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The True Story of Queen Elizabeth's Final Visit with the Duke of Windsor

Chloe Foussianes
Photo credit: Colin Hutton/Netflix/Getty Images

From Town & Country

As The Crown's third season winds down, it reintroduces a familiar face (albeit with the visage of a new actor): the Duke of Windsor, better known as former King Edward VIII. He's still living in Paris with the woman he abdicated the throne for, Wallis Simpson, who's now a bonafide duchess. But these days, he's moving a little slower.

In the show, Queen Elizabeth at first recoils from the idea of visiting the Duke—he is, after all, the man whose actions catapulted the Queen's ill-prepared father onto the throne, placing her first in the line of succession—but the monarch eventually concedes. During her trip to France, the Queen stops by the duke's Parisian manse, and gets a bit more than she bargained for from her ailing uncle: a packet of letters, written by her son and heir, Prince Charles.

The Crown's story is based in fact, but takes plenty of liberties, too. Here, what really happened during the Queen's final meeting with the Duke of Windsor—and what didn't.

Photo credit: Colin Hutton / Netflix

Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, and Prince Charles met the Duke and Duchess for tea in May 1972.

During her state visit to France, the British monarch made time to visit with her uncle and his wife at their home on the edge of Paris's Bois de Boulogne.

Whereas The Crown depicts the visit as a meeting with just the Queen, she actually brought along her husband and eldest child.

Photo credit: James Andanson - Getty Images

The duke was too ill to properly receive them.

While the duchess went outside to greet the royal trio, and pose for photographs alongside them, the duke waited in a sitting room. His doctors advised him against going downstairs, and he was said to be "dreadfully disappointed" about it, per the BBC. The group had tea together in the downstairs drawing room, which the duke was also unable to attend.

He did get to spend a short time alone with the Queen, though.

He reportedly had a 15-minute private chat with his niece, after the duchess hosted tea. There's no evidence that the duke gave the Queen some of Charles's letters during that time, as he did on The Crown.

He did, however, manage a bow. "With great difficulty [the Duke] rose from his bed to give his bow because, of course, she was his Queen now, as well as his niece, and it meant a great deal to him that she paid him this final courtesy," Vickers said in the TV documentary Elizabeth: Our Queen.

Photo credit: - - Getty Images

Accounts vary as to how the visit went.

Some claim that the Queen become emotional during her conversation with her "Uncle David." In Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch, Sally Bedell Smith notes that the Duke's doctor saw tears in her eyes as she was leaving.

Vickers, however, also mentioned that the Queen was not pleased with the couple's dogs, who were apparently badly behaved. "The dogs jumped up and that rather annoyed the Queen because the Queen doesn’t like badly behaved dogs," he said.

In 1986, the Duchess of Windsor's friend, the Countess of Romanones, opened up in Vanity Fair about the pair's life together—including that meeting with the Queen. (As she is a close friend rather than an impartial historian, this version of events should be taken with a grain of salt.) According to the countess, the duchess said of that day, "I greeted the Queen at the door downstairs. She was not at all warm to his wife of thirty-five years, but then, I shouldn't complain. She was just as cold to him. I escorted her upstairs. Her expression was hard when she entered the room."

The countess also quotes the duchess as saying that the Queen showed "no compassion, no appreciation for his effort," when the duke managed to bow, with great difficulty, adding, "Her manner as much as stated that she had not intended to honor him with a visit, but that she was simply covering appearances by coming here because he was dying and it was known that she was in Paris."

Photo credit: Des Willie - Netflix

It was the last time they saw each other, as the duke died later that month.

In a telegram, the Queen wrote, "I know that my people will always remember him with gratitude and great affection and that his services to them in peace and war will never be forgotten."

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