The Duke of Windsor Spent His Final Days in Exile, Living in Paris with Wallis Simpson
In 1972, as the Duke of Windsor's health continued to worsen, he and the Duchess of Windsor—the woman formerly known as Wallis Simpson, for whom he'd abdicated the throne—were living in their opulent Parisian manse, at the edge of the Bois de Boulogne.
Baltimore-born Juliana Chatard Alexander served as his night nurse at the end, and shared her experiences with the Baltimore Sun. "The first night I was there, the Duke’s valet brought in the most beautiful poached pear in a crystal bowl sitting on a silver salver," she said. "The Duke waved it away. A few minutes later, the valet came back with the same salver holding one cigarette."
Alexander remembers him taking a liking to her for treating him as a "golden lamb," and for calling him "Duke," like John Wayne.
According to her, the Duke's relationship with his wife was distant. "She hardly ever came in to see him," Alexander said. "I saw her in his room on the first night, and then again the night he died. I was there from 7 pm to 7 am for about three weeks, and during that time, she didn't come in and eat with her husband."
Queen Elizabeth visited him that May, during her state visit to France. An archived Reuters report notes that the Duke was "too ill to leave the first-floor sitting room" during the visit. The Duchess put on a navy linen coatdress by Dior for their tea—a garment that would still be hanging "carefully tended" in her closet decades later, after the couples' home had been restored.
Later that month, on May 28, 1972, the former King Edward VIII succumbed to throat cancer. "He died peacefully," a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said at the time.
The couple's onetime footman, Sidney Johnson, would later tell the New York Times about that night. "This is where his royal highness died," Johnson said, referencing the bedroom. "I remember they came to embalm him and I picked a suit for him to wear. But they said, no, he'll be wearing nothing. 'As he comes, so he goes.' That's what they said."
His casket was flown to the U.K., so he could be laid to rest in the Royal Burial Ground in Windsor. A private funeral service was held at St. George's Chapel, after the Duke had lain in state there for three days.
"The public was excluded from the chapel, but hundreds gathered outside, some putting flowers on the grass verges leading to it," the New York Times reported at the time. After the trumpets sounded, marking the end of the half-hour service, "the Duchess of Windsor, in perhaps the most poignant few moments, stood motionless, head bowed, before the coffin."
This was followed by a small burial ceremony, attended by only 14 people. After its conclusion, the Duchess of Windsor quickly returned to France. She lived there until her own death in 1986, after which she was buried beside her husband in Windsor.
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*This article originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com
*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors