Retired French hotelier Francois Graftieaux believes that he is the secret grandson of King Edward VIII. The only way to know for sure, however, lies with Buckingham Palace, as he explains…
Our grandparents, whether they were present or absent in our lives, play an important part in forging our identities.
It is understandable, then, why it has proven so painful to me not knowing who my paternal grandfather was. It is like there is a missing piece in the jigsaw of my being; a gaping hole of uncertainty that demands a conclusion.
I am sure it is so for others who, for one reason or another, are likewise unsure of a key figure in their immediate family. But, in my case, this is all the more troubling as I firmly believe that this person could be no-one less than a member of royalty.
Based on more than two decades of tireless research, I have come to only one conclusion—that my paternal grandfather, never spoken of by my parents or grandmother, was Edward VIII, later Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor.
My suspicions, however, predate this by several more decades.
While growing up, the identity of my grandfather was never openly discussed with me, despite my repeated questioning. My late father, Pierre-Edouard, seemed angered by my enquiries and would only concede that he had been someone famous who had not been “allowed to marry your grandmother”.
That could have been the end of the matter, but for one remark by one of my former girlfriends in the late 1960s. Seeing a magazine article on the Duke of Windsor—who had settled in France with his wife, Wallis Simpson, after his abdication in 1936—she had been struck immediately by a strong resemblance between us.
Looking at the photos of the Duke, I had to agree, but at the time I failed to make any wider connection to the issue of my grandfather’s identity, perhaps put off my parents’ former objections.
Her observation, however, stayed in my mind and led me to wonder if such an illustrious figure could actually be the person I’d been seeking all along.
Upon my father’s death in 1994 I finally felt able to investigate the matter freely. Searching through the family records offices in Paris, I uncovered his birth certificate only to find that my grandmother, Marie-Leonie Graftieaux, had chosen not to declare the names of both parents.
Her own diaries, however, proved a more fruitful resource. Reading the journals, which spanned the years 1912 to 1918, I found that as a young woman she had frequently spent her Sundays at Luna Park—a fairground near Porte Maillo, Paris.
This well-known amusement park was open to all classes and, importantly, Edward’s own memoirs mention that he had also frequented Luna Park as a guest of the Marquis de Breteuil, going under the pseudonym of the ‘Earl of Chester’.
While my grandmother does not record any rendezvous with Edward, it is logical to think that they could have met for the first time while riding the switchback or visiting the dancehall.
What is known is that she fell pregnant in 1915, giving birth to my father the following year. In France, it is tradition to give as a second Christian name the father’s first name. ‘Eduoard’ is the French for ‘Edward’.
What is also indisputable is that my grandmother, born into a poor lower-class family and who had started work at 12 delivering milk, suddenly, and unaccountably, came into wealth.
She was able to rapidly transform herself from a humble seamstress to a model with her own fashion label in Paris. It is my conjecture that this money came from Edward—who at the time was stationed in France as aide-de-camp to General Sir John French, commander-in-chief of the British Expeditionary Force—as a means of buying her silence.
Along with my grandmother’s diaries, another heirloom passed down to me is a luxurious gold and diamond Cadenas watch. This stunning timepiece, based on an exclusive design created by Edward for Wallis Simpson, was given to my mother upon the occasion of my birth in 1946. The generous benefactor, however, had opted to remain anonymous.
A similar timepiece sold at auction in 2011 for £286,000, so whoever gifted this most generous of presents had certainly been rich.
Such evidence, however, is at best circumstantial. The only definitive way to find out whether I am of royal stock is through a DNA test.
I have appealed to Buckingham Palace on several occasions, requesting a DNA sample from a close relative of the Duke—his niece, the Queen or Princes Charles, Andrew or Edward. Sadly, my requests have all been ignored.
Last year, I took matters into my own hands and had a DNA test, which found that I carried a substantial source of Anglo-Saxon genetic markers that could only come from someone with British or northern European heritage. With the exception of my mysterious grandfather, I have been able to trace every ancestor to France and other countries in south-western Europe.
None of this, of course, proves conclusively that I am the secret grandson of King Edward VIII and, even if it did, I would never seek any form of financial compensation, title or power. Indeed, this would be impossible as under the terms of Edward’s abdication he formally renounced the throne both for himself and “for my descendants’”.
I am not seeking to rock the foundations of the Royal Family and I cannot see how the uncovering of a clandestine love affair dating back more than 100 years could cause any possible harm in the present day. At worst, it will force historians to amends their biographies of Edward, who was always believed to have been childless.
I am now in my seventies and have no siblings or children, so the Graftieaux bloodline ends with me. All I seek is an answer to a life-long question concerning my grandfather’s identity before my death.
It is not an unreasonable request that I make, and I only pray that some breakthrough in communications with Buckingham Palace will, however unlikely, happen within my lifetime.
The King’s Son: The True Story of the Duke of Windsor’s Only Son by J. J. Barrie (Custom Book Publications) available on Amazon in paperback and as an eBook, priced £12.08 and £7.60 respectively.