Who is Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor who was married to a former king?

Wallis Simpson holding onto the arm of Edward VIII in Madrid
The couple spent a short amount of time in Spain after leaving France (Topical Press Agency)

King Edward VIII caused a constitutional crisis in 1936 when the newly crowned monarch made clear his intention to marry Wallis Simpson.

But why exactly was Wallis a controversial pick for Edward to wed and what led to the King's decision to abdicate from the throne just months into the role? Read on to find out all about the Duchess of Windsor, the woman who stole a King's heart…

And in the clip below, see inside the couple's secret photo albums, which HELLO! exclusively saw back in 2015.

Her early life

Bessie Wallis Warfield was born 19 June 1896 to Teackle Wallis Warfield, a former Baltimore mayoral candidate, and Alice Montague, the daughter of a stockbroker. The youngster was born in Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania and she faced a very early family tragedy with her father dying from tuberculosis just months after her birth.

Wallis Simpson as a baby being held by Alice Warfield
A baby Wallis with her mother (Keystone-France)

Wallis was subsequently raised by her mother and her education was funded by her uncle, Solomon Davies Warfield, who ensured that the youngster was able to attend Oldfields, the most expensive girls' boarding school in Baltimore.

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In April 1916, Wallis was visiting her cousin, Corrine Mustin, when she met US airman Earl Winfield Spencer Jr. The couple enjoyed a whirlwind romance, with the pair tying the knot in November 1916, just months after meeting.

Wallis Simpson in a corseted outfit and skirt
Wallis first married in 1916 (Keystone)

However, their marriage wasn't to last with their union being marked by long periods of separation due to Earl's career alongside his alcoholism. The couple divorced after 11 years of marriage, ending their union in 1927.

Wallis Simpson and Charlie Chaplin laughing
Wallis mingled with the highs of soceity including Charlie Chaplin (Keystone)

Shortly after the end of her marriage, Wallis became involved with shipping executive Ernest Aldrich Simpson, who left wife Dorothea in order to walk down the aisle with the heiress in 1928. The couple wed in Chelsea and began living in Mayfair, however, in 1937 the couple were granted a divorce, with Wallis citing adulty on Ernest's part.

Why did King Edward abdicate?

Wallis and King Edward met in 1931 when the royal was still the Prince of Wales. Wallis met Edward through her friend Consuelo Thaw, who was the brother of one the royal's mistresses at the time. It's believed that Wallis and Edward started seeing each other in 1934, although Edward denied this to his father, King George V.

Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson on holiday in Yugoslavia
Wallis and Edward are believed to have started their romance in 1934 (Keystone)

The pair were together in 1935, with Edward presenting Wallis at the royal court, however, her appearance caused a scandal due to her status as a divorcee. By the time Edward ascended the throne, Wallis had divorced her second husband, and the new King made clear his intentions to marry her.

However, due to his role as head of the Church of England, a conflict arose as the church didn't agree with remarriage if the former partner was still alive. The proposed marriage was also opposed by the British government, then led by Stanley Baldwin, and the governments of the Dominions. It was made clear to Edward that if he married Wallis against the government's wishes, it would be forced to resign, which would also conflict with the royal needing to be seen as politically neutral.

Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII in a French home
The couple left England after Edward's abdication (Fox Photos)

Edward made the decision to abdicate, saying in a statement that he could not continue as monarch "without the help and support of the woman I love". He signed the Instrument of Abdication on 10 December 1936 in the presence of his three brothers.

Wallis's marriage to King Edward

Edward and Wallis reunited following her divorce and married one month later on 3 June 1937, which would've been the 72nd birthday of Edward's father, King George V. No members of the royal family attended the wedding.

Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII on their wedding day with Herman Rogers and Major Metcalfe by their sides
The couple married in 1937 (Topical Press Agency)

Following his abdication, Edward was made the Duke of Windsor, and Wallis subsequently became the Duchess of Windsor after their marriage, however, letters patent issued by King George VI prevented Wallis from gaining Edward's style of 'Royal Highness'.

Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII outside of Government House
Wallis was not granted her husband's style (Michael Ochs Archives)

The couple initially lived in France, however, following the outbreak of World War II and Germany's invasion of the country they moved first to Spain and then Portugal, before moving to the Bahamas in 1940, where Edward was named Governor and Wallis became his governor's consort.

Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson stood outside Government House in the Bahamas
Edward and Wallis became the governor and governor consort of the Bahamas during World War II (Michael Ochs Archives)

Following the defeat of the Nazis, the couple moved back to France and in 1952 settled into Villa Windsor in Paris, which would become their home for the rest of the lives. The pair would spend their days travelling between Europe and the United States on ocean liners.

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READ: Queen Elizabeth II's uncle King Edward discusses 'unfrivolous' date when he fell in love with married Wallis Simpson

Their trips to the UK were sparing, with the pair returning in 1965 so Wallis could have surgery for a detached retina. They also attended a memorial service for Princess Mary and the unveiling of a plaque marking the centenary of Queen Mary's birth.

Wallis Simpson's later life

Wallis became a widow on 28 May 1972 when Edward died from throat cancer. The Duchess travelled to the UK for Edward's funeral and stayed at Buckingham Palace, but she became reclusive when she returned to France.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip with Wallis Simpson at Edward VIII's funeral
Wallis was comforted by the late Queen following Edward's death in 1972 (Keystone)

Wallis would begin suffering from dementia and in 1980 she lost the ability to speak. The Duchess died just three months shy of her 90th birthday on 24 April 1986, with the cause of death being noted as bronchial pneumonia.

Wallis's funeral was held on 29 April 1986 and the service was attended by the late Queen and Princess Alice, alongside other members of the royal family, including the then Prince Charles and his wife, Princess Diana.

A mausoleum and gravesite
Wallis is buried alongside Edward in the Royal Burial Ground (Max Mumby/Indigo)

The Duchess was buried alongside her late husband at the Royal Burial Ground in Frogmore, Windsor.