Bessie Wallis Warfield (June 19, 1896 - April 24, 1986), best known as Wallis Simpson and later still the Duchess of Windsor, was a mistress, and later wife, of the former Edward VIII of the United Kingdom and was indirectly responsible for his abdication of the throne, though it has been argued that his probable Nazi sympathies were a factor.


Born in Square Cottage at Monterey Inn, a still-extant resort hotel in Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania. She was the only child of Teackle Wallis Warfield and his wife, the former Alice Montague and was born seven months after their wedding. Her father died of tuberculosis when she was five months old.

She was raised in Baltimore and christened Bessie Wallis (Bessiewallis according to some sources), in honor of her father and her mother's sister. She was called Wallis. Her first marriage was to Earl Winfield Spencer, Jr, a hard-drinking, reportedly abusive US Navy pilot, in 1916; she divorced him in 1927. She then became the mistress of Ernest Aldrich Simpson, a mild-mannered half-English, half-American shipping executive and former captain in the Coldstream Guards, who divorced his first wife to marry her. Their union lasted from 1928 until their divorce in 1937. By then Wallis Simpson was living in Britain and had been introduced to the Prince of Wales. She soon became his mistress -- after ousting the prince's previous companion, the exotic American-born Viscountess Furness (née Thelma Morgan), and distancing him from a former lover and confidante, Freda Dudley Ward -- and was regarded by the royal family as a totally unsuitable wife for the heir to the throne. Time magazine, however, found her perfectly acceptable as its first Woman of the Year in 1936.

It is generally believed that it was her status as a twice-divorced woman that made it problematic for the Prince to marry Wallis. As king, he would become head of the Church of England, and remarriage for divorcees was strictly forbidden by that church, but both were determined to make their relationship legal. On his accession to the throne as Edward VIII, he looked for way around the problem and consulted the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury, but no acceptable compromise was found. The result was the Abdication Crisis of 1936. King Edward renounced his throne, and then his brother, the new king, George VI, made him HRH the Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor. The following year he married Wallis Warfield, who had briefly resumed her maiden name by Deed Poll after her divorce. Following the fashion of Windsor royal wives like her sister in law HRH the Princess Henry, Duchess of Gloucester (the former Lady Alice Montagu-Douglas-Scott), the duke's bride automatically should have become HRH the Princess Edward, Duchess of Windsor, but the British royal family ensured that she was denied the designation Her Royal Highness.

The British Royal Family never accepted the duchess and would not receive her formally, although the former king sometimes met his mother and brother after his abdication. The couple lived in Neuilly, near Paris, for most of the remainder of their lives. They were neighbours and soon became close friends of Oswald and Diana Mosley. They had no children, though the duchess briefly was a stepmother by her marriage to Ernest Simpson, who had a daughter by his first wife.

Upon the duke's death from cancer in 1972, the increasingly senile and frail duchess traveled to England to attend his funeral, her first trip to the country since her marriage. Wallis Windsor lived the remainder of her life as a recluse, a bedridden invalid fed by tubes, and followed her husband in death fourteen years later, in Paris. She is buried next to her husband behind the royal mausoleum next to Frogmore House, near Windsor Castle. Her tombstone simply reads "Wallis, His Wife."

Historical speculation

FBI files compiled in the 1930s, released under the FOIA in 2003, portray Wallis Simpson as a possible Nazi sympathiser (as for the duke, he once proclaimed that German was his mother tongue, which is highly likely, given his almost completely German family background). It has been suggested that this may have been the real motivation for the abdication crisis, although officially released British documents do not appear to confirm this. British documents released on January 30, 2003 also stated that in 1935 Wallis Simpson was being followed by Special Branch detectives and was secretly conducting a love affair with Guy Marcus Trundle, an upper-middle-class Englishman who was an engineer and salesman for Ford Motor Company and a son of an respected Anglican canon. A lengthy September 2003 article in the U.S. magazine Vanity Fair, however, casts considerable doubt on the veracity of the Simpson-Trundle affair, based on comments from a man whose mother was Trundle's mistress for nearly two decades.

There have been rumors of pregnancy and abortion, but no hard evidence that the duchess became pregnant by any of lovers or her three husbands. The aforementioned Vanity Fair article included the comments of a doctor who, after examining old X-rays of the rough-hewn, raspy-voiced duchess, stated that she likely suffered from androgen insensitivity syndrome, also known as testicular feminization. (Rumors of abnormal genitalia date to a dossier compiled at the start of her relationship with Edward VIII.)

External links