Saturday, April 26, 2008

Wallis Simpson

I've longed suspected that Wallis Simpson's story wasn't the grand romance it was cracked up to be. This may have originated when I read one of Jon Winokur's collections, possible A Curmudgeon's Garden of Love, which speculated that Edward VIII actually just didn't want to be king and used his unacceptable romantic choice as his excuse.

Now the Writer Of Queens has written a couple of posts about Wallis Simpson. It inspired me to look up a couple of other articles online about Mrs. Simpson, whereupon I learned that I was righter than I knew.

Even in girlhood, Wallis was what we now call a heat-seeking missile. Perhaps this was caused by poverty in her very early childhood, before well-off relatives sent her to an expensive girls' school. In school, she befriended heiresses Renée du Pont and Mary Kirk.

During her first marriage, Wallis had several affairs. Her husband actually left her over this a couple of times, but they reunited until she became pregnant by Mussolini's son-in-law Count Galeazzo Ciano and the illegal abortion rendered her infertile. Even then, it seems, she had a taste for titles. Her first husband's Christian name, by the way, was "Earl".

While still married to Earl Spencer, Wallis began having an affair with a married man named Ernest Simpson. After Earl divorced her, Simpson left his wife and child to marry her.

Three years later, the Simpsons met the Prince of Wales. Long before HRH was married to her, apparently even before they were actually having an affair, the prince ordered the servants in his household to take their direction from her. This was Not Done, but they kept a stiff upper lip, even though Mrs. Simpson was disrupting all of their customs. To give her her due, she did come from a different country with different habits where servants were concerned, and probably did not realize the upheaval she was causing. On the other hand, American etiquette does not justify her having a servant who adhered to tradition despite her notions being pensioned off, and most emphatically does not excuse her habit of coming in well after midnight with the prince and waking the servants to cook them dinner.

The Writer of Queens relates:

Wallis may seem like a monster. She did come in like firestorm, to be sure. But you have to remember that she was doing this because it was what the Prince asked of her. He wanted someone to take charge and make decisions. Everything she did was unusual, different, stimulating, at least from his point of view. The Prince felt free. In his life---made up of rigid royal rules---there was not much freedom to be found. But Wallis, to him, was a breath of fresh air.

The behavior she was able to entice the prince into show that England was better off without Edward VIII. His later fascist sympathies, which Wallis shared, make this all too clear. In the larger picture, by giving England a clear reason for requesting his abdication, she may have done England a service.

And the "great romance" for which a king relinquished his crown comes to seem more like a neurotic attachment to a world-class player.

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