It’s hard for us to imagine now, but during a certain era, people thought of Wallis Simpson as the woman who nearly brought down the British monarchy singlehandedly. Had Edward VIII not fallen for this scandalous American divorcée, the world would surely be a different place. So how did Simpson come to change the course of history? Let’s find out.
She Was Born Into Privilege
Wallis Simpson lived much of her life in the lap of luxury, and her birth was no different. Born Bessie Wallis Warfield, her wealthy parents—both from wealthy Baltimore families—were vacationing at a ritzy Pennsylvania resort when she came into the world in June of 1896. The circumstances of her birth lived up to her later life in more ways than one.
It Haunted Her
Wallis Simpson led a privileged life, and, as we’ll come to see, an incredibly controversial one—and the scandal began right at the moment that she was born. See, her parents had only tied the knot in November of 1895, just seven months before their daughter’s birth. Was she conceived out of wedlock? It’s impossible to say, but one thing is for sure: Simpson scrambled to keep that information secret.
She often claimed that her parents had wed in June of 1895 instead. Well, the potential controversy wasn’t the only thing that tainted her early years.
She Never Knew Him
As if luxury and scandal weren’t dramatic enough, a sudden and heartbreaking tragedy also marked Simpson’s infancy. When she was just five months old, her father contracted tuberculosis. The disease took his life, and his passing had a devastating impact. Wallis was without a father, and Alice was all alone. Suddenly, their high-society life was in deep jeopardy.
They Lived On The Edge
Simpson’s mother Alice came from an old-money family, but her husband’s passing completely uprooted the life she’d known. She’d have to depend on the kindness of someone, and soon enough, her deceased husband’s new money family stepped up to the plate. Sadly, the family treated them like charity cases, doling out the money for them to live dollar by dollar. Alice and Wallis moved into their grand home in Baltimore—but they didn’t rest their heads there for long.
They Got It Together
Wallis Simpson’s childhood was turbulent, to say the least. Her father’s family begrudgingly supported and housed her and her mother—until one day, when they suddenly turned on them. The whole time, Wallis’s Uncle Sol had been the one controlling the purse strings. Well, rumors had spread that the relationship between Alice and Sol had turned romantic.
The family reacted swiftly. They kicked Alice and little Wallis out of the house.
It Changed Her Life
While her father’s family had effectively cut her mother Alice off, Wallis’s wealthy uncle still insisted on sending her to the most expensive girl’s school in the state. At school, Wallis Simpson began to take the lead in her own life instead of just being a victim of circumstances. Classmates said that she was decisive and ambitious. Once she set her mind on something, she got it.
At the same time, many remarked about how many admirers she had. Wallis was preparing for a life where she’d get whatever she wanted—there was no stopping her now.
She Was A Social Climber
Wallis Simpson was undoubtedly aware of the tenuous position that she occupied in Baltimore society. After all the tumult she’d experienced, security was of the utmost importance. One way to ensure that she’d be comfortable was to pick the right husband by high society’s standards. There were a few steps she could take to ensure this, including becoming a debutante and throwing a coming-out ball of her own afterward—however, her timing couldn’t have been worse.
Her Uncle Was Brutal
Wallis received the invitation she’d been waiting for, to Baltimore’s 1914 Bachelors Cotillon. Many people expected her wealthy Uncle Sol to pay for her coming-out ball—but his reaction was utterly cold-blooded. Sol took out an ad in a local newspaper. In it, he said that he would not be throwing his niece any parties, and especially not when “thousands of men are being slaughtered in Europe.”
The rejection was one thing, but the way he delivered it was especially hurtful.
She Was Waiting For Prince Charming
Wallis Simpson decided to skip town and visit her cousin Corinne in Pensacola, Florida. At first, this was a welcome change from the stodgy world of Baltimore high society. Corinne’s husband was a Navy pilot, and life as Corinne’s sidekick threw her into the thrilling world of aviation, a field that was still new at the time. Sadly, the thrill soon wore off, and she would walk away absolutely traumatized.
While in Pensacola, Wallis witnessed not one but two horrific air accidents. These instilled a strong fear of flying that stuck with her for the rest of her life. This was somewhat ironic, considering what happened next.
They Fell Fast
At a lunch organized by her cousin, Wallis met a young Navy pilot by the name of Earl Winfield Spencer Jr.—and it was love at first sight. While he might not have been the old-money type she’d courted in Baltimore, aviation was a new and promising field, and the fact that this young pilot was handsome and charming didn’t hurt. They spent the summer together in Pensacola, and Spencer eventually popped the question.
Their wedding took place in November of 1916, and they followed it with a trip to a posh resort. However, that honeymoon would not last—in a quite literal sense.
His Dark Side Emerged
Wallis and Spencer spent their honeymoon at a resort in West Virginia. That’s where Wallis made a disturbing discovery about her new husband. See, Spencer liked to drink—a lot. This hadn’t appeared to be an issue before, but now they were in a dry state. Spencer’s reaction was chilling. At first, he wanted to cancel the whole thing, but then he remembered he’d packed a bottle of gin, and acquiesced to staying. Was this a red flag? Absolutely.
He Broke All The Rules
Surprisingly, considering her high society exploits, Wallis was pretty naïve about drinking—and drinking problems. Suddenly, all the puzzle pieces began to fit together. Naval officers were not supposed to drink for 24 hours before flights. Now, Wallis caught on to all those times that Spencer and his friends had shared a curious “consommé” at dinner parties. It had actually been martinis that the men sipped out of soup bowls.
The drinking was the first problem, but it wouldn’t be the last…
It Was A Recipe For Disaster
Spencer brushed aside Wallis’s concerns, and for a while, things were okay. After all, they were young and in love. They had a lively social circle, with plenty of parties and Navy functions to attend. However, these events would bring out a dark side from both of them. Wallis loved to flirt and dance with other men—behavior that had been the norm in Baltimore society.
And as for Spencer? He would stew in jealousy. Healthy attitude? Not so much.
Things Got Dark
Sure, Spencer loved to drink, but how bad could the marriage be? Well, he’d lock Wallis in their home when he left—and then he’d disappear. Once, he locked her in the bathroom for hours. His drinking on the job escalated, until one day, when it reached a terrifying climax. Spencer flew while under the influence, and he crashed his plane into the ocean.
Somehow, he escaped mostly unscathed—but still, things were escalating quickly and horrifically for Wallis.
They Crossed Paths
The fact that Spencer’s job demanded frequent moves helped cover up the problems in their marriage. During one of Spencer’s assignments in California, there was the temporary distraction in the form of a very important man: Prince Edward, the future King of England. While the Spencers attended the same event, their meeting was completely unremarkable—or at least, Edward didn’t remember it.
Next, Wallis and her husband moved to Washington DC, which she remembered as a happy time—but the cracks were beginning to show, and it wasn’t just Spencer’s fault.
In Washington, Wallis was living the life she’d always dreamed of, filled with parties and friends. So when the Navy stationed Spencer in Hong Kong, her reaction was brutal. She refused to go, so Spencer went without her—and it got worse from there. While he was gone, Wallis began an affair with an Argentine dignitary. Their steamy romance lasted two years, on and off. She hoped that it would become more, but he wanted to marry rich—and all that Wallis had was an allowance from the Navy.
During this time, Wallis and her husband separated and reconciled repeatedly. They were trapped in a toxic stalemate, and things would only get more melodramatic from there.
It Finally Became Too Much
During one of their reconciliations, Wallis Simpson finally decided to join her husband in Hong Kong. It would be the final nail in the coffin. It didn’t take long for his drinking to come between them one final time, and Simpson moved out. They remained married for a time, but it didn’t stop Wallis from sowing her wild oats in China. For the next two years, her exploits were so infamous that people thought the US government was keeping a dossier on her!
She Had A Scare
Wallis traveled around China, going to parties and making friends who put her up in their lavish homes. While in Beijing, Simpson met an Italian diplomat and began a whirlwind affair. Soon, she discovered she was pregnant. Fearing scandal, she sought out an abortion—but there was a devastating twist that would haunt her for the rest of her life.
Many of her biographers have postulated that the doctor she went to see botched the procedure, leaving Wallis infertile. She returned to the US heartbroken, but absolutely certain about what she wanted to do next.
She Stood Up For Herself
Wallis Simpson returned stateside and broke the news to her family. She wanted a divorce. They were utterly scandalized, but she ignored their protests. It wasn’t easy for a woman to seek out a divorce those days, so she did her research and came up with a plan. She could get one in Virginia if she was a resident there for a year. Wallis hunkered down in a hotel and waited it out.
She took a short vacation, only to receive tragic news. Her Uncle Sol had passed on. And if she’d held out hope that he’d leave his great fortune to her, she was in for a disappointment.
He Didn’t Believe In Her
But Uncle Sol did leave Wallis something. He put money in a trust which meted out a grand total of $60 to her per month. Most of his fortune went toward the establishment of a home for “aging and indigent gentlewoman.” He must not have thought very much of Wallis’s post-divorce prospects, because his will also stipulated that one of the rooms in the home should be reserved for her. Ouch. Well, she’d prove him wrong…
She Found Another Man
During one of her visits to friends, Simpson got over her ex and met her next target—a man named Ernest Aldrich Simpson. There was just one problem. When they met, Simpson was married—and his wife was not happy, to say the least. Later, she’d claim that Wallis ruined her life and took everything from her. Well, sadly for her, she was already in Wallis and Ernest’s rear-view mirror.
They Moved Quicky
Within weeks of Ernest Simpson’s divorce, he tied the knot with Wallis, making her the second Mrs. Simpson. She’d been single all of seven months. With her new—much wealthier—husband, she settled in London. There, her sister-in-law gave her a crash course on how to fit in with the aristocracy, especially emphasizing that she should know every royal, no matter how distantly related to the King and Queen, on sight. Of course, this would serve her well later on…
They Had A Common Goal
Wallis and her second husband Ernest Simpson had one important thing in common. They were both die-hard social climbers, and they worked their way up the ladder of London society—but the good times couldn’t last forever. As Wallis continued to rise through the ranks, Ernest was overspending in order to keep up appearances. They were on diverging paths, and something was about to drive a stake between them.
He Was A Playboy
Having many rich, high-society friends in London landed Wallis Simpson squarely in the social circle of Edward, the heir apparent to the throne—but it wasn’t as though they immediately began a torrid affair. In fact, Edward was already having a dalliance with the very-married Thelma, Lady Furness—and she wasn’t his only mistress.
The thought of becoming King still seemed like a distant possibility, and Edward was sowing his wild oats, to say the least.
She Knew How To Flirt
It came to be known as one of the great romances of the 20th century, but it’s impossible to pinpoint when exactly things turned romantic for Edward and Wallis. One thing is sure—Wallis made an unforgettable mark on the Prince. Edward recalled in his memoirs that when they met, she roasted him for always using the same line whenever he met an American woman.
He would ask them: “Do you miss central heating?”—real scintillating stuff. Wallis cheekily replied that she’d hoped for something more original. This simple rebuke ensured that the Prince would remember their meeting.
She Made Her Royal Debut
In 1931, Wallis Simpson was presented at court to King George V and his wife, Queen consort Mary. It was an unusual honor for a divorced woman, and one she had in common with another woman in her social circle—Thelma Furness, Edward’s mistress. Peculiar coincidence? Maybe. Either way, Wallis Simpson and her husband were now in the highest reaches of the social stratosphere in England.
They were frequent guests at the Prince’s home, and when his mistress went on a long trip, he took to calling Wallis and showing up at her home to talk. At first, everyone was happy. Key words? At first.
He Only Had Eyes For Her
Edward became such a fixture in the Simpson household that people began to whisper—and before long, it was even getting to Ernest Simpson. When Thelma Furness returned to England, she made a chilling realization. Edward was giving her the cold shoulder, and when she watched him interact with her “close friend,” Wallis, she knew that he was in love with her.
Thelma immediately packed her bags and left. That’s one partner down, one to go…
From then on, Edward and Wallis were joined at the proverbial hip—and everyone began to notice. Ernest Simpson seemed oblivious to it all, as did Edward’s mother. While Edward and Wallis were constantly together, they never so much as touched in public, but that didn’t stop people from whispering that she was his new mistress. However, there was other evidence—and it was damning.
When Edward’s grandmother had passed on, she’d left him all her jewels…and keen observers noted that they were all slowly making their way to Wallis’s neck, head, and wrist.
People Turned On Her
Royal watching in 2021 seems like a national sport, but a random person on the street speculating about the royal family hardly compares to what Wallis Simpson had to go through at the hands of her so-called “friends” in high society. The things that they were saying were utterly cold-blooded. People in their circle loved to whisper things to the effect of “What does he see in her?” and speculate that she’d used some sort of exotic bedroom proclivity in order to captivate the prince.
All this was before they were even officially together—so you can bet that they only got worse afterward.
The Rumors Were Scandalous
Their supposed friends weren’t the only ones stirring the pot. One of Edward’s staff claimed to have caught them in the act—an admission which would later become part of a royal crisis. On top of that, one of the higher-ups in law enforcement in London claimed that he’d investigated Wallis and made a chilling discovery: She was cheating on both her husband and her lover with another man.
None of this sat well with the government, who already felt wary about Edward’s potential ascension to the throne.
They Ignored Their Problems
Edward and Wallis were stuck in a stalemate. He was entranced by her, and began to shirk his royal duties to extend the trips they took together. Even though he faced the wrath of his parents, he wouldn’t address the full scope of the issue. As for Wallis, her husband refused to acknowledge that anything was happening even though he surely knew.
They were all living in a state of limbo, hoping that inaction wouldn’t break the spell. Hmm, that usually doesn’t work out well…
32. They Crowned Him King
Something had to give—and finally, it did. In January of 1936, King George V passed. Immediately, Prince Edward became King Edward VIII. And where was Wallis? Right by his side. In fact, she was even with him at St. James’s Palace when they made the royal proclamation. While British media had refrained from covering Edward and Wallis’s relationship, they knew about it, as did basically everyone else in the world.
The only ones in the dark were English commoners, and soon enough, they’d know too.
She Got Her Way
In order to continue her love affair with Edward, Wallis Simpson had to find a way out of her marriage. How convenient, then, that Ernest Simpson ostensibly began an affair with Mary Raffray, one of Wallis’s oldest friends. Back then, the Church of England only accepted adultery as grounds for divorce. And so, Ernest Simpson was conveniently “caught” getting a hotel room with Raffray…who was also conveniently in the middle of a divorce.
Have I used the word “convenient” enough?
It Wasn’t Enough
If Wallis and Edward thought that her contrived divorce from Ernest Simpson would solve all these problems, they were sorely misguided. People were furious. Their relationship earned them the scorn of the conservative British Parliament and the UK’s colonies abroad. Soon, the scandal over their relationship—and the crown and parliament’s unwillingness to let the union happen—reached a fever pitch.
It Could Trigger Something Terrible
For his part, Edward did his best to integrate Wallis into his new life as King, and she went along with it. Despite the fact that his family resented her and called her “that woman,” he pushed to solidify their relationship and even began to talk about marriage. And there’s one part of their story that’s often misunderstood: He totally could have married her! Under the British Constitution, the King could basically marry whoever he wanted.
Still, if he were to pick someone that the Parliament didn’t like, it could lead to a constitutional crisis, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the 17th century. As a new king, it was important for Edward to tread lightly—but of course, he had a flair for the dramatic.
They Tried Everything
Edward VIII needed a solution where he could find a way to wed his beloved Wallis. The Prime Minister begrudgingly proposed he try something called a morganatic marriage, where Edward and Wallis could tie the knot but she would not be given a title. He presented this to the prime ministers of Australia, Canada, and South Africa, who flat-out rejected him.
He Couldn’t Wait
Many agree that if Edward had simply approached the problem patiently, gone through the appropriate channels, and spent a few years turning the tide of opinion, he could easily have married Wallis. But Edward always acted younger than his forty years, and this situation was no exception. He was fervently obsessed with making Wallis his wife as soon as possible.
Edward continued to push for hasty solutions to this problem. It was about to blow up in his face—and spectacularly, at that.
Most People Didn’t Know
The British press had spent years judiciously covering the throne while remaining silent about Edward’s very public outings with Wallis, but this job of selective secret-keeping was growing increasingly hard, especially with US papers blasting headlines like “KING WILL WED WALLY.” There was also the fact that while the upper crust of English society already knew about Wallis and Edward, they’d been slowly ingratiated to the idea over the past few years.
The general public knew NOTHING. Zip, nada. And they were about to have it thrown in their face.
They Found Out
Finally, on a cold December morning, English newspapers emblazoned with the headline “GRAVE CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS!” were printed. Their pages were filled with stories about Wallis Simpson, the twice-divorced American who’d captured the King’s heart. The reaction was chilling. The middle and working classes, who were just hearing about all this, were both deluged with information and furious about it in equal measure.
There were violent protests outside Simpson’s home and even threats on her life. She wasn’t prepared for it at all.
Despite the fact that she had the protection of the royal guards, things got so bad that Wallis Simpson feared for her life—so she enacted a daring escape plan. Working with one of the king’s old friends, Lord Brownlow, they plotted their route to Cannes, France, where she would stay with old friends. Because of her great phobia, they couldn’t fly there, which complicated matters.
She and Edward had a passionate and tear-filled farewell, and she left. She didn’t know it at the time, but it would be nearly three years before she set foot on English soil again.
It Was A Fiasco
Wallis Simpson hoped to hide from the press in France, but the moment she set foot there, disaster struck. The King had neglected to properly arrange the passports and the papers for her car with the pseudonym they’d agreed on, and the French officials began to whisper, as did the others at the customs office. They recognized her from the local papers, which had never shied away from covering her and Edward’s romance.
She’d been in France for all of a few hours, but already, every media outlet in the country knew. Her cover was blown.
He Was A Poor Planner
From there, reporters caught Wallis after an overnight stop, and there was an early morning violent altercation between the British officer who was acting as Wallis’s security guard and a photographer. Somehow, things got worse from there. Wallis forgot the note that contained all the “code names” the King had given them on a hotel bar. On top of that, they repeatedly got lost or had reporters track them and their car.
Edward had planned the whole thing. While he may have been adept at plotting vacations for himself in his days as a Prince, a master of espionage he was not. The simple journey, which frankly could’ve been driven in one shot over 12 or 14 hours, stretched over three days.
She Tried To Extricate Herself
Frankly, if my partner wound up putting me in a situation that disastrous, I’d think of leaving them too. Exhausted and finally ensconced at Cannes, Lord Brownlow talked to Wallis about her options. He told her that there was only one way for Edward VIII to stay on the throne—and that she’d have to make that decision for him.
They sent out an announcement from Cannes, stating that she’d withdraw from the situation if it caused too much of a problem. While the papers printed headlines insinuating the crisis was over, that was far from the truth.
He Made His Choice
Edward didn’t even need to wait for Wallis’s statement, because immediately after she left, he began setting the wheels in motion to what would become the scandal of the century. He had already decided what he wanted to do long before her statement, and a few days later, he made one of his own. It sent shockwaves throughout the nation.
Edward said that he was going to abdicate the throne and give up his crown in order to be with the woman he loved, Wallis Simpson. His younger brother would ascend to the throne as George VI. It was a completely unprecedented moment in history—and things would only get more outrageous from there.
They Were All Alone
The die had been cast, and Edward had chosen his happily ever after with Wallis—but their bliss soon turned into a nightmare. Wallis and Edward didn’t exactly sail off into the sunset They had been at the center of the biggest scandal the century had seen, and after being subject to the intense scrutiny of it all, they were deeply distrustful of those around them.
They isolated themselves, fearing that old friends would sell their secrets to the highest bidder. While they were paranoid, they were also right to feel that way—in fact, many people that they’d known did turn on them.
He Had Nothing
Following his abdication, Edward VIII was a man without a throne, a home, or a country. He may have been homeless, but he still had plenty of rich pals they could rely on—one of whom volunteered to house him in Vienna. Of course, he longed to reunite with Wallis, but joining her in France could’ve jeopardized the courts finalizing her divorce—and that was far from their biggest problem.
He Learned A Hard Lesson
During this period, they lived separate lives in more ways than one. Wallis began to plan a lavish wedding and ordered more than 50 different outfits for her bridal trousseau. At the same time, Edward was a pesky and spoiled houseguest at the Rothschilds. Anytime someone presented him with a bill, he was shocked. He was learning for the first time that things don’t just magically pay for themselves—especially not when you have the expensive tastes of a former king.
While Edward’s family had given him the title of Duke, that was basically all they’d given him. He was in a dire struggle to get the money he thought he was entitled to, and it was not going well. This problem, in one form or another, would haunt both Edward and Wallis in the coming years.
She Finally Saw Him Again
The new King, George VI, helped select a venue for his brother’s scandalous wedding, a French chateau owned by a stranger—but one with a diabolical plan (more on that later). The day after the courts finalized Wallis’s divorce from her second husband, he joined her at the Chateau. They’d been apart for nearly five months, since her dire escape from England.
They set a date for June 3, just weeks after their reunion. Sure, it was hasty, but they’d come this far.
She Won Them Over
The public sentiment toward the couple was still “Edward good, Wallis bad.” Edward’s farewell address had been so eloquent that it had won people back to his side. At the same time, the public had directed pretty much all of the vitriol over the entire situation at Wallis. But a good way to turn the tide? A happy ending, of course.
Despite the fact that none of Edward’s family attended, the wedding went off without a hitch, and the public went gaga for Wallis’s choice of a slim, blue tailored dress.
They Snubbed Her
Wallis Simpson had made it into the family, but they didn’t exactly welcome her with open arms. King George VI allowed her to be called the Duchess of Windsor but refused her the title of Her Royal Highness. Edward’s reaction was seriously disturbing. To him, it was symbolic of what he thought his family had taken from him.
He was furious and remained bitter about the “snub” for the rest of his life. We’re off to a great start!
It Tore The Family Apart
The royal family also refused to receive Edward and Wallis as visitors. While Edward could occasionally get a non-formal visit, Wallis was persona non grata at Buckingham Palace. The royal family’s treatment of Edward both before and after the abdication made Wallis furious. One of her subtle ways of standing up for herself was to make her servants refer to her as “Her Royal Highness” at home. Okay, maybe not so subtle.
They Had Poor Taste In Friends
Without their London social circle, Wallis and Edward sought out new friends in the time around their wedding—and to say they stepped in with a bad crowd would be an understatement. First, their host at the Chateau, Charles Bedaux, ingratiated himself with the couple. He was an avowed fascist and showed budding interest in the activities of a certain upstart political leader over in Germany.
When it was time for Wallis and Edward’s honeymoon, they boarded a train at the Italian border. The train’s owner? Benito Mussolini. And that was just the beginning.
They Were On A Slippery Slope
For Wallis and Edward, their honeymoon was just that—a honeymoon. However, to the rest of us, it would’ve looked like an entire parade of waving red flags. While in Italy, Edward not only performed the fascist salute, but he did it on camera. Then, their old host Charles Bedaux arranged for them to make an official visit to the US, all on his dime.
Wallis was excited to return home, but it immediately backfired. In the US, people took one look at Bedaux’s track record and protested the trip vehemently. The President’s wife refused to host them and a British ambassador insisted they cancel. Wallis and Edward were utterly adrift.
They Didn’t Have A Lot On Their Plates
In fact, they remained adrift for much of the rest of their lives together. Edward couldn’t get any appointments or assignments from his family, and the lingering scandal of their union left them basically unemployable. While they mostly resided in France, they went from holiday to holiday, friend’s house to friend’s house, without much of a purpose.
While it was not that much different from the life they’d lived before Edward was king, at least then, there’d been a sense of possibility and potential. Now, they were untethered.
They Took A Fateful Trip
If this tale took place during any other era, this sort of aimlessness and vulnerability might’ve resulted in Wallis and Edward joining some kind of cult or getting into multi-level-marketing schemes. However, this time, it took an even more sinister direction. After they canceled their trip to the US, their “friend” Charles Bedaux then encouraged them to take a different one—to visit the German Reich and meet its chancellor, Adolf Hitler. Aaaaaaand…they said yes.
They Hobnobbed With Pure Evil
Edward had long shown a fondness for Germany’s leadership and air force, and had a habit of performing a languorous “Heil” salute every now and again. Of course he was interested in this all-expenses-paid trip! And, as his new wife, Wallis went along with it. When they met Hitler, he carried on a conversation with Edward in German. While Wallis “Heil”-ed along with everyone, she didn’t speak any German, and later said that she had no idea what the men were talking about. Or did she…
They Thought The Worst Of Her
The English royal family, who obviously already had their problems with the couple, were absolutely horrified. A malicious rumor about Wallis didn’t help matters. Some speculated that Wallis had been a secret German agent. According to some, she’d been planted in the US years ago and had always had a long-term plan to disrupt the monarch. Those weren’t the only rumors going around—but more on that later.
They Found Another Home
As WWII broke out and the Germans advanced toward Paris, Wallis and Edward fled their home there, slowly making their way west until they wound up in Portugal. Then, Edward finally got the royal appointment he’d been waiting for when his brother made him governor in the Bahamas, which was a commonwealth. For once, they had a purpose.
She Took One Step Forward, Five Steps Back
Wallis dutifully fulfilled her role as governor’s wife and took on charity work with the Red Cross. But, as the saying goes, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. She also had some choice—AKA extremely offensive and racist—words for the Bahamian citizenry. At the same time, she made frequent trips to the US to shop at a time when Britons were rationing and performing blackouts. It was not a good look, but she was used to being the villain by this point.
They Were Party People
After the end of WWII, the pair left the Bahamas and continued their aimless life of travel, shopping, and socializing with the “Café Society” set. While they’d lost their guaranteed position in the true aristocracy, they would always be welcomed by the wealthy leisure class who wiled away their time in cafes, restaurants, and at parties.
With them, they could commit plural faux-pas as they pleased—and boy oh boy, did they ever.
They Were Straight Up Rude
Before the abdication, people had always known Wallis Simpson to speak carefully and judiciously, but now, all her manners went out the window. Wallis and Edward’s ability to open their mouths and say exactly the wrong thing prevented Edward from getting any work. After a cat burglar made off with the majority of Wallis’s jewels one night, each made some typical clueless rich person remarks about the situation.
This drove the nail deeper into their ailing reputations—but that wasn’t the strangest part.
It Might Have Been An Unlikely Culprit
After the grand jewel heist, which some estimated to be worth over $2 million, Scotland Yard worked to recover the pieces—but there was a dark twist. One of Wallis’s friends recognized a piece at a jeweler’s shop, leading the man to quickly hide the bauble. Many speculated that the royal family had actually been the ones behind the heist.
People thought that they’d orchestrated it to get back what they thought was rightfully theirs—including Edward’s grandmother’s jewels, which he’d given to Wallis so many years before.
At this point, Wallis and Edward were middle-aged and they made a smooth transition from a life of leisure to…a life of leisure but with the title of “retirement.” The city of Paris offered to put them up in a stately villa in the Bois de Boulogne. France? Welcoming. England? Not so much. The royal family continued to dodge Wallis, even in a time of great upheaval.
They Still Wouldn’t Accept Her
Due to the icy relationship, Wallis and Edward missed a number of momentous events in England, including Elizabeth II’s marriage and George VI’s illness and eventual passing. Yes, Edward actually outlived the younger brother who had taken the throne after his abdication, as did their mother, Mary of Teck. She, in particular, loathed Wallis.
She Missed It All
Mary’s resentment of Wallis had a long-lasting effect. When George VI passed on, the crown went to his daughter Elizabeth II. But even though there was a new monarch on the throne, it didn’t mean that the family would welcome the Duke and Duchess back with open arms. While Edward did attend his brother’s funeral, he did it without Wallis.
Then, when Mary passed on a year later, Wallis was again not in attendance. In fact, she wasn’t invited to a royal funeral until 1967, 14 years later.
She Made A Friend
In the 1950s, with Edward holed up writing a book, Wallis visited New York City. Soon after, dark rumors emerged. While she was there, a young man by the name of Jimmy Donahue had acted as her escort to multiple parties, and the pair appeared so close, despite a 25-year age difference, they people thought they were having an affair.
Edward rushed to the big apple to check on things—but he was in for a surprise.
He Thought The Worst
Wallis greeted him at the dock with a passionate kiss, and the photographers went wild. At some point, she must have explained the twist in her relationship with Jimmy—he was actually gay! Well, Edward’s time in New York set off another round of rumors. He dove straight into the party lifestyle that Wallis and Jimmy were already enjoying, only for people to say that they were all having an affair together. They couldn’t win!
They Were Going Down Together
The party can’t last forever, even when you’ve spent decades in the upper crust. Toward the end of the 1950s, both Wallis and Edward spent a lot of time in the hospital—albeit for different reasons. While Edward’s health deteriorated, Wallis developed a taste for plastic surgery. And, while Edward began to lose his memory and hearing, Wallis remained as enthusiastic and charming a party guest as ever.
While the invitations to see the royal family opened up somewhat, Edward was forced to demur on account of his health. Things were not looking good.
She Hosted The Queen
In 1972, Elizabeth II and her husband planned a state visit to France, and included a royal visit with Wallis and Edward. Finally, there appeared to be a thaw—but there was a dark caveat. Edward had recently undergone surgery, and everyone knew that it was only a matter of time until he breathed his last. It was all that they could do to pray that the visit would go well and that Edward would hold on—and at first, he did.
She Lost Him
Ten days after Elizabeth’s visit to his bedside, Edward VIII passed on at the age of 77. Not only was Wallis a widow, but she was alone for the first time in decades. It was only after his passing that the royal family afforded Wallace the welcome she’d never been given during his life. Queen Elizabeth sent a message of sympathy, arranged for Edward’s body to be flown to England, and invited Wallis to stay at Buckingham Palace during her visit to the UK for the funeral.
She Couldn’t Handle It
Of course, Wallis was in no shape to enjoy these kindnesses—and it was immediately apparent that the loss of Edward had absolutely devastated her. She behaved erratically at the funeral, leading some to believe that she had to be tranquilized beforehand. After the ceremony, the Prime Minister approached her to offer his condolences.
Still used to being the social butterfly, she thanked him and invited him to visit Paris, saying: “The Duke and I would so love to have you.”
The Hospitality Ended There
Well, it turns out the royal family’s warm welcome had actually not been so warm. While they’d allowed Wallis to stay at Buckingham Palace, the whole royal family had actually left for Windsor immediately after she arrived. They left her alone for the entire weekend before her husband’s funeral. On top of that, their treatment of her after the funeral was absolutely cold-blooded. Immediately after it ended, a senior staff member from the palace escorted her back to the airport to send her home. Remember how she was terrified of flying? Yeah.
Despite their small allowances of kindness, the royal family was finally ready to wash their hands of Wallis Simpson. It was as if time had rewound and she was back to being a girl, with no power, no cachet, and no husband.
Things Began To Crumble
That desperate sense of insecurity Wallis used to feel came back with a vengeance. She began selling properties and possessions and obsessively worried about money. However, Edward’s passing might not have been the only reason for this. A terrifying problem started to emerge. Sometimes, Wallis would forget the names of her friends, both old and new. Then, things got worse.
She either appeared confused or rambled on without much direction. Wallis was suffering from dementia, and it was taking over her life.
She Never Forgave Or Forgot
Despite her confusion, there was one thing that still burned deep enough in Wallis Simpson’s being that she was able to articulate it—her resentment of the royal family, and in particular, her sister-in-law, the Queen Mother. Servants relayed tales of her picking up papers with Elizabeth’s face and doling out harsh yet eloquent insults about her.
She still seemed to have a soft spot for Charles—do with that information what you ill.
Everything Changed For Her
By 1978, Wallis was a shell of her former self. She’d once filled her days with travel and social engagements, but she was now completely bedridden. As a result, her lawyer, Suzanne Blum, held power of attorney over her—but Maître Blum had a disturbing dark side. As a longtime representative of the Duke and Duchess, the litigious woman had spent the past decade attempting to sue just about anyone who even mentioned their names—and that wasn’t the worst part.
76. She Took Advantage Of Her
With the Duchess completely unaware, Blum first began to lie to the press about her charge’s possessions, claiming that Edward and Wallis had sold them off long before they’d even hired her. This provided a cover for her to sell those same baubles to her friends for way less than market value. By the time the mismanagement was uncovered, many of Wallis’s things were long gone.
They Finally Came Together
After eight long years of being confined to her bed, and six years after she was last able to speak, Wallis Simpson passed on in 1986 at the age of 89. The funeral would’ve surprised even Wallis. Not only did the Queen Mother attend, but so did the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, and Princess Diana. It was the type of royal family reunion that never occurred when she or Edward was alive—but the surprises didn’t end there.
She Stepped Out
In the years after her passing, biographers and historians uncovered the untold aspects of Wallis’s story—and some were more disturbing than others. During the 1930s, some whispered that Wallis had cheated on Edward. The story was that she had a steamy affair with Joachim von Ribbentrop, a prominent figure in Third Reich Germany. Somehow, that wasn’t the most chilling part.
He Sent Creepy Souvenirs
After their affair ended, it was rumored that von Ribbentrop would send 17 carnations to Simpson’s home each day. The number was significant because it was the number of times that the two had slept together during their affair in London, and the gesture was a way for Ribbentrop to remind Simpson about their time together. Yikes, dude.
Her Impact Is Immeasurable
Many have compared the tale of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s “Megxit” to the story of Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII—but while both caused a major scandal, the comparison can’t hold water. It’s impossible to overestimate Wallis Simpson’s impact on history. Without Wallis, the world would be an entirely different place.
If Wallis Simpson hadn’t been in the right place at the right time, she and Edward might never have fallen in love. He would’ve remained King of England, and his, ahem, whole Nazi-sympathizing thing could’ve turned the tides when it came to the UK’s role in WWII. And if you keep following that line, well—things get murky. So, until Meghan plays a major role in the potential downfall of Western civilization, perhaps hold the criticism…