Of all the scandalous women in history, Wallis Simpson is probably one of the most vilified, the most fascinating, and the most misunderstood. Since she first made a splash on the international stage in the 1930s, interest in her has only grown, thanks in no small part to the success of films and television shows in recent years like The King's Speech and Netflix's The Crown. People have imagined Simpson as everything from a victim to a romantic heroine and fashion icon, and she has even been accused of being a seductress and a Nazi spy.
This American socialite became notorious for her affair with Prince Edward. Edward was not just any old prince: he was the eldest son and heir of his father, King George V, and was thus next in line to the throne of the United Kingdom. His obsession with Simpson did not lessen when he become King Edward VIII in 1936 - he was so besotted with her that he actually went through the trouble of abdicating the throne so that he could marry her. Known as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor after Edward's abdication, the couple captured the public's imagination. The public saw their love affair as a storybook fantasy, and the couple became the poster children of romance winning out over duty and defying the contempt of the government.
There is no consensus about Wallis Simpson's motivations or even some details about her private life. But there are enough tantalizing, fascinating facts about this woman to keep historians intrigued.
Edward Was More Interested In Simpson Than His Royal Duties
Edward fell fast and hard for Wallis Simpson - she was so adept at flirting that her ex-sister-in-law remarked, "She could no more keep from flirting than breathing." By all accounts, Edward was smitten - so smitten, that he seemed to spend less time on his princely duties. He spent lavishly on Simpson and took her on vacations abroad, acting more like a globetrotter than a duty-minded royal.
Critics Accused Her Of Dominating Edward
Criticism of the Prince's relationship came quickly. Members close to the royal family claimed that Simpson's strong and direct personality was transforming Edward into her personal slave and that he followed her "around like a dog." It was entirely inappropriate for a woman, they claimed, to control a man so totally. Indeed, most people assumed what Edward liked best about Simpson was that she could be domineering.
Some biographers refute this assessment and offer a more psychological interpretation of the relationship between Simpson and Edward.
Her Love Affair With Edward VIII Provoked An Abdication Crisis
The criticisms about Wallis Simpson only intensified in 1936 when Edward succeeded to the throne. It quickly became apparent that he did not want to rule without the woman he loved by his side. The problem? The British people would never accept her as their queen.
For one, she was a divorcée. In 1930's Britain, women who had been divorced could not be officially present at court, let alone be the queen. The Church of England - the official Protestant church headed by the reigning monarch - did not recognize divorce in the 1930's. So, it was quite impossible for Wallis Simpson to marry the head of a church that saw her as a bigamist. Further, she was still legally married to Ernest Simpson at the time Edward became king - the two could not get married, even if they had wanted to. Wallis and Ernest would not divorce until 1937.
There was simply no way that Edward could take both the throne and Simpson's hand in marriage. In Edward's mind, the problem was clear: love or duty. For him, the answer was obvious: he would give up anything for the woman he loved. So on December 11, 1936, King Edward VIII took to the radio to officially announce his abdication - he stepped down from the throne, and his younger brother succeeded as King George VI.
Simpson And Edward Were Virtually Exiled After His Abdication
After Edward abdicated so that his younger brother could assume the throne, he was exiled from Great Britain. Initially, he went to France - and Simpson followed as soon as her divorce was final in May 1937. They married a month later at a French chateau and made France their home.
The only official role Simpson would ever have would be as "governor's wife." In 1940, Edward was appointed Governor of the Bahamas, and so the couple had a brief stint in the Caribbean. They returned to France after the war, where they lived for the rest of their marriage.