The other American duchess who missed a royal funeral

Laura Elston, PA Court Reporter
·3-min read

Almost 70 years ago an abdicated king returned from the US for a royal funeral, while his American wife was absent.

In 1952, the Duke of Windsor – formerly Edward VIII – set sail from New York onboard the ocean liner Queen Mary, travelling to London following the death of his brother George VI.

His wife, the Duchess of Windsor, remained in the United States, where they were living at the time.

Duke of Windsor
The Duke of Windsor, wearing a black arm band, raises his hat to bystanders as he arrives in London to attend the funeral of his brother, George VI, in 1952 (PA)

Edward had plunged the monarchy into crisis in 1936 when he abdicated over his love for the divorcee formerly known as Wallis Simpson.

Now in 2021, the Duchess of Sussex will be more than 5,300 miles away in the US as the royal family gathers for the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.

Former Suits star Meghan was the first American divorcee to marry a senior royal since Mrs Simpson, and both she and the Duke of Sussex have since quit as working royals and moved across the Atlantic.

Harry has travelled to the UK to pay his respects, but Meghan, pregnant with her second child, has remained at their home in Montecito, California, after doctors told her not to fly.

Their daughter is due to be born in the summer and the duchess had a miscarriage last year.

Endeavour Fund Awards ceremony
Harry and Meghan are no longer senior working royals (John Stillwell/PA)

It is understood Meghan made every effort to travel, whereas the Duchess of Windsor was not invited to George VI’s funeral, nor to Queen Mary’s funeral a year later.

Wallis was never forgiven by George VI’s widow Queen Elizabeth, later the Queen Mother, for her role in the abdication crisis.

Just weeks ago, Meghan and Harry sent reverberations through the monarchy with their primetime Oprah interview.

The couple sat down with chat show queen Oprah Winfrey on March 7, laying bare their struggles and troubled relations with their family, accusing an unnamed royal of making racist remarks about their son Archie before he was born, and the institution of failing to help a suicidal Meghan.

Oprah Winfrey interviews Duke and Duchess of Sussex
The front pages of UK national newspapers showing the reaction to the Oprah interview (PA)

It is not known whether the duchess and the couple’s son Archie, who turns two next month, will watch the proceedings on television.

The service begins at 3pm, which the coffin emerging at 2.40pm – which will be 6.40am in California.

In 1953, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor watched their niece Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation on television, from hundreds of miles away in Paris.

Royalty – Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at the Paris home of American millionaire Margaret Biddle (right) (PA)

In one photograph, the former monarch, dressed in a suit and tie, rested his foot on the low coffee table in front, exposing his striped socks.

They were living in exile in France at the time, and neither were invited to the ceremony.

Instead, they were pictured sitting in hard-backed antique chairs, watching the historic occasion in the home of American millionairess Margaret Biddle.

Royalty – Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II – London
The duke passing a plate of food at the screening (PA)

Later the duchess was seen reaching for a cup of tea, while the duke passed around a platter of food to friends in the rows behind.

Following in his great-great-uncle’s footsteps, Harry stepped down from royal duties with Meghan last year for a life free from the constraints of the monarchy.