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28 Jan 2022
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Edward VIII's Murderous Mistress: Was there a cover-up of Edward VIII's fling with a murderess?

Edward VIII's Murderous Mistress, a one-off drama on Channel 4, suggests that the Prince's affair with a high-class French courtesan was covered up

Benji Wilson

21 Apr 2013

Everyone knows about Edward VIII's love affair, the one that sent the Royal family into a tailspin. But very few of us know about Edward's other near-calamitous tryst. Two decades before he met Wallis Simpson, Edward conducted an affair with a high-class French courtesan, a "Poule de Luxe", named Marguerite Alibert.

When Alibert murdered her playboy Egyptian husband at the [Savoy] a few years later in 1923, she blackmailed the Royal Family, threatening to reveal Edward's hugely embarrassing love letters. Despite the evidence in the murder being stacked against her, she was acquitted, thanks to a conspiracy between the Royal Household and the Establishment, who feared the Prince would be exposed as her former lover.

That, at least, is the contention of Channel 4's Edward VIII's Murderous Mistress, based on a book by the barrister and historian Andrew Rose. One of the most startling things about it is that no one appears to have ever heard of "Maggie Meller", as Marguerite Alibert was better known. According to Rose, this is quite deliberate, the product of a completely successful cover-up.

"I spoke to six well known writers on royalty – I think I can name Philip Ziegler, because he's written Edward's official biography – but he's the only one that actually makes any mention of Maggie at all."

Rose says that when Prince Edward saw Alibert for the first time in Paris, 1917, when he was 22, he was knocked for six.

"She was a little older than him and she evidently taught him a lot about sexual technique. All these stories about him being taught sexual technique by Wallis Simpson, I'm afraid [are] really out of the window: if he hadn't learnt his sexual techniques from Marguerite he wouldn't have learnt [them] from anybody!"

Alibert, whom Rose describes as a shrewd operator as well as a renowned boudoir gymnast, saw the young Prince as a prime business opportunity. The affair lasted for about 18 months during the latter part of the First World War – with the Prince paying visits whenever he was in Paris – before fizzling out. But Marguerite kept the letters Edward had written her.

These definitely existed: the Prince himself said so in a letter of his own that Rose quotes in the book ("the whole trouble is my letters and she's not burnt one!!").

"We think there are about 20 letters," says Rose, "which are wildly indiscreet. He's said things about the conduct of the War that might have been misinterpreted, he's made rude remarks about his father, and there's commonly a sexual content in them as well. They are not the kind of letters that he would have wanted the world to know about."

On 1 November 1918, Alibert wrote Edward a letter of her own, one he called "a stinker". Rose says this letter, which has been lost, threatened blackmail. But nothing much came of it until 1922 when Alibert married Ali Fahmy, a fantastically rich Egyptian "prince" 10 years her junior. The marriage, inevitably, failed and in fine style too: on 9 July 1923 Alibert killed Fahmy, shooting him twice in the back and once in the left temple while they were staying at the [Savoy]. She was tried at the Old Bailey.

"The Royal household didn't want her character to come out in court because if it did, the Prince might be mentioned, so they had to square the judge. I believe that she was contacted by them, and they were able to get the letters back, at a price, possibly. The quid pro quo was that her character wouldn't come out in court."

It's a humdinger of a tale, full of sex and scandal, set against the backdrop of the Great War and the Parisian demi-monde. But is it true? The crucial letters Edward sent to Marguerite aren't in the Royal Archives. The Special Branch file on "Maggie Meller" has disappeared. To Rose this is evidence of the perfect cover-up. To others it might be seen as a lack of any evidence at all. Rose says that his years of research have been punctuated by false trails, dead ends and jealously guarded source material. "Some doors have, almost literally, been slammed in my face."

The upshot of all of this, he admits, is, "We can't know exactly what happened. But you've got the letters and what the Prince said about the letters and his desperate desire to get them back, at one end of it. At the other end of it, you've got Curzon's letter, written only two days before the trial." The letter, written in 1923 by the then Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon to his wife Grace, is Rose's smoking gun, one he stumbled across in the British Library.

It reads, "My Darling Girl, In London the other day I heard a piece of news which may amuse you... The French girl who shot her so-called Egyptian prince and is going to be tried for murder, is the fancy woman who was the Prince's 'keep' in Paris during the war... and they were terribly afraid that he might be dragged in. It is fortunate that he is off to Canada and his name is to be kept out."

"There it was," says Rose, "the whole thing in a nutshell – a rare example of the proof of a conspiracy."