On 3 May 1937, Wallis was granted her decree absolute, and she was now officially divorced from Ernest Simpson – they had been married for almost nine years. What had Wallis’ life been like as Mrs Simpson?
Wallis and Ernest Aldrich Simpson had met sometime in 1926 as she waited out her divorce from Earl Winfield Spencer Jr. through friends of hers, Mary (née Kirk) and her husband, Jacques Raffray. Ernest was then still married to Dorothea Webb Dechert, with whom he had a daughter named Audrey (born in 1924). Ernest’s father was British, but Ernest himself had been born in New York, and he had graduated from Harvard. During the last year of the First World War, Ernest had travelled to England and joined the Coldstream Guards as a second lieutenant and he eventually became a British citizen. Wallis and Ernest grew closer over time, with Dorothea bitterly commenting, “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
Ernest and his wife decided to divorce, and he asked Wallis to marry him once they were both free. 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
Wallis’ divorce from her first husband became final on 10 December 1927, and once more, Ernest asked her to marry him. Wallis 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 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 face one has to compete against.”3 The exact date of Ernest’s divorce is unclear, but he and Wallis were married on 21 July 1928 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
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. She finally leased 12 Upper Berkeley Street for a year. Their household included a butler, a cook, a maid, a parlour maid, a housemaid and a chauffeur. Wallis knew barely anyone in London, but she was determined to fit in. She began reading the newspapers and the Court Circular. She played the tourist and was often invited by Maud to parties and luncheons. In October 1929, Wallis rushed to the United States after her mother lapsed into a coma. She died on 2 November 1929 with Wallis and her sister Bessie by her side. Aunt Bessie would become Wallis’ confidant.
By then, the lease on the house was up and once again, Wallis had to go househunting. She found a flat on the first floor at 5 Bryanston Court, on George Street, with three bedrooms and four servants’ rooms. While the previous house had come with furnishings, the new flat had to be decorated by Wallis herself – not that she minded. From here, Wallis was able to grow her and Ernest’s social circle, and they were eventually able to include the 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven and his wife – who were closely related to the Royal Family – and Benjamin and Consuelo Thaw. Consuelo was one of the three Morgan sisters, and it was her sister Thelma, Viscountess Furness, who would introduce Wallis to the Prince of Wales.
In early January 1931, Consuelo invited Wallis to the Furness home at Melton Mowbray for a week away. The Prince of Wales and Thelma would both be there, but Consuelo couldn’t make it. Convention demanded that one married couple should act as chaperones, and Consuelo asked if the Simpsons would be able to help out. Wallis nervously accepted the invitation as it could prove to be an excellent step up the social ladder for both her and Ernest. Wallis spent the entire Friday on her hair and nails and battling an inconvenient cold. On 10 January 1931, Wallis met the man who would become her third husband. Wallis later wrote of the weekend, “I decided that the Prince was truly one of the most attractive personalities I had ever met. He had a rare capacity for evoking an atmosphere of warmth and mutual interest, and yet it was hardly bonhomie. […] I had been fascinated by the odd and indefinable melancholy that seemed to haunt the Prince of Wales’s countenance; his quick smile momentarily illuminated but never quite dispelled this look of sadness.”5 They would not meet again until several months later.
Shortly after their second meeting, Wallis was presented at court. As she was a divorcee, Wallis could only be presented if she was the injured party, and she had to send her divorce papers to the Lord Chamberlain, hoping that she would be accepted – which she was.
On 10 June 1931, Wallis borrowed a dress, train, feathers and a fan from Thelma’s sister Consuelo and bought herself a large aquamarine cross necklace and white three-quarter-length gloves. Wallis dutifully curtsied for King George V and Queen Mary. The Prince of Wales was also present, and she overheard the Prince muttering something about the light making all the women look ghastly. Afterwards, Wallis and Ernest were invited over to Thelma’s house, where the Prince was also present. He made an admiring remark about her gown to which Wallis retorted, “But Sir, I understood that you thought we all looked ghastly.” He was quite amused rather than offended and offered to drive Wallis and Ernest home that night.6
In early 1932, Wallis and Ernest entertained the Prince in their flat at Bryanston Court for the first time. He stayed until 4 a.m. and even asked for one of her recipes. At the end of January, they were also invited to spend the weekend with him at Fort Belvedere. Although she was slowly rising in the ranks, her and Ernest’s finances were suffering, and she had barely seen her husband in 1932 as he travelled a lot for business. More weekends at the Fort followed.
She began the year 1934 celebrating with the Prince until 5 a.m, following by dinner later that day, also with the Prince. Then came the trip that changed everything – Thelma was leaving for a trip to the United States, and according to Wallis, she asked, “I’m afraid the Prince is going to be lonely. Wallis, won’t you look after him?”7 According to Thelma’s memoirs, it was Wallis who initiated the topic with the words, “Oh, Thelma, the little man is going to be so lonely.” To which Thelma replied, “Well, dear, you look after him for me while I’m away.”8 Thelma sailed on 25 January 1934 – paving the way for Wallis to rise from friend to favourite.
- The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.69
- The heart has its reasons by The Duchess of Windsor p.139
- The heart has its reasons by The Duchess of Windsor p.70
- The heart has its reasons by The Duchess of Windsor p.71
- The heart has its reasons by the Duchess of Windsor p. 183-184
- Anne Sebba – That Woman p. 88-89
- Anne Sebba – That Woman p. 96
- Wallis and Edward edited by Michael Bloch p.103