing and skiing, while Mrs Simpson was in France. Edward by April 1937 was due to move to the Duke of Westminster’s chateau near Tours, and the press were anticipating a move, ‘now collecting daily in greater numbers at St Wolfgang’, where Edward was staying. Storrier added: “HRH is anxious that no mention of the proposed move should appear in the newspapers prior to Tuesday, May 4, but I am afraid, sir, as so many are involved, that this is impossible’. In other words, as anyone working in VIP security knows, someone is always sure, for whatever reason, to pass on details to the press.

On his journey to France Edward indeed was seen by many pressmen (‘whose attentions were by no means welcomed’). On arrival in France, Storrier felt that Edward was ‘over-policed’ by seven men of the Surete – the French equivalent of Special Branch – and 30 gendarmes. The Surete numbers were reduced to two and Storrier felt he had ‘formed a very good liaison’. The French plainly did not want such a high-profile guest harmed; and no wonder, after King Alexander of Yugoslavia was shot dead in a car in Marseilles in 1934 during an official visit.

Storrier reported ‘a little annoyance’ caused ‘by calls from one or two mentally deranged persons’ but there was ‘no untoward incident’. Again, bodyguards since can testify to the risk posed by well-meaning or disturbed ‘fans’; and other files at the National Archives point to Edward being subject to such attentions while heir to the throne as Prince of Wales.

By May 1937, as Edward and Mrs Simpson prepared to wed, Storrier was reporting a suspicion that his mail was being tampered with – he didn’t speculate why, but presumably by the press – ‘the method of collection and delivery here being highly unsatisfactory, the persons concerned not even belonging to the Postal Service’. Storrier reported more mostly anonymous ‘threatening letters’ that were making the couple nervous of moving.

By June 1937, Storrier was reporting from Austria again, reporting that the wedding in France was uneventful except for two ‘gate-crashing journalists – aided, by virtue of their political connections, by the French Police’. Again, as common to this day, royals and VIPs and their bodyguards compromise by agreeing some access to the cameras at a set time.

The newly-weds duly held a press conference with about six journalists, including Randolph Churchill, son of the politician Winston. Storrier was invited to the wedding ceremony and as at other times reported his personal impressions of ‘HRH’ – ‘seems, so far, extremely happy with his bride and surroundings’. Now in Austria, Storrier praised the police arrangements as ‘far in advance of France as regards effectiveness, so much so that journalists and photographers are one by one giving up all hope of further news and are leaving’.

Storrier was also giving general intelligence about the couple; such as, telegrams of wedding congratulations ran into the thousands. By mid-June Storrier was reporting to London that he could do without his sergeant, a sign that the storm of media interest was fading as the risks to the couple were. As for himself, Storrier passed on a comment by one of Edward’s staff that Storrier was ‘one of the family’.

Pictured: press photo from mid-1936; King Edward VIII in Salzburg for the annual festival, with Mrs Simpson. Few if any of such pictures that showed the obvious familiarity between the unwed king and a married woman made it into the British press at the time – but the rest of the world’s press lapped it up.

Continued – part three of four; click here.

The file, Mepo10-35, is freely downloadable from the National Archives, Kew website; visit https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/.


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