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Alice Montague, 1869-1929

 

Mother of Bessiewallis Warfield (Wallis), the women for whom King Edward VIII gave up the throne.

A picture of Alice's tombstone is on the web.

Alice's daughter, Wallis, was the famous "Mrs. Simpson" for which King Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1937. This is the only time in the history of the English monarchy that the King has voluntarily abdicated the throne. The abdication led directly to the reign of the current Queen Elizabeth II. In The Decline and Fall of the House of Windsor, Spoto has an entire chapter named Wallis, and the following chapter primarily concerns the abdication and her role.

It appears an entire industry developed focusing great attention on Wallis (unfortunately for the British royal family it has survived). Spoto describes Alice and her daughter's early life thus:

"Mrs. Simpsons mother, Alice Montague, was a well-born beauty from a prominent old Virginia family. But the Montagues had fallen on hard times, and only a good pedigree, refined speech, proper etiquette and a few pieces of family silver survived by the time Alice married Teackle Warfield in June 1895. He was the penniless scion of a respectable family... Bessiewallis Warfield ... was born on June 19, 1896, high in the hills of Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania, where her parents had gone because of Teackle's ill health. Alice's fortunes became even more unstable five months later when her husband died of... tuberculosis.

The widow Warfield worked hard to support herself and her daughter, and for a decade they further economized by sharing modest quarters of Teackle's family. Lacking the means to enter the polite society of which they believed themselves worthy and to which the family names would have admitted her, Wallis was raised by her mother in an atmosphere of deprived propriety, dependent on the occasional handout from relatives and surrounded by neighbors and schoolmates who were more solvent but less polished. Her friends were better dressed, lived in larger homes, had luxuries and servants. And here was the basis for Wallis's lifelong ambition to improve her status: from childhood she needed to prove that she was just as deserving of privilege, that she belonged in a class from which she had been, by a trick of fate, unfairly excluded."

There are numerous internet sources:

You can hear a short section of the abdication speach; a short biography; Wallis; Edward VIII , [1], [2] , [3] ; books, plays, films etc: Edward on Edward , A Kings Story , The Duchess , Always .

After the marriage, Edward wanted to take Wallis on a round-the-world set of what were essentially "state-visits". With considerable obliviousness to the world situation, the first stop on the itenerary was Germany, and a meeting with Adolf Hitler. It appears there was considerable worry that the Nazis might try to use the Windsors. .


Of interest to readers of these web pages, Wallis apparently considered her Montague background of considerable influence, and it seems to have had no small effect on her life... to probably misqote the bard - there is nothing true but that thinking makes it so...

Chapter I of her autobiography, The Heart Has Its Reasons: The Memoirs of The Duchess of Windsor,1956, is entitled The Private War of the Montagues and the Warfields. I have extracted some of this chapter to provide a feel of her writing and attitude toward the Montagues, with which she begins her book:


"... I consider myself a Southerner. My father Teackle Wallis Warfield, was a Warfield of Maryland. My mother, christened Alice (although she often spelled it Alys) Montague, was a Montague of Virginia; and the American origins of both families go back to the earliest Colonial times...

Now I am aware that the idea of a Southerner's being a speical type of American is rapidly losing validity. In fact, I would be hard pressed to explain today precisely what makes a Southerner different. But to be a Southerner was a matter of life-and-death importance during my formative years...

... A story is told in the family that at my father's request I was photographed for the first time only three days before his death. Contemplating the result, he observed softly, "I'm afraid, Alice, she has the Warfield look. Let us hope that in spirit she'll be like you - a Montague."

It may seem strange to say, but one of my early impressions is that I was somehow the product of two family strains so dramatically opposed in temperament and outlook as to confront each other with impenetrable mysteries. Beyond the fact that the Warfields and the Montagues shared the Mason-Dixon Line as a common frontier, they had almost nothing in common.

The Montagues were, and indeed still are, known to other Virginians as a magnetic, Bohemian clan. Their women were celebrated for their spirit and beauty, and their men almost invariably made reputations as wits and men-about-town. Unfortunatly for them, in common with many another proud Southern family, the Montagues had little money, and it had been a painfully long time since any except the most venerable of them could remember having enough to support themselves in the style they considered traditionally their own.

By contrast, the Warfields of Maryland had prospered...

My mother was never considered a great Montague beauty like my godmother, the late Mrs. Alexander Brown of Baltimore, or my cousin, Mrs. George Barnett, the widow of a former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. But she was endowed with irresistible qualities of her own - a flashing wit, a bubbling gaiety, and a love of life that marked her a Montague through and through. Her shoes, size two and a half, were the smallest I have ever seen - a man could fit one into the palm of his hand. She had a tiny retrousse nose, bright blue eyes, and beautiful golden hair.

The Warfields were opposed to the marriage - and for sound reasons. My father had no real job because of his health... Understandably, the Montagues were even more strongly opposed. But my mother and father refused to be deterred. Without taking their families into their confidence, they slipped away and were married...

So my legacy was this curious Warfield-Montague admixture, which had the effect of endowing my nature with two alternating sides, one grave, the other gay. If the Montagues were innately French in character and the Warfields British, then I was a new continent for which they contended. All my life, it seems, that battle has raged back and forth within my psyche. Even as a child, when I misbehaved, my mother taught me to believe it was the Montague deviltry asserting itself; when I was good, she gratefully attributed the improvement to the sober Warfield influence. However, it was my private judgement that when I was being good I generally had a bad time and when I was being bad the opposite was true.

In fact, this rather singular aspect of character was my only legacy."


Her concluding chapter contains what I take to be the coda by wish she would wish to be remembered:


"But for a gallant spirit there can never be defeat. The closing of one road is only a challenge to open another; the death of one hope leads but to the birth of a new one. ...

... It is admiringly remarked of some people that they have arrived. By this is meant, I suppose, that their affairs have progressed according to some carefully disciplined plan to a desired conclusion. With me however, it has been a case of just landing, and more often then not in defiance of the maxim of never leaping before taking a prudent look.

Quite appart from other differences, women seem to me to be divided into two groups - those who reason and those who are forever casting about for reasons for their own lack of reason. While I might wish it to the contrary, the record of my own life, now that I have for the first time attempted to see it whole, clearly places me with the second group. Women, by and large, I have concluded were never meant for plans and planning. Man can and do plan their lives, and the good ones manage one way or another to arrive at their chosen destinations, often to the advantage of the rest of us. But it has been my observation that most women have a great deal of Micawber's willingness to believe that "something will turn up." For most of us the best things are those that materialize seemingly out of nowhere, that suddenly and miraculously change a woman's existence with totally unexpected meaning and light up her landscape as a flash of lightning illuminates the way for the traveler moving through the darkness.

Nowadays as I look around and note the splendid achievements of other women ... not to mention the young women now making their way in industry and science - I realize how lacking in ambition, how lacking in self-discipline, I really was to cope with the wonderful opportunities that even in my youth were beginning to present themselves to women of the twentieth century. Few women of my generation and background could have had a fairer crack than I at the storehouse of wisdom, wordly and otherwise. I was brought up among cultivated, charming, even witty people, went to good schools, and never lacked good company. I traveled and came to know not only my own country from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but also Europe and Asia. Everywhere I found myself in exciting company. All this was mine; but I was a long time learning that wisdom and experience are things apart; that to taste life is not to be confused with understanding what life is really all about. The shared experiences, the wisdom so freely proffered by others, in words and in example, rarely swayed me for long. Came another day and the import was gone, and only the echo of the laughter remained. Experience was a revolving sun in the warmth of which I was content to bask.

But great as have been the achievements of women and wide as have become their horizons in my day, I still instinctively feel that Lord Byron was right when he wrote:

Man's love is of man's life a thing apart,
'Tis woman's whole existance;

Any woman who has been loved as I have been loved, and who, too, has loved, has experienced life in its fullness. To this I must add one qualification, one continuing regret. I have never known the joy of having children of my own. Perhaps no woman can say her life has been completely fulfilled unless she has had a part in the miracle of creation.

Of course, no life that has been zestfully and perhaps even recklessly lived can be said to be all of one piece. A woman's life can really be a succession of lives, each revolving around some emotionally compelling situation or challenge, and each marked off by some intense experience. And of these I have had a woman's full share. All I can say is that, everything taken together, I have finally found a great measure of happiness and contentment."


 

Historical accuracy demands consideration of a subject requiring some sensitivity. Although there is no totally conclusive evidence, it appears highly probable that Wallis was a hermaphrodite   [1]   [2] (that is, having both male and female characteristics). While genetically male, she probably had a genetic defect resulting in ambiguous male development on a female body. Today, similar female athletes that have XY chromosomes are dissallowed in the Olymics. At the time, such conditions were not understood, and Wallis probably thought of herself as a woman.

Michael Bloch, a historian and French lawyer who worked on Wallis's "legal-team" and had access to her papers, has written The Duchess of Windsor, which appears to be the definitive in-depth biography of Wallis. He has this to say in his Epilogue:

"It has been claimed that, to the end of her long and often adventurous life, the Duchess of Windsor remained a virgin. This ... came to my knowledge during the 1980s from two independant and convincing sources... her long-standing Paris lawyer... and an eminent consultant at Charing Cross Hospital in London who specialized in the borderline between men and women... Later, I learned ... of the Duchess's ... remarks ... that she had never suffered to be touched `below the Mason-Dixon Line' or consummated her first two marriages. ... The element of her virginity would explain much of her otherworldliness...

Strange through the comparison may seem, spanning as it does almost four centuries, the Duchess had much in common with Queen Elizabeth I, her first cousin by marriage twelve times removed. Both women underwent early experiences which toughened their characters; both were great wearers of clothes and jewellry, loved making merry, and were obsessed by housekeeping; both were flirtatious, and enjoyed the company of men; and both were alleged to have been virgins. In both cases their alleged virginity was said to have been rooted in an incapacity for sexual intercourse and childbearing, though both also seem to have suffered a trauma in childhood which affected their attitude to sex...

... Elizabeth claimed to possess "the heart and stomach of a man"; and Wallis, for all her feminine wiles and mastery of feminine arts, exhibited an abundance of masculine characteristics. One who knew her well described her as having "a man's brain", a reference to her capacity for dominating and organizing... One of the reasons she kept herself so thin is that, when she put on weight, she tended to develop a wrestler-like physique... James Pope-Hennessy found her "phenomenal" to look at, so "flat and angular" that she "could have been designed for a medieval playing card"; he would have been "tempted to classify her as An American Woman par excellence, were it not for the suspicion that she is not a woman at all"." (Bloch)

As is clear from photographs, when she wanted, Wallis could dress so that she would make Twiggy or a modern anorexic child-model look positively curvacious.


A descendant of Peter Montague.

 

Sources:
The Decline and Fall of the House of Windsor, Spoto.
The Heart Has Its Reasons: The Memoirs of The Duchess of Windsor.
The Duchess of Windsor, Michael Bloch.


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