Robert Anderson Jardine: The plucky little parson who wed the Windsors

Robert Anderson Jardine: The plucky little parson who wed the Windsors

This article first appeared in the Daily Express on the 27th November 2019. It is written by Bedford-educated author and journalist Christopher Wilson, a regular reader of our posts.


For a brief moment he was as famous as the King who had just tossed away his crown. But Robert Anderson Jardine came from a different background and was never to find a place in the history books, unlike his friend the Duke of Windsor.

Few may know his name today. But when, six months after the 1936 abdication, the Reverend Jardine chose to defy the Archbishop of Canterbury and marry the Duke of Windsor to Mrs Wallis Simpson, he made headlines around the world. Nobody except this tough-talking northerner from a working-class parish in the north-east was prepared to do the job. And no wonder. The Church of England viewed the ex-king with contempt – for his supposed dereliction of duty, but also for his involvement with a woman who, in their eyes, had “two living husbands”.

They refused to bless the ‘marriage despite the Duke making a public plea that he desperately wanted a religious ceremony to bind him to “the woman I love”.

Strong-willed, but impossibly I, the sandy-haired Jardine believed he was guided by God. Others thought he was guided by a lust for the limelight.

Certainly when he packed his cassock and surplice, locked the door of his vicarage in North Road, Darlington, and caught the boat train to France on the first day of June 1937, he could have no idea of what lay ahead. Jardine’s quixotic gesture would make him a worldwide celebrity – the plucky little parson standing up to the bishops and archbishops, playing his part in the greatest love story ever told.

But, as the Daily Express can reveal today, it was to ruin him.

He died penniless and lies forgotten in an unmarked grave the whereabouts of which are unknown, even to his family.

The ceremony Jardine performed on June 3, 1937, on his arrival at Chateau de Cande, 130 miles southwest of Paris, was short but dignified. According to Lady Alexandra Metcalfe, one of the few guests the Windsors were able to muster: “Jardine, a large-nosed, bulging-eyed, red-faced little man, read the service simply and well.”

In Bahamas and on Wedding Day (Image: Bettmann Archive)

The Duke, grateful and relieved that his marriage had been solemnised, presented Jardine with a pair of gold cufflinks bearing his personal insignia. The Duchess gave him a large slice of wedding cake, and his moment in history was over.

Or it should have been. But the clergyman returned to England to face a blizzard of criticism from the bishops, from the parish council of his own church and from several powerful religious bodies.

He had become a household name, but not in a good way and, within a fortnight he was forced to quit the pulpit he had occupied for the past decade to set off, with his long-suffering wife Maud, on a long, lonely odyssey. Jardine was famous, but out of work. Predatory agents offered him a lucrative US lecture tour, but he arrived in New York to a hostile press and frightened hosts, who had anticipated a tumultuous welcome but instead were treated to headlines attacking their “turbulent priest”.

From the start, Jardine was his own worst enemy. Though undeniably godly, he thrilled to his newfound celebrity status and within days was declaring that, should anything happen to King George VI, the Duke of Windsor would become King again.

“I believe he would make a strong bid to return to the throne,” he declared, without – it must be said – having the first clue whether this was true. Soon he was in Baltimore, Wallis’ hometown, assuring war-shy Americans, fearful of the gathering storm clouds in Europe, that the Duke “is the man to steer the nations towards the star of peace”.

Then, in a lecture on the abdication, he unleashed his biggest broadside, branding the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang, “an ecclesiastical cad” and the Church of England as “rotten”.

This, he thought, was just what America wanted to hear. Instead, church doors started slamming shut all over the country.

Within hours, three major lecture venues cancelled his appearance and in the next couple of days the tour collapsed, his agent running off with the paltry takings. The word had gone out from London, he believed, that he should be silenced.

“Financially it’s been a failure,” Jardine admitted to waiting pressmen as he and Maud boarded a quickly-arranged return ship to Southampton. “No bishop, however liberated, will offer me a living now – I am as much an exile as Edward.”

Back in England, with no work and no church pension, the Jardines were in a precarious state.

As the impossibly rich Windsors were unlocking the front door of their first marital home, the vast Chateau de la Maye at Versailles, Maud and Robert were clambering aboard a cargo ship and battling, steerage-class, through the Atlantic winter gales back to America.

They were returning on the strength of an offer of two weeks’ holiday relief at a Chicago church, and promises of further locum work thereafter. It never materialised.

Now, facing the reality that he was finished as far as the church was concerned, Jardine took the decision to maximise the one asset he had left – his association with the Windsors.
Loaned a small car, he and Maud headed west for Hollywood. In his wallet were newly-minted business cards with “The Duke’s Vicar” printed in large type underneath his name. In his heart lay the hope that Californians were less puritanical than their sniffy East Coast cousins.

He wasn’t entirely wrong. For a moment he was a celebrity again, lecturing one night to an audience of 2,000, but his novelty was short-lived.

On the first anniversary of their historic wedding, the Windsors were posing for pictures in full evening dress on the lawn of their sumptuous second home, Chateau la Croë, near Antibes. At the same moment the only man prepared to marry them was discovered living with his wife in a one-room cold-water flat in West Hollywood, the rent paid by a church charity.

Jardine confessed he was broke, looking for a job, and “thinking of doing something desperate”.

Indeed, only a desperate man would officiate at the roller-skate wedding of a couple who had met when they collided in a roller rink.

Jardine was even forced to don a pair of skates himself to perform the ceremony. It was a terrible humiliation.

Bitterly, he reflected: “My wife and I hardly know where to turn, but we’re fighting on.
“I find that America is a land of promises, not promise. Bigotry and persecution have followed me across the sea. We haven’t a penny to our name.”

With the declaration of war, Robert threw his lot in with a film producer who thought he could create huge publicity if this famous man of God attached his name to a film called Indecency.

Wallis, Duchess of Windsor and the Duke of Windsor (Image: Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

To help drum up business, the gullible but obliging Jardine set off on a road trip to judge a series of tawdry beauty pageants entitled “Miss Spiritual of America”.

Contestants had to show how clean-living and upright they were, but the stunt hit the buffers when Miss Spiritual New York pulled out. It was later discovered she was sharing a bed with two men at the time. Undaunted, Jardine found a disused church in downtown Hollywood which he renamed Windsor Cathedral.

“It will be a shrine to love,” he boasted. “I hope to revive the failing custom of marriage in America.”

America’s response was to kick the Jardines out – their visas had expired.

But with the Second World War now raging there was no way of returning to Britain, so they stuck it out in Mexico until the authorities relented.

Cornered by reporters in Palm Beach, where he was enjoying a luxurious break from his wartime exile as Governor of the Bahamas, the Duke of Windsor appeared hard-pressed, when asked, to recall the name of the priest. “Ah yes,” he said when prompted. “I haven’t heard from him in a long time.”

Was there anything His Royal Highness could do to help the poor chap out? “I know of nothing I can do.”

And so Robert and Maud sat out the war, living off hand-outs, until peace was declared.
Then good fortune arrived, with the offer for Jardine to become presiding bishop of the South African Episcopal Church in Cape Town.

The couple sailed to the UK and settled temporarily in Kimbolton Road, Bedford, but before he could take up his new post, Robert Jardine died suddenly at the age of 72 in March 1950. He left no will, no money, and was buried in an unmarked grave in Bedford Cemetery.

This week his grandson Andy Jardine told the Daily Express that during his own childhood, the cleric’s name was almost never mentioned in the family. He had only scant details of his life and did not know where his grandfather was buried.*

As to the gold cufflinks engraved with the Duke and Duchess’s entwined WE monogram, the one lasting memento of Jardine’s great act before his tragic fall from grace, they are, like the Reverend himself, lost in the mists of time.


Since this Article appeared in the Daily Express, Andy Jardine has been given details of where his grandfather is buried. The Reverend Jardine is buried in Foster Hill Road Cemetery, Grave Ref I.36.