American Folk Figure, English Duchess. A twice-divorced woman, an American commoner, shook the British Monarchy to its foundations by capturing the heart of its king who then gave up his throne so they could be married. She was born Bessie Wallis Warfield, in a cottage on the grounds of Monterey Inn, a fashionable resort in Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania. She was the only child of Teackle and Alice Warfield. Her father died when she but five months of age leaving her mother impoverished. She then ran a boarding house in Baltimore, Maryland where Bessie grew up craving a life of high society. A wealthy uncle assumed the burden and provided her with a proper upbringing and education in the finest finishing school in Baltimore. She assumed the name Wallis in honor of her father. The first attempt at marriage and high society was dismal after her husband misrepresented himself by claiming vast riches but in reality was a Naval aviator. She was relegated to life as a military wife stationed in San Diego, California. After a divorce, she traveled to China and upon her return married Englishman Ernest Simpson, a wealthy business man who provided her with connections to British society. Wallis had found her calling. At a London social event, she was introduced to Edward, the future king of England. Soon, Wallis, still a married woman, was a mainstay at Fort Belvedere, Prince Edward's country getaway. In January of 1936, King George V was dead and Edward was the British Monarch. He took no interest in his kingly duties but spent most of his time with Wallis contemplating marriage. He was given a warning by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin...marry the American divorcee and a forced abdication from the throne would follow. In December of 1936, Edward VIII abdicated to his brother George with the famous words, "I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love". The couple had to remain apart until her divorce was legal and in June 1937, they were married in Tours, France. A life without purpose and accomplishment began with complete estrangement from the Royal family. The couple met Hitler in 1937 and expressed pro-German sentiments to the dismay of the English government. Edward was made Governor of the Bahamas, now both had titles...the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The couple was deeply disappointed in the back water appointment. Edward took no interest in affairs while Wallis spent most of her time in New York attending parties. After the war, the Windsors settled in Paris but traveled the globe ceaselessly. Banished from England and with no chance of another appointment, they became international social refugees. They lived lavishly surrounded by servants and footmen. Their pug dogs ate from silver bowls. Their time was divided between Paris and Socialites who invited them to their estates, plantations and gala events only to enhance their own social fortunes. Finances became an issue, Edwards stipend from the British Government was not enough to support their outlandish lifestyle. In 1956, Wallis wrote her memoirs, "The Heart Has Its Reason," and the Duke wrote "A King's Story." The couple remained estranged from England and the Royal Family until the death of Edward in 1972 and he was taken home for burial. Wallis accompanied the body and was invited to stay at Buckingham Palace during the funeral and interment. She returned to Paris and for the next fourteen years lived alone in poor health until her own death in Paris at age 89. Her remains were conveyed to London for burial. One hundred invited guests including Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher looked on and joined the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the entire Royal Family as a simple funeral service was conducted in St. George's Chapel. A final blessing by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Robert Runcie signaled the start of a slow and stately procession which bore her English oak coffin out of the Chapel. At the burial site, just four members of the Royal Family watched as the coffin was lowered in her grave beside King Edward VIII. Prologue...Edward's decision to abdicate his throne for the woman he loved is deemed "the greatest love story of the 20th Century." The bulk of Wallis Simpson's estate, valued in the millions, went to the medical research foundation, the Pasteur Institute in recognition the help France played in providing her with a home. Many of the Duchess's possessions, including her Paris mansion, were bought after her death by Harrods owner Mohammed Al Fayed. He sold much of the collection giving the proceeds to charity.
Bio by: Donald Greyfield