Edward, Prince of Wales, at Oxford
The Cloister Quadrangle was — in part — famous for its spectacular display of hydrangeas. Heavy blossoms in full bloom were lush against the four-hundred-year-old limestone walls and manicured lawn. On May Morning, the choir would sing at 6 a.m. from the top of Magdalen Tower, a celebration established during the reign of Henry VII and an Oxford University tradition that continues to this day.
David Windsor had been Prince of Wales for one year when he entered Magdalen College, his Investiture taking place on July 13, 1911, when he was sixteen. The title was bestowed on him by his father, King George V, whose coronation took place the month prior. With Princess Mary, David’s only sister whom he adored, in attendance, the coronation marked her first state appearance.
With rooms in the famous Cloister Quadrangle, it is said that David led “an unostentatious college life. He studied, played, and slept as an ordinary student. In striking contrast to his German cousins, the Prince of Wales was the most democratic.”
Residing a five-minute bicycle ride away was fellow student R.V. Merrill, a freshman and Rhodes Scholar when David Windsor was already a senior. R.V. Merrill would later say of the Prince, “He was an ardent lover of sport, but I never saw him fall off his horse.
“He played football and followed the crew with the rest of his fellow students when a race was on. The whole college turned out to watch it and cheer the crew to victory. When the Magdalen crew were on the water, the Prince would follow the course of the shell from the bank with the rest of the students who were yelling at the top of their voices and shooting off pistols to urge the crew on.
‘There are no fraternities at Oxford. The Prince belonged to a number of clubs. However, there is little or no social life during the college year. At the big commemoration ball held at the close of summer term, the Prince was always a popular and attractive personage.”
The future King’s college days, though, were cut short by the outbreak of the First World War. By 1914, he would be eager to participate in the front lines. That plan was dismissed for concern that the heir to the British throne could be taken as a prisoner of war. Still, he would visit the front lines often and was awarded the Military Cross in 1916.
His sister, Mary, was also active in charity work, giving comfort and assisting servicemen and their families along with her mother, Queen Mary. Food from abroad was sent by Swift & Company. At the conclusion of horrendous battles, she would send a heartfelt letter to Louis F. Swift, thanking him for all that he had done to feed an island and a continent.
Mr. Swift’s philanthropic efforts proved an opportunity, landing him on the Forbes Rich List, the first of its kind.
An excerpt from my forthcoming book, Foster Place.
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R.V. Merrill Quote: University of Chicago. Office of the President. Harper, Judson and Burton Administrations. Records, [Box #, Folder #], Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library