The Untold Truth Of Wallis Simpson

Wallis Simpson was, and may still be, the ultimate antihero of the Windsor family and the modern monarchy. She was everything they abhorred — twice-divorced, salacious, and American. Not to mention she was without a royal title. But Prince Edward, duke of Windsor, was so in love with her, he had a diamond cross charm bracelet made for her, gifting her nine cross charms over the course of 10 years to mark certain milestones in their initially secret romance. 

Simpson and Edward have been revived in numerous recent conversations concerning the royal family, thanks to the bombshell Oprah Winfrey interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the duchess of Sussex (another American divorcee who married a prince). Many parallels have ensued between the two couples, as well as continuing criticism of the rigidity of the royal institution. 

Simpson is a polarizing figure to many. Unfavorable rumors have circulated about her for decades — that she was a ruthless social climber, a communist harlot, and an anti-Semite, just to name a few. But were the rumors true? What exactly was so remarkable about Simpson that led to King Edward VIII's voluntary abdication? Read on as bitter tea is spilled about the whip smart, controversial, odd-looking girl from Baltimore who became a villainous duchess. 

Wallis Simpson came from money

Wallis Simpson, born Bessie Wallis Warfield, grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, and both of her parents came from wealthy families who had supported the Confederacy. It was whispered that her father, Teackle Wallis Warfield, and mother, Alice Montague, had conceived Simpson out of wedlock, notes ThoughtCo. In fact, Simpson would later lie about when her parents were married to avoid scandal. Neither of her parent's families were pleased with the match. 

Simpson had no birth certificate. There was no newspaper announcement, says Politico, when she was born, and she was delivered in a cottage resort (perhaps in secret). She would never meet her father, who died of tuberculosis when she was 5 months old, leaving her mother to raise her solo. 

Without her father, mother and daughter were in a vulnerable state and had to rely on his family's charity. But one family member, Simpson's uncle, Solomon Davies Warfield, would only cause the pair further heartbreak. 

A family scandal that upended her childhood

Wallis Simpson and her mother, Alice Warfield, moved in with her father's brother, Solomon Davies Warfield, shortly after her father's death. Simpson's uncle paid for her to attend the prestigious girls college prep school, Oldfields, in Maryland, notes Biography

Simpson and her mother were forced to leave Solomon Warfield's care, however, when he allegedly made inappropriate advances toward Alice, leaving them stranded and financially cut-off. Alice moved them both into a cheap hotel. She would sew beautiful ensembles for Simpson to wear, always mirroring the latest fashions. She didn't want her daughter to miss out on gaining a suitable match for herself with Baltimore's high society. And as if that was Simpson's only card to play in life due to their newfound circumstances, she was luckily a very popular figure with the gentlemen. 

She is said to have had numerous admirers early in life, according to Baltimore Style, which would ultimately allow her to overcome the many hurdles that were thrown in her way by her own family. 

Family betrayal and cruelty

Amidst the familial turmoil, Wallis Simpson's uncle left her humiliated after she attended Baltimore's 1914 Bachelors Cotillion, as it was time for her to began courting suitors. 

"Though Wallis's jaw was too heavy for her to be counted beautiful, her fine violet-blue eyes and petite figure, quick wits, vitality, and capacity for total concentration on her interlocutor ensured that she had many admirers," writes biographer Philip Ziegler in the "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography" (via Town & Country).

Simpson seemed to have a lot going for her — a wealthy family, good breeding from an elite school, along with her many favorable personality traits. But her uncle seemed to be hell-bent on taking her down a peg or two. 

Her uncle said he would not be paying for her own coming out ball, writes author Anne Sebba, alluding to the world war that was raging in Europe. The overt and hurtful gesture further scarred the young Simpson. 

Her first husband was a navy pilot

Wallis Simpson was introduced to her first husband, naval aviator Earl Winfield "Win" Spencer Jr. while visiting with her cousin, Corinne Mustin, in Pensacola, Florida, in 1916, says writes Anne Sebbe. They were married shortly after their introduction, but it would not be a happy marriage. 

Spencer was a pioneer in the United States Navy, serving as the first commanding officer of Naval Air Station in San Diego. Spencer was unfortunately an alcoholic, and their marriage was incredible unstable. He also traveled all over the world with the Navy, including both coasts in America and later to China. Simpson traveled with Spencer to China, though they would begin their estrangement at this time. Simpson is said to have had a "lotus year" in China, according to Biography, traveling the country without her husband. 

While married to Spencer, Simpson had a chance run in with Prince Edward, though it was a brief encounter. While in San Diego, she and Spencer attended a ball at the Hotel del Coronado in 1920. Also in attendance was Edward, then known as the duke of Windsor. She waited among the receiving line to meet the future king of England and was greeted like the other attendees, according to the San Diego History Center. Their first meeting was very forgettable.

Marital trauma and affairs

Win Spencer had a near-death flying accident, which was believed to be caused by his inebriation at the time of the crash. Town & Country notes that Simpson didn't love her husband's profession, and, that coupled with her witnessing two plane crashes in the span of two weeks, she had an intense fear of flying for the rest of her life. 

Her husband's drinking problem led her to stray into the arms of an Argentine diplomat. It was relatively easy to have affairs as she and her husband were parted for long stretches of time due to the nature of Spencer's work. Her affair with diplomat Felipe de Espil was short-lived but would not be her last tryst while married to Spencer.

When she traveled to China, Simpson became privy to many sinful practices to the Western eye, like opium, brothels, and gambling, notes The Independent. She is rumored to have had an affair with Count Galeazzo Ciano, while in Beijing. Ciano eventually became Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's son-in-law (via History). After a rocky union, Simpson and Spencer finally split for good, divorcing in 1927. They were married for 11 years.

None of these rumors have ever been proven and could all be attempts at smearing the controversial figure. Many had motive to do so. 

Ernest Aldrich Simpson was married when he met Wallis

After her first divorce, and before her epic romance with the future king of England, Wallis Simpson married Ernest Aldrich Simpson, a shipping executive and former officer in the Coldstream Guards. She was already intimately involved with Ernest before her divorce, according to Town & Country, but there was a problem with their prospect of marriage. Not only was Wallis still married, but so was he. 

What was Ernest's appeal to Wallis? He had dual citizenship, for one. Ernest was American born but had earned British citizenship during World War I. 

Ernest divorced his first wife, Dorothea, in order to marry Wallis, and they tied the knot in 1928. But it would be a rocky road toward marital bliss, with the stock market crash and Wallis' mother's death both in 1929. 

Just three years after their union, Wallis would meet Edward. She was formally introduced to Edward in 1931 by Lady Thelma Furness, who was rumored to be Edward's mistress at the time. Soon, Wallis and her husband would start visiting with the prince at small gatherings, and a trusting Ernest would go to bed early as Wallis and Edward stayed up talking until the early morning hours, according to The Daily Mail

From social climbing to royal flirting

It was their second chance meeting after all those years that caught Edward's eye. Wallis Simpson and Edward became incredibly chummy. But it soon became clear to Ernest Simpson that they were becoming more than just friends. Those around them knew of their affair, and both Ernest Simpson and the royal family waited patiently for the tryst to pass. Even Wallis admitted later that she would have rather just been his mistress, reports CNN

Edward became obsessed with her, according to Anne Sebba's book, "That Woman" (via The New York Times). According to TIME, some say he even threatened to kill himself if she left.

Wallis and Edward wasted no time in getting hitched after she was legally back on the market. Her divorce from Ernest Simpson was finalized in May of 1937, reports Town & Country, and the new duke and duchess of Windsor were married the following month, on June 3, 1937, at a quiet French château. Ironically, they would be returning to France to live not long after.

Queen Mary, Edward's mother, seemingly never forgave the union, writing to him in a letter, "It seemed inconceivable to those who had made sacrifices during the war that you, as their king, refused a lesser sacrifice." Wallis would be blamed for years for destroying the monarchy's reputation. 

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The government kept a dossier on her

Wallis Simpson's time in China and her multiple rumored affairs apparently became ammo when Simpson and Prince Edward became involved. When the rumors reached the queen mother and prime minister, they dredged up the infamous "China Dossier" on her supposed lewd and immoral behavior with the help of British Intelligence Service MI6. The document is said to have detailed descriptions of sexual tricks she learned while living in Shanghai, thereby ensnaring Edward into marriage. 

The darker, more likely truth is that her abusive marriage to Win Spencer introduced her to the more salacious sides of Chinese society, as he was a known glutton. 

When Edward announced his intentions to marry Simpson to then-British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin in 1936, Baldwin denied his blessing, decrying that the public would never approve of a divorced woman becoming queen, let alone one with such a reputation. At some stage, other options were offered to Edward, including a "morganatic marriage," where Simpson could become Edward's legal wife but never his queen. 

The dossier has yet to materialize for the public eye today. "It is a fascinating subject of conjecture, impossible to authenticate at this stage," wrote biographer Charles Higham in "The Duchess of Windsor: The Secret Life" (via That's Magazine).

The affair started before Edward was crowned king

The scandalous dossier did not stop their love affair, however. Edward and Wallis Simpson were rumored to be seriously involved well before his coronation. Both the royal family and elite members of English society were aware of the romance. Many speculate that he saw Simpson as an escape hatch from the monarchy.

"Edward never wanted to be king," according to British biographer Andrew Morton (via The Baltimore Sun), author of Wallis in Love: The Untold Life of the Duchess of Windsor, the Woman Who Changed the Monarchy. "He and Wallis were tragically at cross purposes." 

Only a few months after being declared king of England, Edward announced their engagement, sending the country in a constitutional crisis, notes Town & Country. After tussling with various alternatives to their union back and forth with high governmental and monarchial officials, there were no compromises Edward could agree upon. Stuck between a rock and a hard place forcing to choose between the woman he loved and the crown, he chose her. And the rest is history. 

Wallis Simpson was threatened when Edward's abdication announcement hit the press

When Edward announced his intentions to marry Wallis Simpson, the royal family had none of it. Not only was she divorced and currently married to another man, but she was an American and had an allegedly loose reputation. The harassment and public pressure for lovers to split got so bad that Wallis Simpson sent Edward letters begging him to give up. One anonymous letter (via Town & Country) called Edward "a rotten swine asking us to pay for emeralds and fine things for his ugly whore," and threatened that "if that Yankee harlot does not get out, we will smash her windows and give her a hiding." In other words, the threats weren't subtle. 

Nevertheless, Edward persisted and was determined to renounce his birthright to marry her. When she traveled back to the states to procure her divorce, the judge apparently threatened not to grant it on the basis of adultery. "For a terrible moment, I felt sure that he was determined to deny me my divorce," Wallis Simpson recalled, according to her solicitor's clerk, Robert Egerton. But her version of events claimed that she had received a letter informing her of an affair Ernest Simpson was having. 

According to Anne Sebba in That Woman, Wallis wrote to Ernest amid their divorce proceedings and even during her honeymoon with Edward. "I think of us so much though I try not to," she wrote. 

The fairytale had already begun to turn sour as the couple traveled to Germany.

Wallis Simpson's Nazi ties and rumored affair

Unfortunately, both Wallis Simpson and Edward had ties to the Nazi party pre-World War II that would cause much consternation, not only with the public but with the government, leading to more espionage. 

Once Edward had abdicated, and they were banished from royal life for all intents and purposes, he and Simpson moved to France. They would make trips to nearby European countries, including Germany, where Edward met with Adolf Hitler and was honored by Nazi officials in 1937. There was even a kidnapping plot concocted by the Nazis to put Edward back on the English throne to act as a spy, but luckily it never materialized. 

These ties caught the attention of then-President Franklin Roosevelt and the FBI. When Simpson and Edward visited the states in 1941, J. Edgar Hoover launched a covert intelligence operation on the exiled duke and duchess, who had reason to suspect they both favored the Nazis, according to The Guardian

Simpson was also rumored to have been intimately involved with German army officer and German ambassador to Britain at the time, Joachim von Ribbentrop, who apparently sent her 17 red roses for every time they had allegedly slept together. There was gossip for years of the duke's impotency, but none of these stories have been substantiated. 

Their life post-abdication was anything but glamorous

What history has somewhat tried to portray as a star-crossed romance for the ages wasn't as blissful as presented. Once Edward abdicated, there was no future for he and Wallis Simpson in England, and the couple never returned to live there. 

Believe it or not, they didn't have much money either. Edward's royal allowance was cut from the budget, reports the New York Post. They were without a country and without jobs. Sprinkle some fascist leanings into the mix, and their lives post-World War II were pretty bleak. By the 1960s they were nearly forgotten within the international conversation and grew increasingly bitter toward the royal family's cold shoulder. According to Politico, Simpson became "eternally frustrated that she no longer held the interest of people at high levels of society, government, or the arts," which made her "meaner." 

There was also talks of an affair Simpson was having, which clearly became a pattern of hers through the years. Herman Rogers was a close friend of Simpson's from China and even gave her away at she and Edward's wedding.

That Woman author Anne Sebba says their infamous union was more like a "gothic fable where a Faustian pact with the devil ends with the moral: Be careful what you wish for."