What could the Duchess of Sussex learn from the history of Wallis Simpson? Cast as a manipulative royal spouse, Meghan might look to the stoicism of her predecessor, says Anna Pasternak.
As Britain struggles and lockdown endures, its monarchy remains a gleaming mainstay of support. The Queen, the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Cambridges have all made it clear - in exemplary manner, via bolstering broadcasts and Prince William's comedy sketch with Stephen Fry on Thursday - that we are all in this fearful uncertainty together. Which made the latest jaw-dropping antics by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex even more ill-timed.
First, Prince Harry made unqualified comments that the coronavirus crisis in the UK was "better than we are led to believe", sparking outrage among health experts, including Prof Karol Sikora, who said the Duke was "deserting his country in its hour of need".
Then, the Sussexes issued a sanctimonious statement announcing that they would no longer "co-operate" with parts of the British media, ahead of the first hearing, on Friday, of Meghan's legal action against Associated Newspapers.
What has happened to Harry? Has Hollywood high-handedness gone to his head? For all his woke compassion, this smacks of insensitivity. But in his bizarre press statement, he is right about one thing: he says when power is enjoyed without responsibility, trust is destroyed.
He was born into the British monarchy, one of the most powerful institutions in the world, and raised to understand the responsibility this entailed.Yet it would seem that since getting married, he is perilously close to eroding the trust of the British people by exercising his celebrity status without demonstrating the associated responsibility.
Meghan may claim in her latest American television interview that she "understands" elephants - but she does not understand the loyalty of the British people to our monarchy and our free press. Our disgust of hubris is embedded in our national character.
Yet, though our patience may be hanging by a gossamer thread, such is the depth of our affection for Harry, here in the UK, that we would still welcome his return.
Indeed, as we watch him kindly deliver food in Los Angeles, while the rest of the Windsors contribute to the British effort, his sense of isolation feels tangible. Can he ever be truly happy while his wife, Meghan, is cast as the villain - portrayed as leading a beloved, besotted Harry astray?
We've been here before, when the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were exiled after the abdication crisis.
And, like our current American duchess, her predecessor, Wallis Simpson, was written off as a calculating and manipulative spouse, determined to deprive Britain of an adored king.
This sexist scapegoating is probably as unfair today as it was in 1936, as both Edward VIII and Prince Harry were ambivalent about their royal responsibilities before their marriages. But there are lessons in history.
Once married, the Duke of Windsor carried a lifelong emotional wound that his family would not accept, or even meet, his wife - receiving the news that Wallis would not be accorded the coveted HRH like a gunshot, from which he never recovered. It became his life's aim for the world to know and adore Wallis as much as he did. Alas, this festering emotional sore was not lanced during his lifetime. Will this become Harry's angry preoccupation, too?
It's agonising, as Edward Windsor discovered, when the world misguidedly mistrusts your wife. Yet the solution is not to fight back, but to retreat and enjoy the private tenderness you have, together.
Unlike Meghan, Wallis understood the royal creed. While it appears Meghan seeks to control her public narrative, allegedly encouraging friends to speak out and now trying to censor her press, Wallis resigned herself to the mute impossibility of her situation.
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After the abdication in 1936, she wrote plainly to Edward: "The world is against me and me alone. Not a paper has said a kind thing for me." Admirably, instead of openly bleating about her situation, Wallis schooled herself to survive the shadow side of infamy. This she summed up as "to have one's character day after day laid bare, dissected and flayed by mischievous and merciless hands".
Wallis contained her suffering with laudable resolve. Meghan would do well to learn from her predecessor, who triumphed with a "kind of private arrangement with oneself - an understanding of the heart and mind - that one's life and purposes are essentially good, and that nothing from the outside must be allowed to impair that understanding".
If Meghan were more emotionally contained - which is not the same as having a stiff upper lip - might she earn our respect? There is great merit in stoic dignity, as the Duchesses of Windsor, Cambridge and Cornwall can attest.
While Meghan looks set to face her own father in a court battle, Wallis demonstrated she knew the importance of family. Like Meghan, she was the only daughter of a single mother, whom she adored. Despite exclusion from her in-laws (no member of the Royal family attended her wedding), Wallis never gave up hope of reconciliation. It caused her suffering that exile separated Edward from his mother, Queen Mary.
In the spring of 1942, when Edward was governor of the Bahamas, and Wallis sensed that he was missing his family, she tried, without her husband's knowledge, to make "one last try to reach his mother and heal the breach between them". She wrote a generous-spirited letter to her mother-in-law, explaining: "It has always been a source of sorrow and regret to me that I have been the cause of any separation between mother and son, and I can't help feeling that there must be moments, perhaps, however fleeting they may be, when you wonder how David is."
Unlike our Queen, who has shown such accommodating warmth to Meghan, Queen Mary did not reply to this touching missive.
When the Duke fleetingly returned to Britain in 1952, after the death of his brother, King George VI, he left Wallis in the US; she was not invited to her brother-in-law's funeral. Wallis sent her husband home with the sage advice: "Do not mention or ask for anything regarding recognition of me."
Probably the greatest myth about Wallis is that she was an infernal troublemaker, when, in fact, she tried always to be the peacemaker. For her entire married life, her aim was to soothe her husband, aggrieved by his familial relations.
Sir Walter Monckton, an aide to Edward, said he had warned Wallis after her wedding that "most people in England disliked her very much because the Duke had married her and given up his throne, but that if she kept him happy all his days, that would change, but that if he were unhappy nothing would be too bad for her".
Wallis did keep Edward happy - he adored her until the last - but nothing changed for her. Everything can still change for Meghan.
If she restrains her husband from ill-advised outbursts, if she accepts her own press and if her marriage is as long and devoted as the Windsors' was, then she will prove, just like Wallis did, that the sacrifice was worth it. And we may come to love and admire her as Harry does.