Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, is best known as the woman for whom King Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936, so he could marry her. But she was also an inventor, though not a very prolific one. In 1940, she invented "trench mittens" that could be unzipped to allow a soldier to use his trigger finger.
The Whitewright Sun - Feb 8, 1940
The backstory is that the Duke and Duchess were widely suspected to be Nazi sympathizers. Nevertheless, at the start of the war they were trying to make a public display of how patriotic they were. The Duke pushed to get a position in the army. And the Duchess used her fashion skills to invent "trench mittens".
But by the end of 1940, the British military had decided they were too much of a liability to keep around, so they were shipped off to the Bahamas for the duration of the war.
Each year he would let the nail of his big toe grow. Then he would cut the nail off and have a jeweler polish it and frame it in gold. The king would then present this oddity to his mistress (and eventual wife), the Countess Rosa Mirafiori. She eventually accumulated fifteen royal toenails.
I assume these royal toenails must be preserved in a museum somewhere. But if so, I haven't been able to track down where. Nor can I find any pictures of them.
Unless, of course, the story is an urban legend. The lack of good sources does make me a bit suspicious.
Queen Mary's Dolls' House is the largest, most beautiful and most famous dolls' house in the world. Built between 1921 and 1924 for Queen Mary, consort of George V, by the leading British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, it includes contributions from over 1,500 of the finest artists, craftsmen and manufacturers of the early twentieth century. From life below stairs to the high-society setting of the saloon and dining room, and from a library bursting with original works by the top literary names of the day, to a fully stocked wine cellar and a garden, created by Gertrude Jekyll, no detail was forgotten. The house even includes electricity, running hot and cold water and working lifts. Each room is fully furnished and waiting to be explored.
Prince Andrew has been in the news lately, but this post isn't about the various scandals besetting him. Instead, it's about the prince's brief foray into the world of art, when he was a teenager.
At the age of 17, he completed an oil painting which he titled "Canadian Landscape." It was displayed at the Windsor Festival, which was an exhibition that gathered together works related to the Royal Family from Tudor times to the present.
As I was looking at the picture, I kept thinking that it didn't visually make much sense. Of course, perhaps it was intended to be an abstract work, but out of curiosity I flipped it around, at which point it immediately made a lot more sense. At least, I think so. See below for comparison. So, I'm pretty sure that the AP archive has his picture upside-down — and it's had it that way for years.
What I wonder is if this is just a screw-up by the AP archive, or was his painting actually displayed that way? Does Prince Andrew's painting deserve a place in the WU Gallery of Art Hung Upside-Down?
"The coat of arms of the Dukes of Leinster derives from the legend that John FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Kildare, as a baby in Woodstock Castle, was trapped in a fire when a pet monkey rescued him. The FitzGeralds then adopted a monkey as their crest (and later supporters) and occasionally use the additional motto Non immemor beneficii (Not forgetful of a helping hand)."
Sir John Stuart Knill (1886- 1973) achieved a minor degree of fame because he was poor — and because he also happened to be a Baronet and so was part of the UK's hereditary aristocracy. As the British media often described him, he was "England's only Baronet in public housing." As Sir Knill struggled to scrape by, moving from one low-paying job to another (street sweeper, postman, cat breeder), the media gleefully reported each time his circumstances sank slightly lower.
Knill was born into wealth. It was his grandfather, Stuart Knill, who was made the first Knill Baronet in 1893 (official title: Baronet Knill, of The Grove, Blackheath and Fresh Wharf, London). The 1st and 2nd Knill Baronets both served for a time as Lord Mayors of London.
Sir John Stuart Knill became the 3rd Baronet after the death of his father in 1934. However, he never actually registered the title, which meant that his Baronetcy was officially considered to be dormant, but that was a minor detail overlooked by the press.
Knill's fortunes began to go south after World War I. He lost his family's ancestral estate, Knill Court in Herefordshire, and fell back on his knowledge of antiques to make a living, opening an antique shop in Brighton. However, the shop failed to make a profit, so by the mid-1930s he had closed it and began operating a "bric-a-brac stall" in London's Caledonian market. On the weekends he swept streets.
A job as a postman followed during the 1940s. His wife, Lady Ruth Evelyn Knill, supplemented the family income by working as a mill girl. Interviewed in 1950, she said, "We've lived hard and now we are down to rock bottom. I'm living up to my name. Of money, we have: Knill."
The Knills earned extra cash by breeding animals in their rented apartment, but due to failure to pay the rent they were evicted in 1951 and moved into public housing.
Sydney Morning Herald - Mar 1, 1951
The next time Knill made headlines was in 1962 when it was widely reported that he was "trying to recoup his lost fortune by hypnotizing his wife so she can win the weekly soccer pool." As reported by UPI:
Each Sunday, Knill, 75, puts on his best tartan kilt, sets his wife in a chair facing a blank television set in their tiny living room and hypnotizes her. She stares at the blank screen and tries to "see" the winning combination.
So far the pursuit of riches in England's national pastime has failed to yield the results they hope for but this has not dampened their enthusiasm...
Both feel that their lack of success may be due to poor reception by Lady Knill.
"It seems to depend on the weather for accuracy," she said. "On a dull day I have a job to 'read' the results. Normally, when he hypnotizes me the TV set appears to be switched on. Sometimes it seems so bright that I have to ask him to tone it down."
The Indianapolis Star - Mar 10, 1962
Knill died in 1973 at the age of 87. His son John (the 4th Baronet) was also quite a character. He was a long-time campaigner for the preservation of canals and was known around the city of Bath as a local eccentric, "propelling himself in a wheelchair operated by an astonishing system of levers, pulley and - it has to be said - cranks." More info about him here.
While on a lecture tour of the United States in 1990, Raymond Fullager, an expert on the British royal family, revealed the existence of a royal handbag code. According to him, the Queen of England used her purse to communicate secret signals to her staff.
Fullager claimed to have identified 23 different signals she used. For instance, if she moved her purse from her right to her left arm it meant that she was bored and needed to be rescued. A lady-in-waiting would then approach and say, "I'm afraid, ma'am, that you are running 10 minutes behind schedule."
If the handbag was securely gripped on her left arm, it meant that all was well.
Fullager refused to reveal all 23 signals, insisting that they needed to be kept a royal secret. But he did share some of the Queen's other body-language code. For instance, if she rubbed the middle finger on her left hand, it meant that a spectator was getting too close.
However, other royal experts were skeptical of Fullager's handbag-code theory. Gossip columnist Nigel Dempster declared that the code theory was "silly" and "just rubbish."
Andrew Morton said, "Frankly, you've got to wonder if anyone can actually do 23 different things with a handbag."
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.