Eighty-eight years ago this week, the then Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) visited Christchurch. At the time of his visit, Edward was still the popular and charismatic future king, yet to meet the infamous Mrs Simpson. His father King George V had made a war-time promise that his eldest son would visit the Dominions “when peace comes”. Thus in 1920 Edward made a four week trip to New Zealand. Although the charming Edward inspired much adulation in the crowds (pictured above), his time in New Zealand wasn’t happy. This is evidenced by the letters sent back to his lover in England, Mrs Freda Dudley Ward. Last year, these letters and some accompanying photographs were acquired by the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington. The Prince is a frank and descriptive writer, and the letters feature detailed descriptions of the places and people he encountered. While he may not be so complimentary about much of what he experienced in New Zealand, it is somewhat understandable. I’d be grumpy too, after 42 places in four weeks, and a heavy schedule of visiting wounded returned soldiers, attending sports events, school parades and other formal events with what was considered New Zealand’s beau monde. You can find out more about the Turnbull’s acquistion of the letters and read some on the National Library website. Passages can also be found in Letters from a Prince : Edward, Prince of Wales to Mrs Freda Dudley Ward.
Of course Freda wasn’t the most important lover in the Prince’s life. He met the immaculate American divorcee Mrs Wallis Simpson in 1934. He became King in early 1936 and abdicated later that year so they could marry. I’ve always had a certain fascination for Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David. Abdicating for the woman you love seems such a dramatic and romantic gesture. In truth, he was probably never inclined to his allotted position, and Wallis presented a way out. However, they are such a stylish couple, that I don’t imagine interest in them will die out. Christchurch City Libraries has numerous biographies of both Wallis and Edward, as well as a surprising amount of fiction in which they are characters. Also we have the new-ish movie Wallis & Edward, in which Nip/Tuck’s Julia is a sympathetic Wallis and Stephen Campbell Moore is an insipid and unlikeable Edward.
If you are keen to find out more about Edward and other royal visitors to New Zealand, I recommend reading Royal Tourists : 120 years of Royal Visits to New Zealand, plus a visit to Te Ara.