Before Meghan and Harry there was Wallis and Edward, the most controversial couple in the history of the British royal family with many similarities to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee, and the man who would be king, Prince Edward VII, met and fell in love in the early 1930s while Simpson was still married to her second husband.
Their relationship was frowned upon by the then-Prince of Wales’ family and British society. Five months after Edward became king, he intended to marry Simpson but the marriage wasn’t accepted by the monarchy.
Such was his love for her, King Edward abdicated and the couple split their time between Europe and the US, choosing to live a quieter life than the negativity-plagued one they left behind.
Sounds so familiar, doesn’t it?
The scandal set Queen Elizabeth II on course to ascend the British throne after her father, and Edward’s brother, George VI was left to take over. At just 25, Princess Elizabeth stepped up following her father’s death in 1952.
There are significant differences between the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and King Edward and Wallis Simpson’s situations. For example, Harry is sixth in line to the British throne and therefore unlikely to ever rule, and his marriage to American divorcee Meghan was supported by the royals.
However, both women struggled to adjust to life in Britain’s old-fashioned monarchy, with its unspoken rules that govern everything from behaviour to topics of conversation. And both women were victims of vicious treatment by some parts of the British media.
It was in 1931, during her second marriage, that Wallis Simpson met the then-Prince of Wales. The couple began a relationship and fell in love.
In 1934, Edward introduced Simpson to his mother at a party, outraging his father, King Edward VIII. Vicious rumours were spread about Simpson with accusations of multiple affairs, all of which were completely unfounded and thought to destabilise the relationships.
News of the romance didn’t become public until Edward became king in 1936, with Simpson forced to flee the country due to the unfolding scandal.
According to reports at the time, she was viewed by some as a woman of “limitless ambition” (said by Sir Horace Wilson in a letter to Neville Chamberlain in 1936) who was pursuing the king due to his wealth and position.
It was hoped the pair would come to their senses, realising marriage wasn’t on the cards for a twice-divorced American and the future King of England. But such was their love, Edward chose to abdicate the throne to be with her.
King George, upon the news of his abdication, said: “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility, and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love.”
It wasn’t unlike Prince Harry’s public statement announcing he and Meghan were taking legal action against some tabloids over the “bullying” treatment of “someone I love”.
Edward and Simpson married one month later on 3 June 1937 at the Château de Candé, lent to them by French millionaire Charles Bedaux.
Just like Harry and Meghan, they too had wealthy friends whose homes they could use for personal reasons. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex famously fled to Canada in December 2019, where they stayed at the multi-million dollar mansion of mining magnate Frank Giustra.
Edward became known as the Duke of Windsor and following their marriage, Simpson was known as the Duchess of Windsor, although she was never able to share her husband’s His/Her Royal Highness title.
Simpson never understood the public’s reaction to her. She was unaccustomed to British society and ill-prepared for their reaction to Edward choosing her over the British throne.
Upon leaving England, she said in a letter to Edward: ‘”The world is against me and me alone. Not a paper has said a kind thing for me.”
However, she wasn’t totally naive about the impact the king’s decision would have on her life, just the ferocity of it.
Simpson is understood to have told Edward, “I am so anxious for you not to abdicate and I think the fact that you do is going to put me in the wrong light to the entire world because they will say that I could have prevented it.”
The Duke of Windsor died of throat cancer in 1972 and the Duchess of Windsor travelled to England to attend his funeral, staying at Buckingham Palace during her visit.
Following her husband’s death Simpson because increasingly frail and reclusive. She continued to be financially supported by both her husband’s estate and an allowance from the Queen before dying following a battle with dementia and suffering several falls, including a twice broken hip in 1986.