An excerpt from my forthcoming book, Foster Place.
(Part One may be found here.)
In my youth, I’d dismissed history and its relevance, particularly anything relating to war. I found that depressing; America’s Civil War the most distasteful of all eras. Age, though, brings wisdom and a budding curiosity to expand one’s purview, or rather it should. Maturity, we can hope, brings a willingness to expand our horizons, breaking the bubbles that bind us to our preconceived notions.
My interest in history proper was ignited one humid summer morning when my mother and I watched Prince Charles wed Lady Diana Spencer. Life felt new, hopeful, and beautiful. And it was. I’d been to England and toured Windsor Castle, although I’d never fully appreciated that journey at the time. Watching the events unfold, I was taken in by the pageantry, the splendor, the grandeur. A seed was planted that morning — an appreciation for the importance of traditions and standards I was fortunate enough to embrace when I met my future husband.
His well-documented genealogical tree was rich with historical moments and connections, whereas mine seemed dismissed. There were sunken treasures, and the surnames of more recent immigrants had been Americanized. My family’s records were, at the time, lost to bombs, fires, and the despotic. Every branch of my family fled Europe after the First World War. My future in-laws founded a country, towns, and monuments.
The town of Lake Forest had a vibrant but more understated chronicle. A stately elm tree still grows near the intersection of Green Bay and Deer Path Roads. A wrought iron fence encircles the tree trunk. Dutch Elm disease may have devastated the northern suburb in 1967, but that tree still stands. One cannot decipher the inscription from a car, but a bronze plaque reads:
“This elm tree planted in honor of our hero dead who served in the World War 1917-1918 by Confidence Lodge No. 582, Knights of Pythias, Lake Forest, Illinois, November 11, 1921.”
Who was this Prince of Wales the locals still bragged about decades later? What was the significance of a royal visit? A Prince stepped foot in the town and was rumored to spend the night, yet no one dug deep. Perhaps they assumed I knew the answers.
I was wrong.
The frenzy surrounding the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales was nothing new. The royal obsession was sparked by Edward, known as David to his closest friends and family members. David was particularly close to his only sister, Mary, and life after World War I must have seemed like a breath of fresh air to them both. Still, the political atmosphere for the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha had changed considerably by 1917. They understood the importance of branding and changed their name to “Windsor” by royal proclamation on June 19th of that year.
Princess Mary, with her lifelong interest in horse racing, had become an expert in cattle breeding. In later years, she would serve on the board of the Royal Agricultural Society with her future husband, who served as president. Her engagement to Viscount Lascelles was announced in the New York Times in January of 1922, and her marriage to Henry Lascelles, the 6th Earl of Harewood, would take place at Westminster Abbey on February 28th, according to The Daily Mail. The bride was 24 — the groom 39 — and theirs was the first royal wedding to be featured in fashion magazines, which was a sign of the changing times.
You may know the surname Lascelles from the Netflix series The Crown. Sir Alan “Tommy” Lascelles was Henry’s cousin, the former to play an integral part in the real-life drama of four monarchs.
The modern-day fascination with Edward, Prince of Wales was unprecedented by the time he visited American troops, falling in love with all the American culture had to offer. When asked, he said, “I’m liking Americans more than ever. I’m just longing to go to the states.”
First, though, was a trip to Canada, and in 1919 he purchased a ranch in Pekisko, Alberta, dubbed EP or “Edward Prince.” The EP Ranch was a refuge where he toyed with the idea of leaving his life to be a cowboy on the open range. He’d met Will Rogers and entertained onlookers in Cannes with a lasso. Hindsight being 20/20, the seeds of abdication had already been planted.
The Prince was on vacation at his ranch in October of 1923 when he received a letter from a childhood acquaintance, Dr. Otto R. Thompson who was also a student at Oxford University when the Prince attended. Extending an invitation to meet the Boy Scouts of Waukegan and North Chicago en route back to England, the Prince declined, citing a lack of time, although the invitation was appreciated.
One year later, the Prince would see Waukegan from the window of a passing train.