Despite her appalling treatment, the Duchess of Windsor tried to bring the royals back together
When Prince Harry said during his Netflix monarchy-bashing moanathon that he had learnt “the pain and suffering of women marrying into this institution”, footage flashed by of Princess Diana, Sarah Ferguson and Kate Middleton. Shouldn’t an image of the Duchess of Windsor have been included? Surely, no royal wife endured more than Wallis Simpson, after her relationship with Harry’s great-great-uncle, the Duke of Windsor, led to his abdication in 1936.
Meghan Markle is often compared to Wallis Simpson, but apart from both being American divorcees who met their British princes aged 34, and both becoming American Duchesses on marrying into the royal family, there the similarity ends. Because whatever gripes Harry has, Meghan had everything that Wallis was denied.
In the Netflix documentary, we saw how Meghan was welcomed into the royal family; even invited to spend Christmas at Sandringham while engaged. This protocol-smashing precedent was denied to Diana, Sarah, Sophie and Kate. Meghan was given the full pomp of a royal wedding at St George’s Chapel. She was even walked up the aisle by King Charles, the entire royal family in attendance. When she became the Duchess of Sussex, she was accorded the coveted HRH.
The Sussexes claim that the monarchy is positively medieval in its antiquity, but everything changed for Meghan compared to Wallis. Eighty-one years earlier, Wallis married into the Firm with no fervour or fanfare – only public fury. Edward VIII’s parents refused to formally meet the woman he loved, let alone condone the marriage. Shunned and reviled by the House of Windsor, Wallis’s wedding was a tense affair in a French chateau with only seven British guests present. Not one family member attended.
The night before, the Duke was delivered an indomitable blow from the royal household that became a life-long source of outrage and pain for him – his wife would not be given the HRH title. The event of the former King’s marriage wasn’t even recorded in the Court Circular – a deliberate snub to the new Windsors.
As Meghan wages her fruitless war against Britain’s most-loved institution, fuelled by her self-centered and fantastical sense of injustice, she should consider Wallis’s tact and sophistication. Not once in her 36-year marriage did Wallis try to turn public opinion or speak out against her unyielding in-laws. In fact, quite the opposite.
Wallis constantly pushed for Edward to reunite with his family. Wallis found it unfathomable that due to their exile, her husband was estranged from his mother, Queen Mary. In August 1942, when Edward was Governor of the Bahamas, his brother, the Duke of Kent was killed in a plane crash in Scotland. Wallis watched her husband grieve, helpless to soothe his isolation.
She later admitted in her memoir that she had attempted, without Edward’s knowledge, to make “one last try to reach his mother and heal the breach between them.” She wrote to Queen Mary, expressing her regret that she had been “the cause of any separation that exists between Mother and Son”, and offering news of the Duke’s wellbeing.
In 1970, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor gave a “tell-all” television interview. Given the myriad of falsehoods that had been levelled against Wallis, you might imagine she would seize the opportunity to settle scores. When asked if she had any regrets, Wallis replied with exquisite understatement: “About certain things. I wish it could have been different. Naturally, we’ve had some hard times. Who hasn’t?” There is no hint of bitterness that due to the abdication crisis, she became the most hated woman in the world.
Unlike Meghan, Wallis remained loyal to the Crown to the last.