In December 1915, Wallis’s grandmother died, and she was surprised to learn that she had been left four thousand dollars in her will. However, the money would not be hers until her 21st birthday. During the mourning period for her grandmother, she was asked by her cousin Corinne to join her in Florida for a holiday. She left Baltimore in April 1916, and it was through Corinne’s husband that she would meet her future first husband – Earl Winfield Spencer Jr, known as Win. She wrote to her mother, “I have just met the world’s most fascinating aviator…”1
Wallis quickly fell deeply in love with Win. She later wrote, “By the end of the evening, I knew I was in love – in love at first sight, yes, but nonetheless completely, totally and helplessly. Undoubtedly my attraction to him was intensified by the glamour and novelty of flying. He and the other officers seemed to me, at that first meeting, to belong to another race of men – god-like creatures who had descended to earth from a strange and adventurous realm.”2 Wallis later developed a fear of flying, which she contributed to this time whenever she heard of awful accidents on Win’s base.
Win and Wallis continued to see each other often, and the 19-year-old Wallis was frustrated with the constraints around the dating ritual. Win proposed to her after just two months, and she did not say yes straight away. There were her mother and uncle Sol to consider. Her mother was naturally sceptical and told her all the downsides of becoming a navy wife. However, to Wallis, this seemed like the most appealing part. When Win came by for a visit to her family, he managed to charm them all. The wedding was set for 8 November 1916.
The wedding took place at Christ Church, where Wallis had been baptised many years before, at 6.30 in the evening. They were married by Wallis’ minister, the Reverend Edwin Barnes Niver. The bridesmaids wore orchid-coloured bouffant gowns of faille with wide girdles of french-blue velvet, and they carried yellow snapdragons. The ushers were all naval officers in their full-dress uniforms. Win’s best man was his brother Dumaresque, while Wallis’s matron of honour was Ellen Yuille, a good friend from school. Wallis herself wore a gown of white panne velvet with a court train and a pointed bodice of embroidered pearls. The petticoat was of heirloom lace. In addition, Wallis carried a bouquet of white orchids and lilies of the valley. She also a spray of orange blossoms arranged in a coronet fashion around a veil of tulle. She was given away by uncle Sol.
Wallis later wrote, “Suddenly I felt oddly remote from everything that was going on around me; that sense of detachment was still with me as I drew near Win. When I saw his face, I was reassured. He was calm and confident enough for both of us.”3 They were able to take a two-week honeymoon, and they spent it in Virginia and New York, seeing the sights. However, Wallis soon learned about Win’s major vice – drinking.
After their honeymoon, they returned to the Air Station at Pensacola, where they lived in a house on the base. Their first home was a simple bungalow with three bedrooms, although Wallis thought it was rather small. Wallis hired a cook and a maid and quickly settled into a routine. By May, they were on the move as Win received a promotion near Boston. Wallis entertained herself by seeing the sights and taking the historic streetcars. By October, Win was ordered to California, and they were on the move again. Once more, he was away for most of the day, and Wallis saw little of him. In January 1918, Win’s offices were moved to North Island, and now, as the wife of a commanding officer, she attended many official functions with him.
As the First World War came to an end without Win having been sent overseas, his drinking increased, bringing out all his bad traits. Wallis later wrote, “At parties, he would go out of his way to direct at me a running barrage of subtle innuendoes and veiled insults. Outsiders were not supposed to understand these clever thrusts, but I certainly did, and they made my evenings terribly uncomfortable.”4 Win had always enjoyed playing practical jokes; they now turned cruel. Wallis wrote, “One of his favourite diversions was to lock me up in a room while he went out – often for hours on end. Our life together became a succession of quarrels – bitter flurries over nothing really important but all the more difficult to compose in the immemorial fashion of lovers because the root cause was Win’s festering discontent with himself. The erosion of a marriage is a harrowing experience, and I shall not chronicle the details; they cannot be unusual.”5
Win had to wait a year and a half for a new assignment, which then took him to Riverside while Wallis stayed in Coronado. Their marriage was truly at a breaking point already. Wallis’s mother came to with her for a month, though she never mentioned the difficulties in their marriage. In November 1920, Win was ordered back to Pensacola while he awaited a more permanent post, so Wallis remained in Coronado. Finally, in May 1921, he was given a post in Washington. Wallis could only hope that this change of scenery would help.