True crime lovers and royal history fans alike need look no further than The Prince, The Princess, and the Perfect Murder: The First Great Love of Edward VIII’s Life, the Sensational Consequences, and the Establishment Cover Up (Coronet, 2013) by Andrew Rose for a book that combines both.
Before he became King Edward VIII in January 1936 and abdicated less than a year later to marry the notorious Mrs. Wallis Simpson, the Prince of Wales led a life of hedonistic pleasure. During his military service during the First World War, the Prince spent a considerable amount of time in France, where he met the first great love of his life, Marguerite. Much to the chagrin of the Royal Household, which often had to work overtime to maintain the prince’s reputation and popularity with his future subjects around the British Empire, the Prince found himself in a particularly delicate situation in the summer of 1923 when this former lover murdered her Egyptian husband, Prince Ali Fahmy Bey at the Savoy Hotel in London. To protect the Prince, the Royal Household covertly interfered with the course of justice; in order to keep the Prince’s name out of the trial, and more importantly to retrieve incriminating letters he had sent to Marguerite, it was arranged that the murderess would be found ‘not guilty.’ Over the course of the book Rose therefore traces the entangled lives of the Prince of Wales and of his first love, the reprehensible Marguerite, as well as the murder which culminated in a shocking cover up by the Royal Household itself.
It is in the first half of the book that Rose elaborates on the relationship between Marguerite and the Prince of Wales as well as the events which led up to the murder of Ali Fahmy, but in the latter half Rose delves into the judicial proceedings and untangles the tendrils of a secret cover up that allowed Marguerite to walk free. Perhaps the most shocking element of the book is in fact not the extreme lengths the Royal Household took to protect the Prince of Wales, but the role racism played throughout the murder trial. In the eyes of the world, but more importantly in the eyes of the jury, Marguerite came to be seen as a victim of a beastly and brutal husband. Much to the disgust of the Fahmy family, Ali became the scapegoat needed to save Marguerite, and by extension, the Prince of Wales. Defended by Edward Marshall Hall, Marguerite had one of the most famous lawyers of the era, but Rose suggests that from the start the Royal Household had discreetly hinted to the judiciary that Marguerite must walk free and the trial therefore a sham. In order to achieve this, Marguerite’s background as a courtesan to wealthy clientele was not revealed by the prosecution, and instead she was cast as an innocent European woman who had been lured into marriage by an unscrupulous Eastern husband who was a monster of depravity and decadence. While there was a mountain of evidence that pointed to killing her husband in cold-blood and even more inconsistencies throughout the trial, Marguerite was acquitted of all charges. Seen most prominently in the final chapters of the work, Rose contextualizes the racist ideologies of the period and chronicles how they were used by the judiciary to influence the trial’s outcome.
Given the fact that the relationship between the Prince of Wales and Marguerite, as well as the cover up of 1923 were scrubbed from the historical record, through meticulous historical detective work, Rose has been able to piece the narrative back together. Any mention of Marguerite may have been removed from the Prince’s journal, but a deep search through unpublished sources held in private collections provided unsubstantiated proof of their relationship and the efforts of the Royal Household to assure that Marguerite did not reveal her connection to the future king at her trial for murder. Given the dearth of sources, a book on this topic ran the risk of reading like a conspiracy theory, but Rose has deftly grounded his arguments in fact and well laid out circumstantial evidence.
Although Rose’s historical detective skills are stellar and he has undoubtedly uncovered a scintillating connection between a member of the British royal family and a murderess, there are moments in the book where he could have dialed back on his contextualization. This is especially apparent when minor characters are introduced into the drama. Rose provides a detailed account of their background and activities, which while interesting, could have been presented more concisely with equal bearing on the overall arguments being made in the book.
Long before the internet and the ever-present paparazzi were able to find out about and capture every royal scandal and misstep for posterity, the Royal Household was able to orchestrate a cover of magnificent proportions in order to protect a future heir to the throne. The course of justice may have been derailed, the character of a murder victim shockingly slandered, and his unscrupulous wife freed, but the ever-grumbling staff of the Prince of Wales had steered a potential scandal away from the monarchy. This sensational case captured the interest of the world in 1923, but few really knew just how sensational the real facts truly were.
About the Author: Connor E. R. DeMerchant is an historian from Kingston, New Brunswick, Canada. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and History from the University of New Brunswick – Saint John and a Master’s in History from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. In the fall of 2021, he began a PhD in history at the University of New Brunswick – Fredericton in the field of Caribbean history. Connor enjoys researching all aspect of Victorian Britain and its global empire, with his MA thesis focusing on Queen Victoria’s interest and impact on music during her reign. When not being an academic, Connor enjoys doing genealogy, rug-hooking, and thrifting.