The childlessness of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor

wallis edward windsor
Classic Image / Alamy Stock Photo

“Any woman who has been loved as I have been loved, and who, too, has loved, has experienced life in its fullness. To this I must add one qualification, one continuing regret: I have never known the joy of having children of my own.”1

The childlessness of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor has led to wild rumours, including one that claimed that Wallis was born with male (or both male and female) genitalia and was thus unable to have children. This was denied by the doctor who cared for her until her death. He said, “Her genitalia were simply normal, female genitalia, and you can quote me on this issue.”2 So why did they not have children?

People often forget that at the time of their marriage, the Duke was 42 years old, while the Duchess was 40 years old. Their ages alone would have made conceiving naturally difficult, though not impossible. Wallis had been married twice before and had had no children with her first two husbands either. Her first husband, Earl Winfield Spencer Jr., known as Win, had been emotionally and physically abusive to her. At one time, he accused her of having affairs with his fellow officers and began drinking heavily. While Wallis wrote in her memoirs that she suffered a kidney infection at this time, a friend of hers later wrote that Win had beaten her to such an extent that she suffered from internal bleeding.3 Was she perhaps unable to have children after this? Charles Higham states that Wallis did not want children but lists no source for this information.4

After separating from Win, the gossip was that Wallis had had an affair with an Italian Count by the name of Galeazzo Ciano and that she had become pregnant by him. An abortion was then reportedly performed, which went terribly wrong and left her permanently infertile. However, there is no evidence to support this at all. She was sick when she boarded the President McKinley, and upon arrival in Seattle, she had to have emergency surgery for an intestinal blockage.

Wallis married her second husband, Ernest Aldrich Simpson, on 21 July 1928. He had a daughter named Audrey from his first marriage, and he would have a son from his third marriage. However, this second marriage to Wallis would remain childless. According to Barbara Cartland, Wallis had a tubal ligation around this time. She said, “It was fashionable at the time. Contraception was difficult in those times as the ‘Pill’ had not been invented, and the methods suggested by doctors were not always successful.”5 At the time, Barbara was friends with Wallis’s sister-in-law Maud. Perhaps Wallis and Ernest had decided together that they did not want to have any children together. Though a reversal surgery is possible (with varying chances of success), depending on the technique used for the ligation, it is considered to be a permanent type of birth control. So, if Wallis did have this surgery, it would explain why she and the Duke did not have children. According to Michael Bloch, she went to a gynaecologist around the time of her third wedding for an examination, and he concluded that she was “incurably sterile.”6 Perhaps they were looking to have the tubal ligation reversed?

In 1951, Wallis became ill, and several malignant tumours were found in her uterus (Yes, in addition to normal female genitalia, she also had a uterus!), and doctors decided to perform a full hysterectomy.7 She had already had several malignant tumours removed from her stomach back in 1944.

From the Duke’s side, the story goes that he suffered from mumps as a child, which rendered him infertile. Anna Pasternak writes that during his last term at Dartmouth, Edward caught the measles in an outbreak that struck down two-thirds of the cadets, followed by the mumps. A complication of the mumps called orchitis would leave him infertile. However, she writes, “it is believed that”, and there is no confirmation of this.8 The outbreak of measles among the cadets was well-reported by the newspapers, however.9 Philip Ziegler speaks only of a “fierce attack” of measles and makes no mention of complications.10 If he did become infertile, was the family perhaps not aware of it? King George V reportedly said shortly before his death, “I pray to God my eldest son will never marry and have children, and that nothing will come between Bertie and Lilibet and the throne.”11 Why would he say something like that if he knew that his son could not have children? During the abdication, the Duke had also signed financial papers that would have negated any claim of any future sons on the Balmoral estate, so the possibility of him having children was certainly considered.12

In the end, we know that they did not have children, though they reportedly briefly considered adopting in the 1950s.13 They were then almost 60 years old, so the desire must still have been strong. Whatever the reason for their childlessness, one cannot ‘blame’ one over the other, and if they truly wanted children, one can only feel sympathy that this wish was not fulfilled.


Our book The Duchess of Windsor – A Collection of Articles is available now in the US and the UK.

  1. The heart has its reasons by the Duchess of Windsor p. 398
  2. The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.12
  3. The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.60
  4. Mrs Simpson: secret lives of the Duchess of Windsor p.27
  5. The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.74
  6. The Duchess of Windsor by Michael Bloch p.125
  7. The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.396
  8. The American Duchess by Anna Pasternak p.13
  9. The New York Times
  10. King Edward VIII by Philip Ziegler p.28
  11. King Edward VIII by Philip Ziegler p.199
  12. The Duchess of Windsor by Michael Bloch p.125
  13. The Duchess of Windsor by Michael Bloch p.125

About Moniek Bloks 2666 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.