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Thelma: The Prince of Wales' Other Mistress

Updated on September 9, 2014

Wallis Simpson's rival

Wow, this story has all the best ingredients - the British royal family, aristocrats, huge fortunes, custody battles and much more. It's the story of a woman who, had things turned out differently, could have changed the course of the world.

We even have a Muslim connection, a mysterious car crash and Hollywood movie stars.

When I was at school, I had a history teacher who said that the way to prevent the 'troubles' in Ireland was simply to stop teaching history there. I sometimes wonder whether, similarly, the royal family should have studied their ancestors more.

Some of the parallels and coincidences are astounding.


Thelma Furness

Thelma was American. She had married an English aristocrat, Viscount Furness. This was the second marriage for both of them.

The Viscount, who had the wonderful first name of Marmaduke, was a wealthy shipping magnate - just the same as Ernest, the husband of Wallis Simpson. The two women - both Americans in London, with husbands in the same line of business, were friends.

Moving in aristocratic circles, Lady Furness became the favoured mistress of Edward, the Prince of Wales as early as 1929. (See the photograph on the left - he looks happier than she does).

Thelma was an identical twin. Her sister Gloria married the heir to the Vanderbilt millions, becoming the mother of the Gloria. These were no ordinary girls. In the early twenties, they had both had bit parts in silent movies, one of which was called The Young Diana.

Edward was reportedly besotted by Thelma. They holidayed together and she was a permanent feature in his life.


Edward, this is Wallis

Thelma introduced her lover to her friend, Wallis. Now the Prince had two mistresses, unknown to Thelma. In 1934, Thelma was leaving England to go to America to see her twin sister, Gloria, and asked Wallis to 'take care of Edward' for her.

But Thelma had no choice but to leave for America. She was very close to her identical twin sister, Gloria, and Gloria badly needed her support.

See why below - she was embroiled in her own scandal that was headline news.

When Thelma returned to England, it was to find that she had been dumped by Edward - Wallis was now his exclusive mistress. In anger, and in a future echo of Diana, Princess of Wales, Thelma embarked on a passionate love affair with Muslim Prince Aly Khan, who later married film star Rita Hayworth who was the first movie actress to become a princess. Khan was later to die in a Paris car accident.



Meanwhile, Thelma's sister Gloria had her own scandals. Married to a Vanderbilt heir, she had a daughter but was soon a widow. Her much older husband died just eighteen months after the marriage. Gloria was now in charge of the huge fortune left in trust for their daughter.

But there was some confusion about the widow's age - was she twenty or twenty one? Accounts differed. But if she was not yet twenty one, then she could not legally control her daughter's money. Her sister-in-law sued for custody of the child in a scandalous court case.

It was alleged that Gloria had had a same-sex relationship with the Russian born wife of an English aristocrat, Nadejda Mikhailovna Mountbatten, the Marchioness of Milford Haven.


What would have happened without Wallis? - The conspiracy theory

When Thelma introduced Wallis Simpson to the Prince of Wales, she effectively changed the world. Was it sheer accident? Did the establishment plot the downfall of King Edward Vlll?

Was Thelma given the role of mistress to discredit the Prince? Then, when she proved to be unsuitable for the role, was Wallis recruited to take over the plot?

Here are some points to consider:

  • Edward was thought to have pro-nazi sympathies. When the Second World War began three years after the abdication, how different would matters have been if Edward had been on the throne?
  • Edward was seen by the establishment as being an unsuitable king. They must have been relieved when his relationship with Wallis forced him to abdicate. Or was it the other way around? Was she in their employ and part of a plot to relieve him of the throne?
  • During his short reign of less than one year, Edward nevertheless appealed to the people. He had a modern outlook which they appreciated after the formality of his father's rather stuffy reign. Did the government suspect that the one thing that would change the public's mind was a twice divorced American woman?
  • We have to remember that Edward was the Prince William of his day. Old footage exists which shows 1920s policemen forming barricades to protect him from screaming girls - the scenes are like those from the days of Beatlemania. Thelma was feminine and pretty - Edward's fans might have accepted her, just like Beatles fans who grudgingly accepted the beautiful Jane Asher as Paul McCartney's fiance√©. Did the government gamble that Edward's adoring fans wouldn't accept Wallis? (Rather like Yoko Ono).
  • Historians claim that Edward had an extraordinary ability to charm crowds. They liken it to the ability of Diana, Princess of Wales. Those who believe in a Diana conspiracy find it easy to believe that Edward was the subject of a similar plot.
  • It is a matter of public record that important government officials, plus the prime minister of the day, believed that Edward's ways would cause the downfall of the monarchy and hence, Britain itself. These opinions still exist in official documents.
  • Secret meetings took place between high government officials and Edward's younger brother who assured them that, should Edward abdicate, he would be willing to take the throne.
  • Shortly after this, Wallis started divorce proceedings against her husband. These are always noted in the newspapers. Those in the know realised that this was Wallis' way of proving that she would marry the king. This brought matters to a head.
  • In November, on Friday 13th, the government let Edward know, formally by letter, that if Mrs Simpson was to remain as his mistress, or if indeed Edward had any ideas about marrying her, then the government would instantly resign.
  • Three days later, the king met the prime minister. Edward told him that he was determined to marry Wallis and if that meant giving up the throne, then he would do so.The prime minister concealed his glee - this was exactly what he wanted.
  • But shortly thereafter, the popular press discovered the story. The editors of the 'better class' newspapers had long been aware of Mrs Simpson as had people in 'society'. However, they had been discreet. The popular press fired up the general public. Reporters went out into the streets asking 'ordinary people' what their opinion was. Almost all said that the king should be able to marry whoever he chose. Demonstrations of support took place outside Buckingham Palace.
  • However, Edward was worn down. The prime minister called on him and Edward agreed that he would abdicate. Despite him being so popular with 'the man in the street', the establishment had won.


Another forgotten mistress

Today, most people are familiar with the name Wallis Simpson but few remember Thelma Furness. She was the forgotten mistress. Forty years later, there was another Prince of Wales who had two mistresses. We know the name of one very well. The other has been forgotten just as Thelma was.

Like Thelma, she wasn't English.She was Australian. Also in common with Thelma, she was married to a British aristocrat. Both women divorced their society husbands although it's likely that both husbands condoned their wives' affairs with royalty.

Click the link below to find out more about another forgotten mistress and her tragedy.

Find out more


Double Exposure: A Twin Autobiography
Double Exposure: A Twin Autobiography
This is a fascinating book and not only because it is written by the two sisters, Gloria and Thelma. Written in the late fifties, it's not quite as juicy as I'd like but I guess I can't really expect tell-all tales from a book written in those days. But it's very interesting indeed.

© 2014 Jackie Jackson


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    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      5 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      Thank you so much evelynsaenz1 - these stories are so much fun :)

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 

      5 years ago from Royalton

      I have read quite a bit about the royal family but this is the first I have heard of Thelma. I love your conversational tone to this Hub. Thank you so much for passing on the gossip, I mean history. :)

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      6 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @jolou: True!

    • jolou profile image


      6 years ago

      Fascinating reading. I've heard of Gloria Vanderbilt, but not Thelma. And her husband's name was Marmaduke. Oh my. You can't make this stuff up.

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      6 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Donna Cook: I love gossip .... ooops! History, I mean :)

    • profile image

      Donna Cook 

      6 years ago

      Wonderful lens! Fascinating as always. I didn't know that Lady Furness was the aunt of the designer, Gloria Vanderbilt. One of my favorite bits of gossip, I mean history!

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      6 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @flycatcherrr: How did you know that 'haberdashery' is one of my very favourite words? I also like 'fishmonger' - the bloke who mongs fish :)

    • flycatcherrr profile image


      6 years ago

      I've often thought that these rich people & royals really needed a good absorbing job of employment - bricklaying perhaps, or haberdashery - to keep them busy, so there would be less of the rushing in and out of each others' bedrooms like a French farce. Great fun to read about, though!

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      6 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Lorelei Cohen: Didn't they? And the more I look into it, the more I find out. Plenty more to come :)

    • profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      6 years ago

      Goodness gracious but what tangled webs they weaved indeed. Royalty or aristocrat they certainly played some very serious romantic games.

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      6 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Merrci: Thank you so much! A chart is a good idea. Sometimes, I forget what I've written about! Mind you,I think that's the wine :)

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 

      6 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      I'm loving these, but seriously need a chart! Maybe I should make a spreadsheet! Another oh-so-interesting article Britflorida!


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