On January 10, 1931, the Viscountess Thelma Furness hosted a lavish party at her home in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire; she was Edward, The Prince of Wales’ long-time love interest. As it happened, American socialite, Wallis Simpson, attended the same party with her husband Ernest Simpson.
Although it would have been lovely to say that Wallis and the Prince locked eyes and fell instantly and madly in love with one another, that was not the case. Each had a wonderful time at the party, met briefly, but other than that, had really very little to do with one another.
Above & below, the Duke & Duchess’ Bois de Boulogne villa in Paris; interior design by Maison Jansen
But as great love stories go, true love will always find a way of bringing two people back together, and four months later, the two again attended the same party . . .
Then, eight months later, the Simpsons hosted the Prince for dinner — it is said that, quite scandalously, the Prince did not leave the Simpson residence until 4 o’clock in the morning! The spark had been ignited, and they began to spend more and more time together.
Above, the woman who would play a cataclysmic role in the future of the British monarchy
Above & below, more of the Maison Jansen-decorated estate in Paris
Below, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor in Miami, Florida, 1941
In August of 1934, Edward invited both Wallis and Ernest on a cruise, however, due to prior commitments, Ernest was unable to attend. Wallis, however, accepted the invitation with delight. She later admitted that while on the cruise ship, they had “crossed the line that marks the indefinable boundary between friendship and love.”
Above & below, more glimpses of the Parisian villa in the 16th arrondissement
Following the cruise, the Prince began calling on the Simpsons more often, and it became quite obvious Wallis was the only girl on his mind. In November of the same year, the Prince invited Wallis to a party at Buckingham Palace, where he intended to introduce her to his family. Prince Edward’s mother, Queen Mary, greeted Wallis with civility, but his father, King George, refused to meet her — he was outraged that his son would bring a married (and once divorced) socialite to the party as his date.
His father’s contempt of this budding relationship did not faze Prince Edward in the least, and their relationship continued, and although not ‘public knowledge’, many did know of the scandalous romance. Prince Edward became only more infatuated with Wallis, and she was falling deeply in love with him.
On the 20th of January, 1936, King George passed away, and Prince Edward became King Edward VIII.
Still grieving from the loss of his father, King Edward broke royal protocol the following day by sitting in a window of St James’s Palace, with (the still married) Wallis beside him to watch the proclamation of his accession.
Above & below, at the couple’s private estate in the south of France; ”Did he have style? The Duke of Windsor had style in every buckle on his kilt, every check of his country suits.” —Diana Vreeland
Edward’s love for Wallis was so impassioned, so all-consuming it completely absorbed him, and many members of the royal court realised he fully intended to marry her. To them, this was preposterous — a twice divorced woman with two living husbands could not be the Queen of England; and as Edward was the head of the Church of England, this would completely contradict what the title stood for.
As it were, he had two choices — he could either leave Wallis and continue reigning as King or he could abdicate the throne to marry the woman that he loved.
“I am so anxious for you not to abdicate and I think the fact that you do is going to put me in the wrong light to the entire world because they will say that I could have prevented it.“
—Wallis Simpson to King Edward VIII
Wallis understood the battle that was waging in Edward’s mind, and as much as she loved him, she did not want to be responsible for his abdication. However, after 11 months on the throne, Edward had made his decision
, and it would not only change his life forever, but the world.
“A woman’s life can really be a succession of lives, each revolving around some emotionally compelling situation or challenge, and each marked off by some intense experience.” —Wallis Simpson
“You all know the reasons which have impelled me to renounce the throne. But I want you to understand that in making up my mind, I did not forget my country or the empire, which, as Prince of Wales and lately as King, I have, for 25 years, tried to serve. But you must believe me when I tell you that 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.”
The world was in shock as the news broke, and Edward’s younger brother became King George VI. Following the abdication, Edward &Wallis were exiled from Great Britain. Wallis fled to the south of France to escape the media storm that her now-confirmed relationship with Edward had brought on.
Above, floral patterns and birds on the mantle of the Duke & Duchess’ estate in Paris
Above & below, idyllic scenes of life in Biarritz, a luxurious sea-side town in south-western France
She had already filed for a divorce from her husband, Ernest.
Edward, who was unable to be with Wallis until the divorce was finalised, left for Austria.
Despite previously filing for a divorce from Ernest on the grounds of his infidelity with her childhood friend, Mary Kirk, Wallis was viewed with disdain by the press.
On the 3rd of June 1937, one month after being finally reunited, Edward & Wallis wed in a small ceremony at the Château de Candé
in Monts, France, where Edward presented his bride with a platinum-set 19.77-carat rectangular emerald ring.
Wallis wore a beautifully elegant Mainbocher designed dress in her signature pale blue colour — a colour that was later, dubbed ‘Wallis-Blue’. She wore a straw hat with a ‘halo’ of blue tulle, and gloves made of the same blue crepe as her dress. To Edward’s dismay, of the 16 guests present, not a single one was from his family.
Wallis’ ex-exhusband, Ernest, married Mary Kirk later that year.
Following their marriage, Edward & Wallis, now the Duke & Duchess of Windsor, spent time living in Paris, then Spain
, then Lisbon
, and then the Bahamas, where she worked for the Red Cross and Edward was Governor. They finally settled again in Paris, for their retirement, living a relaxed and luxurious life. Sadly, Edward’s mother and brother, the King, refused to visit the Duke & Duchess.
Above, in the late thirties, the couple were society regulars, and Wallis had become something of a style icon
Wallis & Edward had been happily married for almost 35 years when Edward tragically died of cancer in 1972. Wallis returned to England for the funeral. Edward was buried in the royal burial ground of Windsor Castle.
After Edward’s death, Wallis became a recluse, developing dementia and suffering from various ailments. Towards the end, she was bedridden and received no visitors, with the exception of her doctors and nurses. After her death on the 24th of April 1986, Wallis’s enormous jewelry collection was auctioned off, with the proceeds of forty-five million dollars going to the Pasteur Institute
In one of the most romantic gestures in history, he had given up everything for her and for love — not only the throne and the kingdom, but his family and friends and his home; and for her, that woman who had changed the face of the monarchy, a twice-divorced socialite, knew that without him, life would never ever be the same again.
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/// 5 – cbs news
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/// 10, 11, 20, 27 – life magazine
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/// 16, 17, 21, 28, 29, 32 – photography by frank scherschel for life magazine
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