Who Was Wallis Simpson?
Wallis Simpson was an American socialite who had been married twice when she met Edward, Duke of Windsor (then the Prince of Wales), at a party. She became Edward’s mistress, leading to the “abdication crisis” in which he stepped down as king in order to be with her. Wallis married Edward in June 1937, and spent the remainder of her life as the Duchess of Windsor, until her death in Paris in 1986.
Wallis Simpson was born Bessie Wallis Warfield on June 19, 1896, in Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania. The daughter of Baltimore residents Teackle Wallis Warfield and Alice Montague, Wallis dropped her first name during her youth. Her father died of tuberculosis when she was a baby, and Alice became dependent on the charity of her wealthy brother-in-law Solomon Davies Warfield. Uncle Warfield paid for Wallis to attend Oldfields School, the most expensive girls’ school in Maryland, where she was at the top of her class and was known for always being immaculately dressed.
In 1916, Wallis met Earl Winfield Spencer Jr., a U.S. Navy aviator. The couple married that November. Win, as her husband was known, was an alcoholic, and over the course of their marriage, he was stationed in San Diego, Washington, D.C., and China. When their marriage began to break down, Wallis spent what she called her “lotus year” in China, traveling alone. She and Win divorced in 1927.
By then, Wallis had met Ernest Aldrich Simpson, an English-American shipping executive. They married in London in 1928 and moved into a large flat with several servants. Around this same time, Wallis met Lady Furness, the mistress of Edward, Duke of Windsor (then the Prince of Wales). On January 10, 1931, Wallis was introduced to the Prince of Wales at an event at Burrough Court. The prince later remembered that Wallis had a cold that night and was not at her best.
Marriage to Prince Edward
By early 1934, Wallis had become Prince Edward’s mistress. He denied this to his family, who were outraged at his behavior, but by 1935, she had been presented at court and the couple had vacationed in Europe multiple times together.
On January 20, 1936, George V died, and Edward ascended the throne. It had become clear that Edward planned to marry Wallis as soon as she divorced Simpson. This caused a scandal in Britain that is now known as the “abdication crisis.” The consensus from the Church of England and the conservative British establishment was that Edward could not marry a divorced woman who still had two living ex-husbands. The king’s ministers also disapproved, finding Wallis’s behavior unacceptable, and many Britons were reluctant to accept an American as queen. During this time, Wallis fled to France to avoid the heavy press coverage.
Late in the year, after Edward was told that he could not keep the throne and marry Wallis, he decided to abdicate. On December 11, 1936, Edward delivered a BBC broadcast, saying he could not do his job as king without the support of “the woman I love.” In May 1937, Wallis’s divorce from Simpson was made final, and one month later, on June 3, she married Edward and became the Duchess of Windsor.
Later Years and Death
Following Edward’s death in 1972, Wallis spent much of her final years in seclusion, before passing away on April 24, 1986, in Paris. Known to her friends for her wit and style, she is mainly remembered for her role in shaking up the rigid hierarchy of the British monarchy.
Her story was recalled years later, when Prince Harry announced his engagement to another American divorcée, actress Meghan Markle, in November 2017.