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.
She Was The First Woman To Become Time Magazine's "Person Of The Year"
In 1936, Time magazine did something it had never done before: named a woman as "Man of the Year," or in this case "Woman of the Year." (The annual feature is now known as "Person of the Year.") That honor naturally went to Wallis Simpson, the divorced American socialite who dominated headlines on both sides of the Atlantic and captivated a king so much that he gave up the throne for her.
Simpson was a controversial pick to be sure. But it nonetheless speaks to the public's fascination with Simpson and the fact that she was a badass trailblazer, for better or for worse.
Some Suspected Her Of Being A Nazi SympathizerVideo: YouTube
The British government disapproved of Simpson not only because of her status as a divorced woman; they also feared that she had inappropriate links to the increasingly troubling Nazi regime in Germany. Rumors circulated that, while she was a mainstay in Edward's bed, she was also engaging in an affair with Nazi official Joachim von Ribbentrop while he had been ambassador to Britain in 1936. Von Ribbentrop even reportedly sent her 17 carnations, one for each time they had sex. So damning were these allegations that the FBI actually opened an investigation to determine if Simpson had supplied von Ribbentrop or any other Nazis were secret information.
Though rumors about a Nazi spy career are most certainly false, Simpson's visit to Germany with Edward in 1937 probably did not help matters - especially when they met none other than Adolf Hitler.
She Became The Black Sheep Of The Royal Family
While Edward maintained contact with members of his family, it was clear that Wallis Simpson would always be a black sheep. After their wedding, Edward and Simpson received the titles the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. But, though Edward's title included "HRH" - His Royal Highness the Duke of Windsor - Simpson was forbidden from using "HRH." Edward never forgave his family for this slight.
Edward's niece - Queen Elizabeth II - maintained a relationship with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Simpson even received an allowance from the queen after Edward's death in 1972.
She Was Accused Of Being Everything From A Spy To A Man In Disguise
From the moment she stepped into Edward's life, Simpson was subject to rumors and allegations that sought to vilify her - she was seen as the conniving seductress who was manipulating a weak prince. She has been accused of everything from being a Nazi to being a man - she was too mannish and too domineering over Edward to be a real woman, some insisted. Indeed, one recent biographer has even taken that claim seriously and speculates Simpson might have been intersex.
It is important, then, that Wallis Simpson got the opportunity to tell her own life story. She published her memoir The Heart Has Its Reasons in 1956. Though it was admittedly self-serving, it also was an attempt for Simpson to take control of her own story, since she had been demonized so consistently over the course of the previous two decades.