Style Icon: Wallis Simpson

by Raymond


Love her or hate her, adore or revile her. No matter what you think of her, there is no denying that Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor was a true style icon.  She went everywhere, knew practically everyone who was anyone and wore all the best designers in the world.  She was a style setter for decades and continues to capture the imagination to this day.

Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, was born Bessie Wallis Warfield on 19 June 1896 Square Cottage at Monterey Inn in Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania. She was the only child of Teackle Wallis Warfield and Alice Montague.  She was named in honor of her father and her mother's sister, Mrs Bessie Buchanan Merryman, and was generally known as Wallis.  Her father died of tuberculosis on shortly after her birth and for her first few years, she was raised in Baltimore, Maryland, dependent upon the charity of a wealthy uncle, Solomon Warfield.  In 1901, her aunt Bessie Merryman was widowed, and Alice and Wallis moved into her large and comfortable house. Between 1912 and 1914, Solomon Warfield paid for Wallis to attend Oldfields School, the most expensive girls' school in Maryland.
 
In May 1916, Wallis met Earl Winfield Spencer, Jr., a U.S. Navy pilot, at Pensacola, Florida, while visiting her cousin.  On 8 November 1916, the couple married.  After the United States entered World War I in 1917, Spencer was posted to San Diego as the first commanding officer of a training base in Coronado.  They remained there until 1920.  In 1921 the couple was posted to Washington, D.C.. They were separated in 1923, when Spencer was posted to the
Far East as commander of the Pampanga, Wallis remained behind.   In January 1924, she visited Paris with her recently widowed cousin Corinne Mustin, before sailing to the Far East. The couple divorced on 10 December 1927.


By the time her marriage to Spencer was dissolved, Wallis was already involved with Ernest Aldrich Simpson, a shipping executive and former captain in the Coldstream Guards.  He divorced his first wife to marry Wallis Spencer on 21 July 1928  in Chelsea, London.  The Simpsons temporarily set up home in a furnished house in Mayfair.  In 1929, Wallis sailed back to the United States to visit her sick mother, who died on 2 November 1929. Wallis returned to England and the Simpsons moved into a larger flat. 

Through a friend, Wallis met Thelma, Lady Furness, the then-mistress of Edward, Prince of Wales.  On 10 January 1931, Lady Furness introduced Wallis to the Prince. The Prince was the eldest son of King George V and Queen Mary, and heir apparent to the throne. Between 1931 and 1934, he met the Simpsons at various house parties, and Wallis was presented at court. Ernest was beginning to encounter financial difficulties, as the Simpsons were living beyond their means. 

In December 1933, Wallis allegedly became the Prince's mistress.  By 1934, Edward was hopelessly in love with Wallis. He introduced her to his mother—his father was outraged, primarily on account of her marital history as divorced people were excluded from court.  Edward showered Wallis with money and jewels, and took her on holiday trips in Europe.  On 20 January 1936, George V died and Edward ascended the throne as Edward VIII.  Wallis filed for divorce from her second husband and the divorce became final on 27 October 1936. 

 Her relationship with the King had become public knowledge in the United Kingdom by early December. Wallis decided to flee the country as the scandal broke, and was driven to the south of France in a dramatic race to outrun the press. The King abdicated the throne on 10 December 1936.  On 11 December 1936, Edward made a broadcast to the people, saying, "I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility, and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love." 
 
Wallis and Edward were married  on 3 June 1937 at the Château de Candé, France. No member of the British Royal Family attended, and the marriage was to be childless. 

The Duke and Duchess lived in France. Upon the Duke's death from cancer in 1972, the Duchess lived the remainder of her life as a recluse, supported by both her husband's estate and an allowance from the Queen. The Duchess of Windsor died on 24 April 1986 at her home in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris.