The Prince of Wales’ first love affair is alluded to in the storyline of Downton Abbey, however the real-life characters that are portrayed are just as fascinating as the action on the screen.
The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, was the King of England for less than a year before he abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson. But before the king met her he had an affair with the textile heiress and socialite Freda Dudley Ward.
Freda Dudley Ward Freda Dudley Ward (Janet Montgomery)
This affair, although of long duration, was one among many and Edward’s womanizing and reckless behavior so alarmed his father George V that the King talked openly of not wanting his first-born son to inherit the crown. “After I am gone”, George announced, “this boy will ruin himself within twelve months”.
Edward, Freda and her husband William Dudley Ward
The love affair between Edward and Freda Dudley Ward, (married to the liberal Member of Parliament William Dudley Ward), had begun over five years earlier in 1918 during a First World War Zeppelin Raid. Edward had hurried into a doorway as the bombs dropped around him and encountered Freda who had already taken shelter there. At the time Freda had two daughters and Edward subsequently became very fond of them. Her husband, sixteen years her senior, after discovering the affair, allowed the relationship to continue. Although the liaison was never referred to in the press it was an open secret among the upper classes.
Lady Rose, (Lily James) and Freda Dudley Ward (Janet Montgomery)
Edward, or David as he was called by his close friends and family, considered himself the first ‘modern’ royal and participated fully in the nightlife of the nineteen twenties and thirties. He visited the Embassy Club and many other restaurant and dance clubs, which no royal had ever done before.
Edward met Freda Dudley Ward when he was twenty three years old and after an on and off again affair, broke off their relationship upon meeting Wallis Simpson in 1934. This led to the abdication crises in 1936.
William Dudley Ward divorced his wife in 1931 and in 1937 she married the Spanish nobleman Marques de Casa Maury. That marriage subsequently ended in divorce in 1954.
Downton Abbey highlights an interesting glimpse of history as Freda Dudley Ward was Edward’s first serious love affair. Had he stayed with her and not transferred his affections to Wallis Simpson the course of history would have been significantly changed.