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HISTORY

Wallis Simpson: The 'woman' that almost destroyed the British monarchy

Wallis Simpson is often considered a villain who almost brought down the British monarchy. Was she really that awful?

If there's something history has taught us, is that if you challenge someone in power, they will use all their might to bring you down. When it comes to the Royal Family, there have been characters that have been vilified in the public narrative (as we've seen in recent decades), but probably no one has been defamed and diminished as Wallis Simpson. Was she really the terrible villain that the Crown's narrative has promoted, or was she just a woman in love?

On December 10, 1936, the United Kingdom and the entire world were shocked when the news of King Edward VIII's abdication came out.  David, as he was known by his family, was the first British monarch to abdicate the throne in over 800 years; his motif? Love. In a radio broadcast, the now demoted Prince pledged his allegiance to his brother  Albert, King George VI, and explained that he could no longer carry out the burden and responsibilities of the Crown without the love and support of the woman he loved. Why would he have to make such a hard decision? Parliament and the Royal Family didn't approve of Wallis and made him choose between the Crown and love.

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Vilified by the Royal Family, the British government, and the media, while being loved by the people and, more importantly, the young and handsome King, Wallis was a twice-divorced American woman with an explosive personality and a rebellious soul. The conservative nature of the Crown and the government saw these traits as undesirable for a Queen consort; moreover, they saw her as a frivolous and ambitious person. So, who was Wallis, and was she really that terrible?

Early life

Bessie Wallis Warfield was born to a wealthy family in Maryland, in 1896. Since the day she was born, she was destined to cause controversy among the high society. Her father, Teackle Warfield, belonged to a very powerful family who disapproved of the woman he loved. The fact that Wallis was born only seven months after her parents' wedding sparked all sorts of rumors of her being conceived before marriage; something really frowned upon during that time. These rumors and the hatred her father's family felt towards her mother tormented Wallis for years.

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Wallis' father died tragically of tuberculosis when she was only five months of age. Despite their hatred, her mother and Wallis were financially aided by her father's family. Although they were granted a generous allowance, neither Wallis nor her mother were always considered as part of the family, and as a consequence, they were never admitted in the powerful social circles of Maryland. For that matter, Wallis always felt deprived of the life of luxury she felt she was entitled to.

Marrying into wealth... for love

From a very young age, Wallis decided to get that life for herself no matter the cost. At that time, the only way a woman could climb up the social ladder was through marriage, so she was determined to marry well. In 1916, the 20-year-old Wallis met a famous army pilot, Earl Winfield Spencer Jr. He was the perfect prospect not only because of his wealth and position but also because she really had fallen in love with him. Months after meeting, the couple was married in a luxurious ceremony. Wallis was finally part of the American high society. However, the fairy tale story she had envisioned soon turned into a nightmare. Winfield was a violent and jealous man with alcohol issues. He would constantly hit her and even used to lock her at their home whenever he wasn't there. 

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Second marriage, this time for money

Fearing a terrible scandal, Wallis decided not to divorce Winfield and try to make the best of the situation. It didn't last long, and in 1925 she decided to abandon her husband and start over. In 1927 the marriage was officially over. The next year, Wallis met the British-American former lieutenant Ernest Simpson. Although she wasn't in love with him, she liked him. When he proposed, she immediately accepted, feeling this would be her only chance to marry well after being a divorcee. Wallis had once married out of love, and it had turned out to be a terrible nightmare. This time she was marrying for economic stability. However, the marriage wouldn't turn out well.

Wallis and Ernest married in England in 1928 and soon settled in London. With her charisma and beauty, Wallis soon managed to become part of the British elite; she soon would become famous for her extravagant and luxurious parties. It was actually during one of her memorable gatherings when Wallis became very close to members of the British nobility, including, of course, the then-Prince of Wales, David.

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Meeting Prince (Charming) David

The heir to the throne was a very handsome young man with an incredible charisma that enchanted the British people. At this point, David was already carrying out official Royal duties filling up for his father, King George V, whose health was starting to deteriorate. For the British people, David was the hope of a new era. His views were seen as fresh and promising for a more just country. But let's go back to Wallis.

In 1931, Wallis and her husband were invited to spend a weekend among one of the most exclusive circles of the British society. Among the guests was also the handsome Prince. The Simpsons made a great impression, and soon would be invited more frequently. Actually, it might've been because Wallis and David connected almost immediately. In 1934, Wallis and David started a romantic relationship. David was completely in love with Wallis to the point that he took Wallis to a formal event at Buckingham Palace, where he introduced her to his mother, Queen Mary of Teck. Everybody at court was outraged, including King George V. Wallis' past was well known among the British nobility and feared her reputation would stain David's and the Crown's image.

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The madly in love King

David was madly in love and didn't care anything his parents and closest advisors had to tell. He carried out with his romance. Wallis, on the other hand, was falling deeply for the Prince but was reluctant to get divorced for a second time. In 1936, King George V passed, and David ascended the throne as King Edward VIII. This changed everything. That year while Walis was traveling in Paris, her husband Ernest Simpson and David met to talk about the situation. Wallis was furious that both had sat and discussed her future. David wanted to marry her, but she didn't want another divorce in her resume.

Still, Wallis and Ernest filed for divorce by the end of 1936. That very same day, David asked her to marry him without knowing that his life was about to change completely. Wallis' past wasn't only a social and moral scandal to the time's standards, but also a religious insult. As King, David had also sworn as Head of the Church of England, and the institution forbade the marriage of divorced people. The Parliament was also keen to avoid this union. The King could not marry Wallis and keep his title. So, David had two options: breakup with Wallis and carry out his duties as King or marry her and abdicate the throne.

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A constitutional crisis caused by love

While David was considering his options, the UK entered one of the worst crises in over two centuries. On the one hand, the Church and Parliament opposed the union; on the other, the people, who loved their King, believed he should be free to marry anyone he wanted. Although Wallis had always tried to be a lady of society, she understood the problems a marriage would bring and asked David to listen to the institutions. Still, David opted for love.

In December 1936, David abdicated and was named Prince of Windsor. Five months later, Wallis was officially divorced. Even though they had the sympathy of the people, the couple eventually decided to settle in France, and in June 1937, they married in a luxurious wedding. 

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UK's #1 public enemies

The love and support the couple once enjoyed would take a complete twist. With the outbreak of WWII, and after an unfortunate reunion with some high ranks of the Nazi regime, Wallis and David became UK's worst enemies. It was even rumored that Wallis was working as a spy for the Germans.

During the war, David and Wallis tried to return to England and leave occupied France. Those petitions were denied by King George VI in an attempt to avoid bringing more unnecessary attention to the couple. To ease David's boredom and keep him outside the spotlight, Bertie, as King George VI was known by the Royal Family, named David General Governor of the Bahamas. Although Wallis hated her new life, she decided to make the most of it and try to clean her image. She used to visit schools and hospitals and even work on projects for the benefit of the children of the country. Still, her image would keep getting more stained.

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By that time, the UK was enduring constant bombings. Still, Wallis and David seemed to be having the perfect luxurious life by the beach and far away from the horrors of war. When the war was over, and after being denied a government position in the British government, David and his wife went back to France, resigned to lead a life in exile.

Out of glory

In 1952, King George VI passed due to complications of cancer. The Royal Family blamed Wallis for David's abdication, which forced Bertie to take a role he wasn't prepared to fulfill. For them, the stress of leading a country in one of its worse moments had prompted Bertie's early death. The tensions between the Royal Family and the couple would only increase for the rest of their lives.

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After decades of living in exile, in 1971 David was diagnosed with advanced throat cancer. In May 1972, he passed, and Wallis found herself alone. David received a proper Royal funeral, and for the first time in decades, Wallis was allowed to stay at Buckingham Palace, although she was forced to enter through the back door, making the moment even more humiliating for her. Wallis lived childless, away from everything, and sunk in the worst solitude for the next fourteen years until 1986 when she died at 89 years. At least her last desire of resting next to her beloved David was granted by the Royal Family.

If you ask me, Wallis wasn't the perfect woman nor the best role model one would think of, but she wasn't the villain the Royal Family believed. She was a woman of her circumstances always wanting to get what she felt had been denied for her all her life. Yes, she made mistakes but blaming her for the abdication of David or the rapid death of Bertie, seems out of proportion. 

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Photos from Wikimedia Commons

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