World leaders rarely voluntarily abdicate their position due to personal relationships. However, on December 11, 1936, Edward VIII, King of the United Kingdom announced he was abdicating his throne and declared allegiance to his younger brother, George VI. Although his announcement was expected, it was still shocking as Edward would be the first British Monarch to abdicate his throne. At the center of his decision to step down as king was American socialite Wallis Simpson, who he intended to marry but could not do so because of established constitutional conventions. Wallis had been twice divorced and her relationship with Edward caused a constitutional crisis.
Wallis Simpson was born as Bessie Wallis Warfield on June 19, 1896 in Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania, United States. Her father, Teackle Wallis Warfield, was the youngest son of Henry Warfield, a wealthy flour merchant who lived in Baltimore, Maryland, while her mother, Alice, was the daughter of William Montague. Although Wallis Simpson claims her parents married in June 1895, parish records indicate that they were not married until November 1895. This meant that Simpson was likely conceived out of wedlock, which had a negative social stigma at that time. Simpson was named in honor of her father, who was known as Wallis and died shortly after her birth, and her mother's sister, Bessie. However, she dropped the name Bessie during her youth. In 1908, Simpson's mother married John Freeman Rasin, who was the son of a prominent Democratic politician.
In April 1916, while visiting her cousin Corinne Mustin in Pensacola, Florida, Wallis met US Navy pilot Earl Winfield Spencer Jr. The two were married in November 1916, but their marriage was often strained by Spencer’s heavy drinking. In 1920, the couple separated temporarily but reunited in 1921 in Washington, D.C. During their separation, Wallis had an affair with Argentine diplomat Felipe de Espil. In 1924, she traveled to Paris, France with her cousin Corinne, and later to China, where her exploits remain the subject of speculation. It is rumored that while in China, Wallis became pregnant and had an abortion that rendered her infertile. Wallis and Spencer returned to the United States in 1925 and finally divorced in 1927.
By the time her divorce was finalized, Wallis had entered into a romantic relationship with American-British shipping executive Ernest Aldrich Simpson. Simpson divorced his wife and married Wallis in July 1928 in Chelsea, London. In 1929, Wallis traveled back to the United States to be with her sick mother, who died in November of the same year. Although Wallis lost her investments in the Wall Street Crash, the successful shipping business continued to support the Simpsons.
Relationship with Prince Edward
Wallis was introduced to Prince Edward in January 1931 by Lady Furness, who was believed to be the Prince’s mistress at the time. The two began a romantic relationship in 1934, and the Prince ended his relationships with his mistresses, including Lady Furness and Freda Dudley Ward. During a party at Buckingham Palace, Edward introduced Wallis to his parents. His father was outraged by her marital history, as divorced individuals were excluded from court. On January 20, 1936, Edward ascended to the throne as King Edward VIII. It soon became clear that the king intended to marry Wallis, who was still in the process of divorcing Simpson. This presented both social and religious challenges. As head of the Church of England, Edward was forbidden from remarrying a divorced person whose spouse was still alive. After trying all means to marry Wallis and still retain the throne, King Edward VIII decided to abdicate the throne, and handed power over to his younger brother, George VI. Wallis and Edward married on June 3, 1937. Now Duke and Duchess, the two spent their lives together until Edward's death in 1972. Wallis Simpson died in 1986 and was buried next to Edward in the Royal Burial Ground.