This has not been an easy post. Let me rephrase, if I had just stuck to the jewelry, it would have been really easy. Although I thought I had a grasp of their complexity, I will say, after much research, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, were very complicated people. Both had all kinds of issues…daddy issues, power issues, ivory tower issues, narcissistic tendencies….I could go on and on. Yes, they had an extraordinary love story…..but it did not have the happy ending either of them anticipated. They did have fabulous wealth, they traveled extensively and they did meet extraordinary people but they kind of got “stuck” together. They were two people used to getting their way. However, she did amass one of the greatest jewelry collections of all time!
This is part one of a two part series.
Let me start again.
Bessie Wallis Warfield was born on June 19, 1896, in Blue Ridge Summit, a summer resort close to the Maryland – Pennsylvania border. Blue Ridge Summit was popular with Baltimoreans escaping the summer heat. She was called Bessie Wallis throughout her childhood, eventually the Bessie was dropped. Wallis’s father died shortly after her birth from tuberculosis leaving Wallis and her mother to be supported by their wealthier relatives. For her first few years they lived with her father’s wealthy brother. After that, they moved in with an aunt of her mother’s. Eventually, they had a house of their own and her mother remarried. Her uncle paid for her to go to Oldfields, the best school in Baltimore and her childhood friends were heiress Renee du Pont and Mary Kirk of Kirk Silverware. By all accounts she was a very bright student and an early enchantress. “All her school friends remember Wallis as exceptionally flirtatious from a very young age,” Author Anne Sebba writes, “not just charming in a typically Southern way but teasingly and unusually enticing”. She learned how to meet the “right” people from an early age.
Her first marriage in 1916, (when she was twenty) was to a U.S. Navy aviator, Earl Winfield Spencer, Jr. The marriage was doomed from the start. Win Spencer was an alcoholic and their marriage suffered long separations, which, although still common in military service, are very hard on a marriage. By the way, Win used to drink and fly. While he had some spectacular accidents, fortunately, he never killed anyone. Wallis had her first affair somewhere in the neighborhood of 1921, with an Argentine diplomat named Felipe de Espil. At the time, she and Win were stationed in Washington, D.C. In 1924, Wallis followed her husband to China. According to Hui-lan Koo, the second wife of Chinese diplomat and politician Wellington Koo, the only Mandarin Chinese phrase that Wallis learned during her Asian sojourn was “boy, pass me the champagne”.
Several more extramarital affairs took place in China supposedly even one with Count Galeazzo Ciano, later Mussolini’s son in law. It was whispered that she became pregnant, had a botched abortion and after that, was unable to conceive. Ciano’s wife, Edda Mussolini denied that rumor. By September 1925, she and her husband were back in the United States and were living apart. Their divorce was finalized on December 10, 1927.
By the time of her divorce, Wallis had already become involved with Ernest Aldrich Simpson, an Anglo American shipping executive and former officer in the Coldstream Guards. Simpson was married at the time (with a young daughter) but he still divorced his wife to marry Wallis. In 1929, Wallis sailed back to the U.S. to visit her sick mother. During the trip, both Wallis’s and her mother’s investments were wiped out in the Wall Street Crash. Her mother died penniless on November 2, 1929. Wallis returned to England with the shipping business still buoyant, the Simpsons moved into a large flat with a staff of servants. Thank goodness for marriage number 2!
She was known for being very fashionable (throughout her life) and very witty.
It was around this time, through a friend, Consuelo Thaw, that Wallis met Consuelo’s sister Thelma, Viscountess Furness, the then mistress of Edward, Prince of Wales. An interesting side note, Gloria Morgan, Thelma’s identical twin sister was Gloria Vanderbilt’s mother. On January 10, 1931, Lady Furness introduced Wallis to the Prince. Between 1931 and 1934, he met the Simpsons at various house parties, and Wallis was presented at court. At around this same time, Ernest (Wallis’s husband) began to encounter financial difficulties due to their extravagant life style.
Wallis and Ernest Simpson being presented at court, 1931. Note the large cross she is wearing.
After King Edward VII met American Wallis Simpson, he remarked that their meeting was ‘destined to change the whole course of my life.’ The rest, as we know, is history. In January 1934, while Lady Furness was away in New York, visiting her sister Gloria, Wallis allegedly became the Prince’s mistress. As a matter of fact, Lady Furness was in New York because of her twin sister’s high profile custody battle for her daughter, little Gloria (Anderson Cooper’s mom).
Edward denied his affair with Wallis to his father, even though his staff had testified to the King that they had seen them in bed. Safe to say, Wallis had indeed become the new mistress!
By the end of 1934, Edward was completely besotted with Wallis. The Prince’s family as well as his courtiers became increasingly alarmed as the affair began to interfere with his official duties. His father and mother (the King and Queen) hated Wallis. She was twice divorced and divorced people were generally excluded from court. Edward would not be deterred from his devotion to Wallis and he showered her with money and jewelry.
On January 20, 1936, George V died at Sandringham and Edward ascended the throne as King Edward VIII. At this point in time, Wallis was still married. The day after his father died, Edward broke royal protocol by watching the proclamation of his accession from a window of St. James’s Palace in the company of Wallis. It was becoming obvious that the King meant to marry Mrs. Simpson. The King was again, bucking tradition.
Edward’s family, the Court and Government circles were starting to see the writing on the wall. The new King was in love with a totally unsuitable woman. The British press did not report on the story but the foreign press went wild. She was American after all.
The monarch of the United Kingdom is Supreme Governor of the Church of England. At the time of the proposed marriage, and actually up until 2002, the Church of England did not permit the remarriage of divorced people who had living ex-spouses. The British and Dominion governments felt that Wallis, a twice divorced woman, was politically, socially and morally unsuitable as a prospective consort. The King’s desire to marry a woman who had two living ex-husbands threatened to cause a constitutional crisis in the United Kingdom and the Dominions. She was written about in the foreign press and whispered about in England as the ultimate gold digger, a woman with “limitless ambition”.
Actually, those were the kindest things people had to say. Wallis had already filed for divorce from her second husband on the grounds that he had committed adultery with her childhood friend Mary Kirk. The decree nisi was granted on October 27, 1936. In November, the King consulted with the British Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin on a way to marry Wallis and keep the throne. The King suggested a morganatic marriage where he would remain king but Wallis would not be queen, but this was rejected by Baldwin and the Prime Ministers of Australia and South Africa. If the King were to marry Wallis against Baldwin’s advice, the Government would be required to resign, causing a constitutional crisis.
Another interesting side note, Ernest Simpson at this time did actually marry Mary Kirk, Wallis’s childhood friend. He was a good friend until the end allowing Wallis to smear both his name as well as his beloved.
Wallis fled London for the south of France. For three months she was pressured to give up the King. She finally did issue a statement that she would give up the King. However, Edward, a man very used to getting his way, was determined to marry Wallis. He was besotted. He had worked his way into corner and finally, the only way out was to abdicate. I think both Wallis and Edward underestimated how the entire affair would play out. Both made bad decisions that would plaque them all of their remaining days.
On December 10, 1936, the King signed the Instrument of Abdication in the presence of his three surviving brothers, the Duke of York (who would ascend the throne the following day as George VI), the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Kent. On December 1936, Edward said in a radio broadcast, “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”.
They had an unusual, unequal relationship that few people understood. He genuinely thought he could not live without her, was obsessed with her and adored her to the end. I believe she did love him but never thought she would have to live so alone with the slavish, claustrophobic devotion of the life she helped design. She actually tried to extricate herself before they married but realized the relationship had already progressed too far. The Duke never got over the fact that he lost the battle with his family and the government over his wife. He never got over the fact that his wife could not be called “Her Royal Highness” neither did she for that matter.
After the abdication, Edward went to Austria, staying away from Wallis until her divorce was finalized in May 1937. She resumed her maiden name of Wallis Warfield.
Wallis and Edward were married one month later on June 3, 1937 at the Chateau de Cande in France. The date would have been King George V’s 72nd birthday. Queen Mary thought it was a deliberate slight. No member of the royal family attended. Edward was created the Duke of Windsor by his brother, George VI, prior to the marriage. Letters patent were also passed by the new King and the government preventing Wallis, now the Duchess of Windsor, from sharing a royal title shared by Queen Mary and his own wife, Queen Elizabeth.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor on their wedding day at the Château de Condé in France, June 3, 1937. The duchess’s wedding dress is by Mainbocher, in a color designed just for her, which was dubbed “Wallis blue.” Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
The Duchess in her memoirs remembered their wedding day. “‘Somehow the preparations got done. Mainbocher made my trousseau. From his sketches I chose for my wedding gown a simple dress of blue crepe satin. Reboux made a hat to match. I asked Constance Spry, the prominent London florist, to come to Candé to do the flowers… it was beautifully warm and sunny. Herman Rogers gave me away, and it must have been with a profound sense of relief that he saw me become the responsibility of another. Here I shall say only that it was a supremely happy moment. All I had been through, the hurts I had suffered were forgotten; by evening, David and I were on our way to Australia”.
This bracelet was a favorite of the Duchess’s and can be seen in many of the photographs taken of her including her wedding day. It became widely recognized at the time of the controversial Nahlin cruise in the summer of 1936 from a number of photographs that appeared in the international press. These photos show Wallis clearly wearing the crosses around one of her wrists and as a result, there was intense speculation as to the true nature of the couple’s relationship. Lady Diana Cooper, a member of the King’s party on that occasion, remembered that both the King and Mrs. Simpson were seen wearing bejewelled crosses. After joining the royal party along the Dalmation coast, she wrote to her friend, Conrad Russell, “we were greeted by the young King radiant in health, wearing spick and span little shorts, straw sandals and two crucifixes on a chain round his neck”.
Each cross represented a special time or event in their lives. There were a total of nine crosses.
A cross set with calibré-cut sapphires, emeralds, one ruby and a baguette diamond that is engraved and dated: Our marriage Cross Wallis 3.VI.37 David. Our marriage cross: The Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson were married by the Rev. R. A. Jardine on June 3, 1937, at the Chateau de Candé, Monts, France. The guests included Fern Bedaux, Herman Rogers and his wife, Katherine, Major E.D (Fruity) and Lady Alexandra Metcalfe, Mrs D. Buchanan Merryman (Mrs Simpson’s Aunt Bessie), Dudley Forwood.
A cross set with calibré-cut aquamarines, engraved and dated: God save the King for Wallis. 16.VII.36. God Save the King for Wallis: This inscription refers to an incident on July 16, 1936, when King Edward VIII was riding in a procession on Constitution Hill after presenting new colors to the Guards. He was threatened with a loaded revolver by an Irish journalist named Macmahon. Mrs Simpson mentioned the fact, but only in passing and after giving details of her own health, in a letter to Aunt Bessie on 1st August, “the shot at HM and the upset summer plans have all been very disturbing”.
A cross set with calibré-cut amethyst, engraved and dated: Appendectomy Cross Wallis 31-VIII-44 David. Appendectomy Cross: The Duchess of Windsor, who in the spring and summer of 1944 had been ailing for some months, left Nassau and was subsequently admitted to the Roosevelt Hospital, New York, where she underwent an operation for appendicitis with complications on August 31st.
A cross set with calibré-cut emeralds, engraved and dated: X Ray Cross Wallis – David 10.7.36. X Ray Cross: This cross was presented only a few days before King Edward VIII was threatened with a loaded revolver. Mrs Simpson wrote from Fort Belvedere on August 1, 1936, to her Aunt Bessie giving details of her state of health, “I had myself X-rayed from head to toes, they found a healed ulcer scar. I have an awfully good doctor and haven’t had any trouble for 6 weeks. Have a diet – not too bad a one – the doctor is a German. I have gained some weight also, and feel better than I have for ages”.
A cross set with baguette diamonds, engraved and dated: The Kings Cross God bless WE 1-3-36. The Kings Cross God bless WE: This inscription probably refers to the date of Mrs Simpson’s departure for Paris on March 1, 1936, when, after six exhausting weeks of the new reign, she sought, with her friend ‘Foxy’ Gwynne, a few days relaxation. It may be construed from the sentiment expressed on the charm that the King, still in mourning for his father and heavily burdened with unfamiliar duties, was not exactly pleased at her disappearance. For her part, Mrs Simpson seems to have been equally exasperated with the King, writing to her Aunt Bessie on March 8th that, although she had been incited to go on from Paris to Monte Carlo, “that little King insists I return and I might as well with the telephone about 4 times daily – not much rest”. Meanwhile, apparently upon the initiative of Ernest Simpson, Mrs Simpson’s absence gave the two men an opportunity of speaking frankly about their respective roles concerning her. At a meeting which is thought to have taken place during that first week in March, “a private arrangement was reached between the King and Ernest, whereby Ernest agreed to put an end to his marriage with Wallis provided that the King promised to remain faithful to her and look after her”.
A cross set with calibré-cut rubies, engraved and dated : Wallis – David St Wolfgang 22-9-3. St Wolfgang: This belonged to the Duke and was a necklace with three cross pendants. One of these was a sapphire set Latin cross Pendant, engraved and dated on the reverse: 22.9.35 David – Wallis St Wolfgang, signed: Cartier, Paris; another set with rubies engraved and dated: 23.6.35 for his birthday gift from Wallis. The Prince of Wales was joined on a two month holiday by a few close friends including Wallis Simpson. The party left from Cannes on September 9th, via a number of destinations, returning on October 2nd, to Paris and then by airplane to Windsor. According to Mrs. Simpson, who had written to her aunt from the Carlton Hotel in Cannes on September 7th, they expected to “leave Monday for Budapest, 1 day on the train and 2 nights. We shall stay in Budapest until the week-end and then go to some place on a lake for the week-end and then I think motor to Vienna perhaps a touch of the Austrian Tyrol and Paris…”. On the way, between September 20-24th, 1935, they stayed not far from Salzburg at the small town of St. Wolfgang. Why the visit to this place should have been remarkable enough for Prince Edward and Mrs Simpson to commemorate it with gifts of crosses to each other is unknown. The reason, as for so much of the jewelry in the Duchess’s collection, was clearly very personal. Perhaps the holiday marked a decisive moment in their relationship. When the Prince of Wales returned to England, “the idea of marriage to her had become a fixed and passionate desire”.
A cross set with calibré-cut yellow sapphires, engraved and dated : “Get Well” Cross Wallis Sept. 1944 David. Get Well Cross: See note for Appendectomy Cross above.
A cross set with calibré-cut sapphires, engraved and dated: Wallis – David 23-6-35. Wallis – David 23-6-35: The pendant designed as a Latin cross is set with sapphires, the reverse engraved and dated: David-Wallis 23.6.35: was Mrs Simpson’s gift to Edward the Prince of Wales, to commemorate his forty-first birthday.
A cross in platinum, engraved and dated: WE are too 25-XI-34.
In February 1937, by which time Mrs. Simpson was staying at Cannes and the Duke in Austria, Wallis wrote to the Duke regarding an article by Cecil Beaton had written that was going to appear in the U. S. Vogue. The long and short of that is, the article would appear but only after they had been married on June 3, 1937 and the crosses would not be mentioned.
Friday the second part of the series will appear.