The Loire Valley has always attracted royalty. Even in modern times a former European monarch chose the region to marry the ‘love of his life’. I insist on the word ‘former’ as Edward VIII, who became king of Great Britain and the Commonwealth in 1936 after the death of this father George V, gave up his throne after a reign that didn’t even last a year, to marry the American and twice divorced Wallis Simpson.
Wallis had been the Prince of Wales’ mistress for many years. Although the English royal family as well as the English Parliament disapproved of their relationship, everybody thought that the Prince would come to reason once that he was faced with the responsibility of ruling his country. It was completely unthinkable that Wallis would become the royal consort who was to produce the next heir to the throne.
After the death of his father and forced by prime minister Stanley Baldwin to choose between the crown of his country and Wallis Simpson, Edward surprised friend and foe by choosing the latter! In an emotional radio speech on December 11th, 1936 he told the whole nation that he couldn't carry the heavy burden of ruling a country without the ‘woman he loved by his side’. So he abdicated, leaving the throne to his shy brother George, father of the actual Queen Elisabeth II.
Hardly six months after his abdication, on June 3rd, 1937 Edward and Wallis got married in the Château the Candé, in Monts, south of Tours. They were close friends of the millionaire Charles Bedaux, who at the time owned the castle. Wallis travelled ahead and stayed three weeks at Candé, before Edward joined her. After the wedding reception the couple left Candé immediately. They didn’t even spend their wedding night there.
The Collection of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor sold Feb. 19-27, 1998. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's. Notice the staircase ... it's the same as the one on the left in the first picture.
In 2007 the Château de Candé commemorated the 70th anniversary of the (almost) royal wedding with of what at the time was to be a temporary exhibition. We visited Candé on a rainy Thursday morning. We were the first visitors to arrive and were only joined by a couple from the French Alsace to take the guided tour. It started with a video presentation of the events that had let to the abdication and the wedding. The actual visit took us through most of the rooms of the castle where the new Duke and Duchess of Windsor (a title that King George had bestowed on the couple) had celebrated their wedding. The guide showed us where the couple had engraved their names in the wooden panelling of one of the downstairs rooms. We saw their separate bedrooms with gigantic and colourful on suite bathrooms … quite unusual for that period.
The most striking part of the exhibition, however, was Wallis’ original wardrobe. Cloths, shoes, handbags, gloves and some replicas of her jewels, among which the famous leopard broach, were on display. The gowns were by far the most spectacular: Dior, Balmain, Chanel … each and every dress or suit had been created and tailored by one the great French couturiers of that time. Wallis, who was said to suffer from anorexia, had what we call nowadays a size ‘zero’. A man could easily have encircled her waist with both hands. The tour guide told us that after a dinner party the Duchess used to eat one boiled egg per days for several days to lose the excess calories and keep her frail and childlike figure!
In 1951 Charles Bedaux’ widow donated the castle to the French Republic, which on its turn gave it to the Département de l’Indre-et-Loire in 1974. After the successful commemorative 2007 exhibition the Conseil Général du Département bought all the clothes and other items that had been part of the exhibition. Until then most of them belonged to private collectors. They are now on display all year round. Each year in June, the Château de Candé hosts a recurrent event based on the theme of the Thirties. There is picnic open to all. The only condition is that you dress up in Thirties costumes. This year, it’s scheduled for July 5th.
So if you want to marvel over the Duchess’ clothes or experience what life was like in the Thirties, just drop in at the Château de Candé. You won’t be disappointed.