Wallis, Duchess of Windsor: 1896-1986

Wallis, Duchess of Windsor: 1896-1986

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At the height of the furor, Wallis told the King that she was having second thoughts about the marriage, but he persuaded her to go through with it and then abdicated, becoming Duke of Windsor. She became Duchess of Windsor on June 3, 1937, in a small wedding in France at a château near Tours. Ostracized by the royal family but reportedly provided with a £2 million settlement and a yearly income of £60,000, she and the new duke began cultivating the fine art of doing nothing during years of elegant exile. They took up residence in a 30-room house in the Bois de Boulogne, provided by the city of Paris for a nominal rent. They also had a smart converted mill in the French countryside, a luxurious apartment in New York City's Waldorf Towers and lots of accommodating chums to put them up in Florida's Palm Beach.

Except during the duke's wartime service as Governor of the Bahamas, the couple looped constantly around the international social circuit. His faintly flashy clothes and her severe elegance became fashion standards. When she stopped wearing hats, so did everyone else. Wherever they went, with their large personal staff, mountains of luggage and pet dogs, they were accorded the regal status denied them in Britain. In return they offered the world a romantic fantasy of elegance and wealth.

It was not until 1967 that Queen Elizabeth II ended the couple's ostracism by inviting them to attend a ceremony in London commemorating the duke's mother, Queen Mary. Elizabeth paid the couple a visit in Paris in 1972 during her uncle's final illness. When he died shortly after, the duchess returned to England for the funeral and, at the Queen's invitation, stayed at Buckingham Palace.

Her body is to be flown to London for a private funeral in Windsor Castle and then buried alongside her husband under a spreading tree in the royal burial ground at Frogmore in Windsor Home Park. Buckingham Palace announced that the royal family would observe four days of mourning.

The estate, which includes everything left by the duke, was estimated at more than $10 million in the 1970s. It includes much art and many mementos, among them the desk from which the abdication speech was made. Wallis continued to put paper clips and fresh ink on that desk, as if to keep it ready for him to use. And while she was still able, she would end each day by walking into his empty room to whisper "Good night, David" to the man who had loved her. --By Walter Isaacson. Reported by Claire Senard/Paris

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