Things turned out disastrously for the last American who married into the British Royal Family
Meghan Markle is no stereotypical princess. A biracial American divorcee who walked the red carpets in Hollywood before meeting her prince, the actress is one of the least conventional royal brides seen in the UK so far. However, the 36-year-old is by no means the first American divorcee to join the fold. In fact, there was one young American woman whose marriage to a king will be forever remembered as one of the most shocking events in royal history.
Meet Wallis Simpson, the last person from across the pond to marry into British royalty. Later known as the Duchess of Windsor, Simpson was an American socialite who tied the knot with former British King Edward VIII in 1937. But the partnership didn't come without its complications. In fact, it sparked a constitutional crisis, leading to Edward's abdication, not to mention one of the biggest royal scandals ever.
Accused of being a lesbian, a nymphomaniac, a Nazi spy and even a man, the Duchess of Windsor quickly became a hated figure who had ensnared a British king, and remains up there with Cruella de Vil and Snow White's Evil Queen when it comes to female villains. So where did it all go so wrong? And did Simpson actually deserve the loathing that was thrown her way?
Simpson was born in Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania, as Bessie Wallis on June 19, 1886, to wealthy flour merchant Teackle Wallis Warfield and his wife Alice. Tragedy struck in her life early on; she lost her father to tuberculosis when she was just a baby, leaving her and her mother to depend on the charity of her uncle. They made a success of things though, with the young girl attending the most expensive school in Maryland and described as "not beautiful", but "bright, brighter than all of us" by a fellow student.
After leaving school, Simpson married her first husband Earl Winfield Spencer, a US Navy aviator, in Baltimore in 1916. The marriage was not a happy one, with Spencer an abusive alcoholic who beat his wife often. The union quickly began to crumble, with him being regularly posted away and Simpson beginning an affair with an Argentine diplomat in his absence. Nine years later, they divorced, on the grounds of "emotional incompatibility".
By the time her marriage to Spencer had dissolved, Simpson had become involved with Ernest Aldrich Simpson, an Anglo-American shipping executive who divorced his first wife Dorothea to marry her in 1928. However, this union wasn't to last either, with the soon-to-be Duchess being introduced to Edward, Duke of Windsor and heir to the British throne, in 1931. It was a meeting that would set into motion a chain of events that would reshape the course of British history.
Simpson quickly became the prince's mistress, replacing Lady Furness, ironically the woman who had introduced them in the first place. By the end of 1934, the besotted prince was reportedly "slavishly dependent" on Simpson, showering her with money and jewels, holidaying with her, and alarming courtiers, who feared that the relationship was not just a fleeting fancy, but rather a pairing destined for marriage.
Months later, Simpson had been introduced to Edward's mother, much to the outrage of his father. In pre-war Britain, divorced people were generally excluded from court and the future king, and head of the Church of England, could not be seen with a divorced woman, let alone one who was still married to another man.
On 20 January 1936, King George V died and Edward became the reigning monarch. However, his ascension to the throne didn't change his priorities, with his intention to marry Simpson remaining unshaken. The royal family's fears were confirmed in 1936 when Simpson filed for divorce from her husband on the grounds that he had committed adultery and Edward told them of his intention to become the American's third husband.
In November, the king consulted with the British Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, to see if there was a way to marry Simpson and keep the throne. The king suggested a morganatic marriage, where he would remain king but Simpson would not be queen. However, this was rejected by Baldwin as well as the Prime Ministers of Australia, Canada, and South Africa. It was decided: if the King were to marry Simpson against Baldwin's advice, the Government would be required to resign, therefore causing a constitutional crisis.
Left to make the most difficult decision of his life, Edward abdicated the throne a month later, leaving his stammering younger brother George - Queen Elizabeth II's father - to take the throne. Talking to the country in a radio broadcast the former king made his feelings clear when he stated: "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. And I want you to know that the decision I have made has been mine and mine alone. This was a thing I had to judge entirely for myself. The other person most nearly concerned has tried up to the last to persuade me to take a different course. I have made this, the most serious decision of my life, only upon the single thought of what would, in the end, be best for all."
Half a year later, Edward and Simpson married in France at the Château de Candé. Their marriage had caused a rift among his family and no royals attended. The couple lived out the rest of their lives as a married couple with no children, living a life of leisure as society celebrities who flitted between Europe and America.
Despite Simpson issuing a statement to the press that she was willing to renounce the king before he abdicated - as well as reports that she personally tried to stop Edward from giving up the throne - she soon became known by many in the British Empire as a golddigger with "limitless ambition". But, did she deserve the hate she received?
Edward’s friend Winston Churchill reportedly believed that Simpson was good for him, stating "no companionship could have appeared more natural, more free from impropriety or grossness" and she was allegedly described by others as a "well-read woman, with a lively sense of humour and warm and sincere heart". Regardless, millions of others viewed her as a politically, socially and morally unsuitable woman who had aimed to become a queen, but instead was left an outcast and widely-detested duchess.
At the end of the day, no one can really give a definitive verdict on Simpson's character, and everyone has their own opinion on the matter. What we can do is question whether Simpson would be as vilified in today's society. Although they're certainly not the same - not forgetting the fact that one married the first in line to the throne, and the other is marrying the sixth in line - Simpson has been compared to Markle, a fellow divorcee who has been welcomed into the Royal family with open arms (a result of the Church of England changing the rules in 2002 and allowing divorced people to remarry when their ex-spouse is still alive).
Soon enough, the 36-year-old actress will become a British citizen and will be baptised and confirmed into the Church of England. The monarchy has been praised for stepping into the 21st century by accepting her into the family. Ironically, nowadays it looks good for them to have someone like her in an age where diversity is embraced and divorce is treated as a sad, but not out of the ordinary, part of life.
But spare a thought for her predecessor, the two-time divorcee and victim of domestic abuse, who was blindly hated by thousands and cast out of the royal family for her role in a modern romance. No one truly knows the ins and outs of Wallis Simpson's situation, so we can't judge. However, when we look back at the story of the last American to marry a British Royal Family member, we can acknowledge that she was most definitely a victim of her time.