Something surely had changed. The Prince began visiting her home several times a week, and Ernest was surprisingly tolerant of the entire situation. He found ways to excuse himself as Wallis and the Prince talked until the small hours. Ernest soon realised that they were growing apart, and by 1935 Wallis wrote, “I had the feeling that more than business was now drawing him back to America. We were both going our separate ways; the core of our marriage had dissolved; only a shell remained – a façade to show the outer world.”1 Ernest had indeed had an affair during a trip to America – with their friend Mary Raffray. It is not clear if he told Wallis about it.
In March 1936, shortly after the Prince succeeded as King Edward VIII, Wallis took a short trip to Paris, and the two men in her life reportedly came together to settle the inevitable. Ernest and the King met at York House, and the King told Ernest that he intended to marry Wallis. Ernest then travelled to Wallis in Paris and informed her that an understanding had been reached. He confessed his feelings for Mary Raffray and that he had agreed to divorce Wallis as the King promised to take care of her. Wallis was outraged that the matter had been settled without her involvement; she had never intended to divorce Ernest. The King refused to accept anything other than marriage to Wallis, and her protests were ignored. He continued to shower her with gifts and bestowed a substantial amount of money on her from his private fortune. It wasn’t until June that Wallis agreed to divorce Ernest. The King wanted it to happen as soon as possible as he wanted to marry her before his coronation in May. If she filed for divorce now, the case would be heard in the autumn and settled by April, as per the six-month waiting period.
The only circumstance in which divorce was permitted was where the petitioner could show that the respondent had grievously damaged the marriage through improper conduct. So, Ernest duly booked himself into a hotel to commit the public charade of adultery, and after the divorce proceedings were well underway, he began living with Mary. However, Wallis was still dragging her heels and tried to break up with the King, writing, “I am sure you and I would only create disaster together.”2 She later told author Gore Vidal, “I never wanted to get married. This was all his idea. They act as if I were some sort of idiot, not knowing the rules about who can be Queen and who can’t. But he insisted.”3
On the advice of her solicitor, the divorce would be heard outside of London, and Ipswich was selected. Wallis took up temporary residence there, as was required, and she lived in a cottage called Beech House. Before leaving, Wallis and the King travelled to Balmoral, and he even dispatched his brother, The Duke of York, in his place to an engagement, claiming to be still in mourning. When the Duke and Duchess of York learned he had picked up Wallis from the train station, they were quite angry.
On 27 October, the divorce case was heard in Ipswich, and the six-month waiting period would be set to end on 27 April. The King’s coronation had been scheduled for 12 May, leaving just enough time to marry Wallis and have her by his side at the coronation. Wallis was so nervous the night before the divorce case that she could not sleep, and she spent hours pacing. Ernest was not present for the court case and was represented by his lawyer, North Lewis. Wallis took the stand and was questioned by Justice Hawke before two employees of the hotel where Ernest had stayed were questioned. Justice Hawke granted the decree nisi, and then it was just a matter of waiting.
As the waiting period and the abdication played out during these few months, Wallis eventually fled to France. Yet, she continued to write to Ernest, and he wrote to her, “My thoughts have been with you throughout your ordeal, and you may rest assured that no one has felt more deeply for you than I have.”4 Ernest too was facing a great deal of criticism, and Wallis wrote to him, “I am really so sorry about all the unjust criticism you have had.”5
After the divorce became final, Wallis wrote to Ernest, “I have taken back the name of Warfield as I really felt that I had done the name Simpson enough harm. Now the target can be Warfield as I don’t expect the world to let up on its cruelty to me for some time… It’s impossible to have anyone here & also impossible to move – literally surrounded by press and photographers etc… The publicity has practically killed me.”6
Ernest remarried twice after his divorce from Wallis, but they continued to write (infrequently) to each other. His third wife was Mary Raffray, and they were married until her death in 1941. They had a son together, who was born in 1939. His fourth and final marriage was to Avril Leveson-Gower, which lasted until Ernest’s death in 1958. Wallis sent white chrysanthemums to his funeral with a card that said, “From the Duchess of Windsor.”