Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Behind Closed Doors by Hugo Vickers

The subtitle of Hugo Vickers's latest book, Behind Closed Doors, is The Tragic Untold Story of the Duchess of Windsor.   Biographers and historians have tussled with all the aspects of Edward VIII's Abdications, his marriage to Wallis Warfield,  and their lives together until his death in 1972.  But we know very little about the Duchess' life after David's death.  Michael Bloch wrote several books, including the editing of David and Wallis's letters.  But Bloch did not do anything without the approval and encouragement of Maitre Suzanne Blum.

I have never been fond of the twice-divorced American-born Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson, but she did Britain a favor by marrying the former Edward VIII.  Wallis did not want the Abdication nor was she in love with the Duke of Windsor. 

Acclaimed biographer Hugo Vickers bursts the myth that the Windsor marriage was "one of the greatest love stories of the twentieth century."  Wallis did not love David, but she married him largely anyway.  The circumstances of their relationship ensured that David would marry Wallis.  He gave up his throne for her. 

The Duke never truly realized how much damage he caused by choosing Wallis over the United Kingdom.  He and his wife were largely pariahs.  David was never able repair the divisions within the royal family.   It was said that the Queen Mother hated Wallis for what happened.  But a good friend of the Queen Mother said that she did not know Wallis well enough to hate her.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were never able to find a niche, a true self worth.  Wallis dressed well, owned fabulous jewels, and gave great parties.  But she was always on the sidelines when it came to the royal family.  The British government - and the royal family - kept the Duke and Duchess of Windsor marginalized.  David tossed away his life, his duty to the Crown, to the country, to the empire and to his family, for which he was never forgiven.  His wife was never accepted as a member of the Royal Family,  nor David's family.

In May 18, 1972,  Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh paid a state visit to France.  After visiting the races at Longchamps, the Queen, her husband and their eldest son, the Prince of Wales, visited the Duke, who was dying of throat cancer, at his Paris home.   The Queen had been informed of the Duke's illness.   They were welcomed by the Duchess of Windsor.

Ten days after after seeing his niece, his sovereign, for the last time,  the duke of Windsor died on May 28.  He was buried at Frogmore.  The Duchess stayed at Buckingham Palace before returning to Paris.  She made one final trip to England a year later to visit her husband's grave.

The Duchess's health soon deteriorated.  She was hospitalized for various ailments, and she also suffered from a debilitating form of arthritis.  Waiting in the wings, ready to pounce and to exploit was Maleficent , the person of a French lawyer, Maitre Suzanne Blum.   Blum was a nasty, evil cretin who used a vulnerable old woman for her own purposes.  She was a shark, par excellence!

It is suffice to say that Blum lined her own pockets with items from the Windsor home.  She arranged for jewels to be sold, and then took a percentage. She filched jewels and other items and presented the purloined valuables to friends.  She forced out loyal employees, including Johanna Schultz, the Windsors' secretary.  She also forged documents, including one allegedly initialed by Wallis, allowing for the publication of the letters.  Hugo Vickers believes this letter was a fraud.   Even if the document was signed and approved by the Duchess, it would not have been legal because it was initialed -- W.W.

In the darkening twilight of her own life, Wallis had no idea what was going on outside her bedroom.  But what was happening was not pretty.  Vickers provides the tantalizing and overwhelming evidence of how Maleficent and her minions got their greedy claws into things that did not belong to them.
Vickers' interest in the Windsor story goes back many years, when he was writing biographical sketches for Burke's Royal Families of the World.   After Mohammed al-Fayed bought the Windsor home in Paris (much to Blum's disgust),  Hugo wrote The Private World of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor,  which provided new insight into the Windsors' life and lifestyle.

Behind Closed Doors is an apt title for this book because everything Blum did was behind closed doors, without the Duchess' knowledge.  Blum was convinced that the Duchess would die within a few years of the Duke, but she lived, in a twilight world, until 1986.  Blum held the key to the duchess' prisoner, and kept Wallis' friends at bay.  She controlled the purse strings and the final years of Wallis' life.  She disregarded the Duke and Duchess of Windsor's wills and wishes regarding their belongings.  She made the arrangements for the Wallis' jewels to be sold at auction at Sotheby's in April 1987.  She claimed that it was Wallis' bequest to have the sale's proceeds donated to the Institut Louis Pasteur for AIDS research.     Hugo Vickers, in his detailed research, points out that Wallis would not even have known about AIDS.    It was Maitre Blum's decision.

Hugo makes it clear that Wallis a victim.  He is correct.  The Duchess of Windsor did not deserve the treatment she received from an evil and unscrupulous lawyer. 

In the weeks after the Duke of Windsor's death, Lord Mountbatten traveled to Paris to try and make arrangements for the return of the Duke's papers to the Royal Archives.  Lord Mountbatten made several visits to France, none of which were entirely altruistic.  But he wanted to ensure that the couple's papers were brought to England.   But Blum was able to countermand this.  She took control of what she found,  and with the assistance of Michael Bloch, several books were published.

Blum also tried to stop a television series on the life of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.   Charles Murphy who was the Duke's ghostwriter for his memoirs, turned against the duke and duchess with an unflattering portrait in The Windsor Story, Royal Feud, and Philip Ziegler's authorized biography.

Hugo Vickers has made use of his many contacts, through which he gained more contacts and gleaned information, subtle details, about the Duchess' final years.  Blum's denouement came with the Duchess's death on April 24, 1986.   The long-held plans for Operation Haze went into effect.   The Lord Chamberlain's office took over, and the Duchess of Windsor's body was brought to England for a funeral at St. George's Chapel, Windsor, and internment next to the man who loved her more than a country.

Lady Donaldson described the relationship as one of domination.   David had an "intense desire to be dominated and hers to dominate."    In the end, however, it was Maitre Blum who dominated Wallis' life, although Wallis never knew this.   She was kept locked away, like an animal, as Blum's greed grew stronger.     The Duchess of Windsor did not deserve this.  She did not deserve to be treated in such a manner.   Hugo Vickers was right.  Wallis was the victim. 

Behind Closed Doors is a riveting read.  The anger swells as each page is turned, as one learns more and more of Blum's deception.   Princess Aurora's  Maleficent had nothing on Maitre Suzanne Blum.
It is suffice to say that this is the most important book to be published on the Windsors in many years. 

This book was published by Hutchinson earlier this year.  The price is £25.00.  

Is this book a must read:  in a word  --- YES!   Hugo Vickers proves once again that he is one of the best royal biographers writing today.   Behind Closed Doors is a classic read, and will become one of the standard books used for research in matters dealing with the Duke and Duchess of Windsors.   The books has not been published in the USA, but it is available from  Copies are also available through


  1. Just got this book from my library, starting it tommorrow and cannot wait. Have just finished Phillip Ziegler's bio. of the Duke and liked it. Brent

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