Fifty years of bitter royal estrangement ended today when Buckingham Palace announced, "with deep regret," the death in Paris of the Duchess of Windsor at age 89.
The Palace said that the body of the former Wallis Warfield Simpson, for whom King Edward VIII gave up the throne in 1936, would be transported here Sunday on an air force jet, and met on arrival by a member of the royal family. The private funeral, which most of the royal family is expected to attend, will take place Tuesday at St. George's Chapel, in Windsor Castle.
Although she and her husband spent their married life out of the country, they will lie together in English soil in the royal cemetery at Frogmore, on the Castle grounds, where the duke was buried 14 years ago, near the mausoleum housing the remains of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
The duchess' burial on royal ground, however, was less a gesture of magnanimity by his relatives than the product of a deal the duke struck in 1965 with his niece, Queen Elizabeth II. He had purchased a double plot in Baltimore, the duchess' home town, he told Elizabeth, and if she could not guarantee their joint interment in England, when the time came both would be buried in the United States.
The perceived scandal this would have caused -- an English king buried in a commoner's plot in another land -- is a small indication of the depth of royal ignominy and disgrace felt at the time of their romance, his abdication and their subsequent marriage.
There is some reason to believe that the royal family, in keeping with the transformation of western culture over the past five decades, has become more tolerant.
In the years since King Edward, then the Prince of Wales, shocked Britain's monarchy and its political leadership by launching a romance with a woman who had been once divorced and was still married to her second husband, the House of Windsor has been forced to accept modern mores.
Thus the traditions that in the 1950s broke up a romance between the Queen's sister, Princess Margaret, and Capt. Peter Townsend by 1978 had mellowed to the point that Margaret herself divorced her husband, Anthony Armstrong-Jones.
Although the current heir to the throne, Elizabeth's son Prince Charles, was without a major reported blemish when he married Diana Spencer in 1981, his younger brother, Prince Andrew, has been involved in a series of well-publicized romances with starlets and other "unsuitable" women.
Even Andrew's fiance', Sarah Ferguson, is considered a woman with "a past" that includes at least two other men with whom she is reported to have been long intimate.
One of the reasons "modern" royal behavior is more acceptable these days is that it is increasingly difficult to hide. Although the romantic endeavors of the 1930s Prince of Wales were widespread and well known to his family and London society even before Simpson appeared, the British public had no inkling of his activities.
The romance with "Queen Wally," as she was known in the American press after the prince became king on the death of his father, was publicized around the world. But the British media adhered to a pact of silence until days before the abdication itself. Then, the story broke only because of the constitutional crisis engendered by his unacceptable decision to marry her against the wishes of the government as well as his family.
Such discretion seems laughable today, as the tabloid "popular press" devotes much of its space to explicit details of the real and imagined off-duty exploits of the royal family. Published photographs of a pregnant and bikini-clad Princess of Wales several years ago caused much less of a stir here than an internationally distributed picture of a fully dressed Simpson placing her hand on the wrist of then-King Edward VIII in the summer of 1936.
Today, a popular weekly television show, "Spitting Image," features life-size puppets of the royals, usually doing something vulgar or embarrassing, posed everywhere from the breakfast table to the bedroom.
There is no doubt that if the royal romance of the 1930s were to repeat itself today, it would be no secret here. But while it would likely come much more quickly under public scrutiny, its end would probably be the same.
What has become tolerated, albeit still subject to disapproval, for the likes of Princess Margaret and Prince Andrew becomes intolerable when the monarch, the constitutional ruler of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, is involved.
Although the British public of all classes may sympathize with the queen over the actions of her children, and even laugh at them, it still expects the ruler herself to be above reproach, adhering to the system of values that befit the head of the Church of England.
Even in the extremely unlikely event that the queen were to lapse, there is still the queen mother, the redoubtable Elizabeth, to hold high the torch of tradition.
At age 85, there is little question that her memory of the 1930s remains sharp. It is she who is believed to hold the deepest grudge against the woman who turned her brother-in-law's head, who brought the family and the country into shame and a crisis that ultimately put her husband -- and her daughter -- on the throne.
It was perhaps in deference to her mother's wishes that Queen Elizabeth today decreed there will be no "court mourning" for the Duchess of Windsor, no black-bordered letters or cancellation of official engagements. Instead, a period of "family mourning," in which royal social engagements are suspended, will begin from noon Friday until after the burial. On the day of the funeral, flags on government buildings will fly at half mast.