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The Duke and Duchess of Windsor bowing and curtsying to the King and Queen of Mardi Gras, 1950

King meets king

To bow or not to bow

The historic face-off between Mardi Gras monarchy and the former King Edward VIII and his wife Wallis Simpson.

We are not, typically, a curtsy-friendly society. While those from other countries might bow or bob to royals, this is not a custom with much reason to practice in the monarchy-free USA. But the Duke and Duchess of Windsor put the American aversion to bowing to the test when they visited New Orleans in 1950. Would bonafide royalty bow to our “royalty”?

The demoted but still royal Edward VIII rolled into New Orleans by train early on Mardi Gras day. The city was abuzz with the question of whether the couple would bow and curtsy to the carnival king and queen, a local custom to show respect—but mainly have fun—as part of the festivities. The Duke of Windsor himself was also unsure, admitting that the British monarchy had no known rules for this situation. He’d have to think about it throughout the day.

The first test came when Rex, the King of Carnival, rolled by atop his parade float as the Windsors looked on. Edward went along with the mayor in toasting the pretend king but didn’t join in smashing his glass on the ground afterwards, telling Wallis, “It’s far too dangerous.”

Receiving a throw—as the trinkets cast by the parades are called—is considered an honor, and the couple were a popular target that day. Wallis hung the bead necklaces she caught in the crook of her arm, where they shared space with her long white gloves.

Jester floats at the Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans
New Orleans’ Mardi Gras festivities have had their own kings and queens for more than a century. In 1950, a visit from a former royal and his wife—the Duke and Duchess of Windsor—broke somewhat with tradition. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Duke and Duchess of Windsor on the front row at the Boston Club watching the New Orleans Mardi Gras parade in 1950
Watching the parade from the front row of the Boston Club. They joined in the festivities with enthusiasm, with Wallis hanging the bead necklaces she caught over her long white gloves. Photo from The Historic New Orleans Collection, Acc. No. 1974.25.19.256.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor being escorted into the Rex Ball, Mardi Gras, 1950
The couple were applauded as they were escorted into the Rex Ball—he in a tuxedo, she in a Balenciaga dress and Cartier necklace—moments before the historic bows and curtsies took place. Photo by Associated Press

A direct meeting of the “kings” with no parades to distract would happen later in the evening at two prestigious Mardi Gras balls. After dinner at the renowned French Quarter restaurant Antoine’s, the Duke and Duchess arrived at the first, he in a tuxedo and she in a Balenciaga dress. Wallis—famous for her jewelry—didn’t disappoint with her Cartier bib necklace glistening with emerald-cut amethysts, diamonds, and turquoise cabochons.

The city was abuzz with the question of whether the couple would bow and curtsy to the carnival king and queen.

The couple were escorted to an imposing throne to greet the King and Queen of Comus. The huge room was silent, waiting to see how the monarchs would react to each other. Applause and shouts of “Bravo!” broke out as the Duke bowed and the Duchess dropped into deep curtsies—once each for the King and Queen. This scene repeated itself to enthusiastic reactions at the neighboring ball of Rex.

Seemingly gripped by the Mardi Gras spirit, the Duke and Duchess had done the unthinkable in New Orleans. Edward described the day as “simply marvelous.”

Hero photo of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor courtesy of the Rex organization

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