Someday My Prince Will Come
American. Bi-Racial. Divorced. Oh My!
The stuffy house of Windsor has finally opened a long stuck window to let in some fresh twenty-first century air. With the joyous and welcoming engagement of Prince Harry to his longtime girlfriend Meghan Markle the royal rule book on who can and can’t be princess has been thrown right out that palace window too.
Despite the odds being pretty much stacked against them, for generations even all-American girls dreamed of the fairy tale notion of growing up to fall in love with a handsome prince across the pond and becoming a real life princess. Now that the playbook has changed, it’s worth remembering some 80 years ago when another American woman wasn’t quite so lucky in love.
In fact once upon a time, being an American divorcee was indeed the death knell to join that most exclusive of clubs, the royals.
Today it is hard to imagine the public and the royal disdain felt for Wallis Simpson, the future Duchess of Windsor whose relationship with King Edward VIII caused not only a scandal but a constitutional crisis ending in an abdication.
Much maligned, she was forever cast in the villainous mold of an evil Cruella Deville who robbed a nation of their adored King and nearly brought down an empire.
Unlike Meghan, Wallis’s reception was ice-cold chilly.
Of course there were muffled racist rumblings in the press when Prince Harry and Meghan first dated and some tongues wagged concerning the suitability of this half black, divorced American actress seriously marrying a British Royal but nothing compares to the seismic shock waves and vitriol a twice married American woman caused in 1936.
Not unlike today, the media couldn’t get enough of the fated Royal romance.
Vilified, the press was merciless, casting Mrs. Simpson as thoroughly unsuitable for their beloved King.
Not only had this Baltimore socialite been married twice before, she was pegged as a crass social climber and a commoner, likened dismissively to Becky Sharpe the ambitious and amoral anti-heroine in the Thackeray novel Vanity Fair. She was seen as a conniving seductress who manipulated a weak Prince leading to speculations she was really a man. Of all her failings, though it was the fact of her being an American that had the upper crust’s knickers in a twist.
But it was the endless sniping about her appearances that was particularly cruel.
In fact the snark about her looks knew no bounds, with articles referring to as “a commonplace cow.” Poor Mrs. Simpson was derided as “not being beautiful and not even being pretty.” She was, they sniped, a “jolly plain adventuress.”
Time Magazine Cover Girl
This major scandal thrust this jolly plain woman into having the distinction of being Time Magazines 1936 “Woman of the Year.”
It was in fact the very first time the magazine had ever given its “Man of The Year Award” to a woman. In a tumultuous year where other finalists for that honor included heavy weights like President Franklin Roosevelt, Eugene O’ Neill and Benito Mussolini it was quite a major coup for a gal from Baltimore.
She was a controversial pick certainly, but it spoke to the public’s fascination with Simpson.
Time’s reason for this choice was explained in the issue:
In the single year 1936 she became the most-talked-about, written-about, headlined and interest-compelling person in the world. In these respects no woman in history has ever equaled Mrs. Simpson, for no press or radio existed to spread the world news they made
A Fine Romance?
In an age long before 24/7 news or the gossip culture of social media, news and gossip the couple made. The American press jumped on the relationship between the dashing King and Mrs. Simpson, keeping reporters working overtime on this unfolding soap opera.
While the handsome Royal was smitten with Wallis as a Prince it had gotten little notice.
Rumors that Edward Vlll, then Prince of Wales, and future king, had fallen in love with the American divorcee Mrs. Wallis Simpson had swirled around British high society for some time. He wined and dined her, covered her with jewels, entertained her at his estate (without her husband).
However once he became King after his father George VI death in January 1936 and he wanted to marry her it became was a different story.
In the Dark
Ironically while the American’s seemed to have an insatiable appetite for all the juicy details fed to them by a more than willing press, the British people were mostly kept in the dark about the romance, as the British press had a blackout on any story dealing with their King and his romance. But rumors were confirmed by gossipy stories cut from American newspapers and mailed to relatives back in the UK.
That summer when the King rented a yacht and took a party sailing off the Dalmatian Coast, Wallis was included though not her husband and they were photographed intimately together by the press.
Armed with the photos, American reporters were now falling over themselves to tell the story about the American girl and the bachelor King, and speculated about the romance. When these publications arrived in Britain the offending photos were cut out and the nation remained in the dark.
Once Mrs. Simpson got divorced in October 1936 opening the door for marriage, the press went into overdrive. Even respectable papers like The New York Times and the Chicago Daily Tribune began reporting daily on the soap opera that the relationship between the two had become.
It took a public denunciation by a British Bishop who bluntly condemned the relationship of the King and the divorced Mrs. Simpson, warning of the abdication crisis that might follow to finally expose the whole crises to the British public.
With no gag order, Fleet Street hurriedly churned out as much copy as they could in order to satisfy the public’s curiosity.
With the story confirmed the relationship between King Edward and his unsuitable mistress was cause for grave anxiety in government circles. Could the King really intend on marrying her and making her Queen?
After Edward broadcast to the nation revealing his shocking decision that he had given up his throne for the woman he loved, he bade farewell and sailed the channel into exile.
Known as Duke and Duchess of Windsor after his abdication the couple continued to captured the public’s imagination.
Demonized for decades, Wallis Simpson was everything from a victim, a villainess, a romantic heroin and fashion icon. She was accused of everything from being intersex, to being a Nazi sympathizer.
In time the public saw their love affair as a storybook fantasy of romance winning out over duty and defying the contempt of government.
In the end it was love that trumped hate. And still does