The vilification of Wallis Simpson

King Edward VIII's abdication on 11 December 1936 was an event that shocked the nation. Susan Williams investigates how Wallis Simpson, the woman for whom Edward gave up the throne, was savaged by society

Wallis Simpson. (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

This article was first published in the December 2006 issue of BBC History Magazine

In the summer of 1936 Lady Diana Cooper remarked that “Wallis is wearing very very badly. Her commonness and Becky Sharpishness irritate”. As far as the English upper classes were concerned, Wallis Simpson was a cunning social climber, like Becky Sharp in William Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair. They simply could not understand what King Edward VIII saw in her – a woman considered too lower-class to qualify for any kind of royal attention, as well as being a divorcee and an American.

But Edward adored her. He had met her in 1931, when he was Prince of Wales, and she was married to her second husband, Ernest Simpson. It was not long before they were in love. “My own beloved Wallis”, he wrote in 1935, “I love you more & more & more & more… I haven’t seen you once today & I can’t take it. I love you”.

Edward’s friend Winston Churchill believed that Wallis was good for him. “Although branded with the stigma of a guilty love,” he said, “no companionship could have appeared more natural, more free from impropriety or grossness”. Well-read, with a lively sense of humour, Wallis had a warm and sincere heart. She was devoted to her mother and her aunt and she did not conceal – even in circles where paid work was thought to be vulgar – the fact that her aunt worked for a living. Her servants liked her as well. “All the maids,” said a kitchen maid, “spoke well of Mrs Simpson”.

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