Once upon a time a king fell in love with a commoner. While this had undoubtedly happened before, what made this story different was that the king chose to give up his throne to be with the woman he loved.
The monarch in question was King Edward XIII of Great Britain, and the commoner was Mrs. Wallis Simpson, who he would marry in 1937, only months after abdicating his throne.
Edward, who was born in 1894 to the future King George V and Queen Mary, was a handsome man who was able to attract the attention of lots of woman. He, in turn, seemed to only fancy the married ones.
In 1931 the prince met Wallis Simpson at a party hosted by his mistress.
Simpson was an American socialite from Maryland who was two years younger than Edward. Prior to WWI, she had married a U.S. Navy pilot, but the stormy relationship ended in divorce in 1927. A few months later she married Ernest Simpson, a shipping executive, and the couple settled in London.
The affair between Simpson and the prince began in August 1934 on a cruise that her husband wasn’t able to attend.
All may have simply remained royal family rumor had Edward’s father, King George V, not died in January 1936, making Edward king.
Edward ruffled royal feathers from nearly the moment of his ascendancy to the throne. The new king, who detested the trappings of royalty, began changing age-honored traditions to function more as a modern-day monarch. His behavior was also becoming increasingly erratic, as he was failing to carry out the duties of statecraft.
The problem was his obsession with Wallis Simpson.
The issue came to a head when his government threatened to resign and give the press the green light to air the whole affair if Simpson wasn’t removed from his life.
Instead, Edward chose to marry Simpson, something British law wouldn’t allow, as she was a divorcee. This left him no choice but to abdicate.
On December 10, 1936, King Edward left the throne. Immediately, his oldest brother Albert (of The King’s Speech fame) became King George VI. Six months later Wallis Simpson became the Duchess of Windsor when she married the former king in a private ceremony.
After leaving the throne the new couple lived in exile for the rest of their lives. Edward was allowed to keep the title “his royal highness,” but this honor was withheld from Simpson and his heirs; a slight which was said to hurt the former king deeply.
Just who was Wallis Simpson?
Royal watchers have no nice words for the American commoner who married their king. Some of her kindest critics called her a gold digger, and a strumpet. Others accused her of having once had an affair with Mussolini and being a Nazi spy.
The abdication of King Edward had a major impact on world politics as he was a supporter of Hitler, actually proposing an alliance between Nazi Germany and Great Britain.
And had he not stepped aside, there would be no interest in the upcoming wedding later this month between Prince William and Catherine Middleton, as William would not have been in line for the throne.
After the former King Edward died in 1972, Simpson spent the rest of her life in seclusion. When she died on April 24, 1986 just shy of her 90th birthday, she left history’s stage as much an enigmatic figure as she had entered it.