In 1926, as Wallis waited out her divorce from Earl Winfield Spencer Jr., known as Win, she was invited by her old friend Mary Kirk to spend Christmas with her and her husband Jacques Raffray in New York. She and Mary got on well together and spent many days shopping and sightseeing.
It was Mary who introduced Wallis to Mr and Mrs Ernest Simpson. Ernest had been born in New York to an English father and an American mother, and he eventually became a British subject. He had married Dorothea Dechert in 1923, and they had one daughter – Audrey – together. When Wallis and Ernest met for the first time, his marriage with Dorothea was already in deep trouble. Dorothea later said of Wallis, “From the moment I met her, I never liked her at all… she moved in and helped herself to my house and my clothes and, finally, to everything.”1 Over time, Ernest began to see Wallis without his wife present, and they visited art galleries and museums.
Wallis wrote in her memoirs, “I had come to admire him for his high qualities of mind, stability of character, and cultivation. But I was not altogether sure that my Southern temperament was exactly suited to such a man. Still, for the first time in a long while, I felt myself falling unmistakenly in love; and when I left Pennsylvania Station to return to Warrenton, I carried an armful of books that Ernest had chosen for me.”2
Eventually, Ernest set divorce proceedings in motion and during one evening with Wallis, he asked her to marry him when they were both free. Wallis initially wanted to wait, and a welcome invitation from her aunt Bessie to accompany her to Europe gave her some time to think. During the summer, she visited several European countries with her aunt before returning home when she learned of her uncle Solomon’s death. She received very little from his will, and she hired an attorney to contest it. She won the suit, but much of the money had disappeared because of the Great Depression.
On 10 December 1927, Wallis’s divorce from Win was finalised, and Wallis returned to live at the Warren Green Hotel. Once again, Ernest Simpson asked her to marry him, and Wallis now agreed. She wrote to her mother, “I am very fond of him, and he is kind, which will be a contrast… I can’t go wandering on the rest of my life, and I really feel so tired of fighting the world all alone and with no money. Also, 32 doesn’t seem so young when you see all the really fresh youthful faces one has to compete against.”3
On 21 July 1928, Wallis and Ernest were married at the Chelsea Registry Office in London. She wore a bright yellow dress with a blue coat. She later recalled that “the setting was more appropriate for a trial than for the culmination of a romance, and an uninvited sudden surge of memory took me back to Christ Church at Baltimore, and the odour of lilies and the bridesmaids in lilac and the organ playing softly.”4 Ernest later called it “a cold little job.”5 After a quick champagne wedding brunch at the Grosvenor Hotel, Wallis and Ernest headed for the Channel ferry. They honeymooned in Paris for a week before temporarily settling in a small hotel while Ernest returned to work, and Wallis began the search for a house with the help of Ernest’s sister Maud. A new life had begun.