The tragic story of the girl who almost changed the course of British history.
In fact, had circumstances turned out differently, Rosemary Leveson-Gower could have changed the course of world history. But it was not to be. The story has its true beginnings in the First World War. It is a love story that involves tragedy and includes the people who were the main players in what was called ‘The Love Affair of the Century’.
During WW1 Rosemary, a beautiful young woman who was from a titled British family, was working as a Red Cross nurse in France. She was very concerned about one young wounded soldier who was badly affected with shell-shock, so much so that he could not speak.
Rosemary, like the doctors, were sure that if they could get the young soldier to utter just one word, then he would be on the road to recovery. Rosemary sat for hours with him, talking and telling him stories – even flirting with him – hoping to get him to speak that one first word.
Eventually he did, he pointed at Rosemary and said ‘darling‘. He appreciated just how much she had done for him. Another young man had been watching her efforts and was present when the young soldier finally spoke. He was one of the most important members of the British royal family, in fact, he was the heir to the throne.
Edward, Prince of Wales
Edward was only twenty three at the time and Rosemary was a year older. Yet he was completely smitten by this beautiful, charming and sympathetic girl. Seeing the soldier start to recover under her care moved him deeply. Before long, it became evident that he was crazily in love with her.
George V and marriage
Until this point in history, it had become an established tradition that members of the British royal family selected their marriage partners from the rather abundant supply of European royal houses. This had worked well. But George V had determined that his children would be encouraged choose British spouses.
So, it seems, there was no obstacle in front of the marriage plans of Edward and Rosemary. At first, she was hesitant though, as most royal brides are or have been. She was the daughter of a wealthy duke and had money of her own.
But she was truly fond of the Prince of Wales and the more they saw each other, and the more they discussed marriage, the more she wanted to go ahead and all their friends were expecting an official engagement announcement to come at any time.
It was due to King George V that the marriage did not go ahead. Even though it was he who had determined that members of the royal family could marry their compatriots, and even though he liked Rosemary very much, he would not allow the marriage to happen.
Too many black sheep
Despite the fact that the king liked Rosemary immensely, he simply couldn’t sanction the idea of her eventually being queen — because of her family members. The first of these was her mother. Millicent, the duchess, had been widowed and had shocked society shortly afterwards by remarrying. It seemed like indecent haste.
Worse, that marriage did not last and she was divorced. But even more scandal was to follow when she married again — to a known homosexual. Another divorce followed soon after the marriage took place. The king, as the head of the Church of England, was doubtful that the future queen should be the daughter of an oft-married, oft-divorced woman.
But Millicent’s brother was yet another factor. He was the Fifth Earl of Rosslyn who, when he had inherited the earldom, embarked on a gambling spree — one that lasted for thirty six years. Indeed, he was so well known for his gambling that it was often said that the popular song The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo was written about him.
However, he did not break the bank at the Monte Carlo Casino. Indeed, he had been made bankrupt twice (and it would happen a third time) and he had also been divorced twice, his second wife being Anna Robinson, an American actress who had drinking and drug problems and who, in the very same year Edward met Rosemary, died in the Manhattan State Hospital for the Insane.
The Earl of Rosslyn himself was not involved in drink or drugs but was a well-known – and rather disreputable character. The king could imagine that his exploits and those of his sister were enough to prevent Rosemary from marrying the Prince of Wales and ultimately becoming the Queen of England. Doubtless he was later to regret this decision.
What happened to Rosemary?
When it became apparent that the king wasn’t going to allow her to marry Edward, Rosemary promptly married one of Edward’s friends, Eric, Viscount Ednam. They went on to have three sons and tragedy struck when the eldest, at seven years old, died when he was hit by a truck.
Rosemary devoted her time to creating a garden of remembrance in the grounds of the family home. But only seven months later, the final tragedy was to befall her.
Rosemary and Eric were visiting Le Touquet in France but she had to return to England to consult the architect who was helping her with the garden of remembrance. She duly booked her flight to England but an earlier flight became available, which she gladly took.
It never arrived.
On July 21st, 1930 the plane, carrying four passengers and two pilots disintegrated in mid-air near a small Kent village. Rosemary’s remains were found in an orchard and the body of the young woman who could have been the Queen of England was identified only by her string of pearls.
She was buried in the garden of remembrance that she had created. Edward, Prince of Wales, had never forgotten her and was stunned when he heard the news. The following year he opened the Rosemary Ednam Memorial Extension at the Royal Northern Hospital at Stoke-on-Trent.
What happened to the Prince of Wales?
To return to 1918, it was only a few days after his proposed married to Rosemary had been vetoed by the king when Edward attended a function given by Maud Kerr-Smiley née Simpson. Ten years later, Maud would introduce her sister-in-law to London society. Her name was Mrs Wallis Simpson.
Edward and Mrs Simpson
Famously, the married Mrs Simpson embarked on what was later to be called ‘the love affair of the century’ with the Prince of Wales. When his father died and Edward became king, he was determined to marry Mrs Simpson. This sparked off a constitutional crisis because of Wallis being a) American and b) twice divorced.
Furthermore, Edward became king at the beginning of 1936 by which time the situation in Europe was becoming increasingly unsettled because of the presence of a certain Herr Hitler. Edward and Wallace visited Hitler and Germany in 1937.
Many peopled believed, and still do, that Edward and Mrs Simpson were Nazi sympathisers. It’s certainly true that Hitler thought that Edward would be of value to him. and, to put it colloquially, was ‘on his side’. King George V must have been turning in his grave.
Had he not vetoed the marriage between Edward and Rosemary, wouldn’t the situation have been completely different?
Wallis and Edward were exiled from the British Isles. They were living in France when war was declared in 1939. Edward felt as though he had been badly treated by his family and spent the rest of his life trying to find a position for himself on the world’s stage.
Hitler was offering this, should Germany win the war. But in England Edward’s shy and stuttering younger brother. now King George V, was becoming a popular wartime hero along with his charming wife and two little girls – one of which became Queen Elizabeth II.
Of course, it’s impossible to know what would have happened in the world if young Edward had been permitted to marry Rosemary but we can be certain that history would have been changed.
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