In a new docu-drama to be aired on the BBC next week, it is claimed that Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, future Queen Mother, wanted Edward VIII for herself – and only settled for Albert, future George VI, because Wallis Simpson got in the way.
‘Royal wives at War’ documents the relationship between Elizabeth and Wallis, who were known to be at odds with one another. The documentary-drama is said to be based on letters and memoirs, but critics are calling this a ‘new low’ for the BBC.
Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 so that he could marry the twice-divorced American socialite, Wallis. He chose love over duty, handing the throne to his younger brother, Prince Albert. In this take on the story, which sees Gina McKee portray Mrs Simpson and Emma Davies The Duchess of York, historians and biographers assert Elizabeth was waiting to marry David, but had to settle for Bertie instead.
Many historians have rubbished the claims, but Lady Colin Campbell, who did a stint in the ‘I’m a Celeb’ jungle late last year, Hugo Vickers, and Anne Sebba back the story up, featuring the in documentary themselves.
“She [Elizabeth] tried to marry David” Campbell said. “David wasn’t interested in her. He liked them slender, sleek and svelte, like Wallis.”
Elizabeth and Prince Albert married in 1923, in a ceremony at Westminster Abbey, despite turning down two proposals. She reportedly had had doubts about life in the Royal Family, saying she was “afraid never, never again to be free to think, speak and act as I feel I really ought to”.
Two dramatic scenes back these claims up, showing The Duchess of Windsor digging at The Duchess of York: “Cookie [Elizabeth] was sweet on David. Naturally he wasn’t interested. What could a silly little girl like her offer him, a man of the world?
“She only married Bertie when she realised it wasn’t going to wash with David…,” McKee’s Simpson says. “She was always gong to hate me. I had the prize and she had second best.”
In a separate scene, Elizabeth, now The Queen Mother, looks back on her life: “I turned Bertie down two times. I was very fond of his older brother. That’s no secret. David was tremendous fun.”
Lady Colin goes on to argue that The Duchess of York pursued a vendetta against The Duke and Duchess of Windsor: “There was a malicious element to Elizabeth’s treatment of Wallis. I think it was vindictive, vicious and she set out to destroy them as a couple.”
Leading historian Andrew Roberts said: “The relationship between these two women is dramatic and extraordinary, without the BBC inventing rubbish of this kind.
“No reputable historian believes the Queen Mother was ever in love with the future Edward VIII, let alone tried to marry him.”
Tory peer Lord Tebbit said: “It sounds to me like somebody is making up fairy tales… It’s not just that it’s hurtful, it’s just that it deposits a story of historical events which was just not so.”
Yesterday, two of the historians involved in the programme have attempted to distance themselves from the more controversial claims. John Julius Norwich gave his views on the idea that Elizabeth wished to marry Edward: “It’s a perfectly crazy idea. There was nothing between them like that.”
Hugo Vickers, biographer of The Queen Mother’s, said his role did not mean he condoned or supported the views of the other participants.
Royal Wives at War will air on BBC2 Friday 8th Jan