17 January 2015

Today's Princess: Freda Dudley Ward

The Prince of Wales and Freda in Canada together
City of Toronto Archives via Wikimedia Commons
I wonder what it felt like to watch the man you had loved for 14 years give up his throne to marry someone else. Such was the situation for today's not-so-royal lady, best known by the name Freda Dudley Ward.

Born Winifred May Birkin, Freda is familiar to fans of Downtown Abbey as she appeared as a character whom Lady Rose rescues from scandal when a love letter to Freda from The Prince of Wales falls into the wrong hands. The real Freda, half-American and half-English, is said to have met the future King Edward VIII when they were both 23 and ended up in the same bomb shelter during a World War I air raid. (There you go, ladies, another place to meet a Prince!) At that point, Freda had already been married for five years to a much-older English gentleman and had two daughters. Freda and the prince launched straight into an affair that didn't seem to bother her husband. Their relationship was well-known among the upper crust, although not to the public--paparazzi didn't exist back then.

Despite the hundreds and hundreds of love letters they exchanged and the prince's declarations of undying love, the affair slowly fizzled and eventually he took up with another half-American (quarter Chilean, quarter Irish) married woman, Thelma Lady Furness (great-aunt of American newscaster Anderson Cooper) before finally finding a full-blooded married American woman, Wallis Simpson, to pledge his love to.

When he was not overseas, The Prince of Wales spent considerable time with his "Fredie Wedie" and with her daughters. Some have even alleged that her youngest daughter might be his, although she was born a year before the two are believed to have met. Even during his Furness affair, he still maintained contact with Freda until 1934, when Wallis took over the role of royal mistress. Freda was shocked to have the royal telephone operator tell her that her calls would no longer be accepted.

By that time, however, Freda had also moved on. She divorced her first husband in 1931, and the same year that the prince married Wallis, she married the Marques de Casa Maury. Seventeen years later, she divorced him, too. Although she outlived the prince by more than a decade, passing away in 1983, she never gave interviews or wrote a tell-all book about her royal affair.

Instead, their story has been told through their love letters, which were discovered and published a few years ago.

For the royal love letters:

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