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  • Rachel Burchfield

History lesson: Who is Wallis Simpson, and why do people keep comparing her (incorrectly) to Meghan?

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

Lately I’ve been hearing copious comparisons between Meghan and Wallis Simpson – the woman who, through her love, changed the direction of the monarchy forever. First of all – no. It’s not the same thing at all. Wallis’ husband, Edward VIII, was literally on the throne when he abdicated it to marry her. Harry isn’t even an heir, let alone the reigning monarch. So stop with those comparisons, please, as well as all the Yoko Ono memes. Thanks.

Anyway. Because I have been hearing Wallis’ name brought up so much within the past six weeks, it made me think that some of you might not really know who she is. First of all, she’s American and divorced, so enter the continued Meghan comparisons. I can see the parallels, but it’s just simply not the same thing.

In 1936, Edward VIII, a bachelor, spurred a constitutional crisis when he proposed marriage to the then Wallis Simpson, an American socialite who had been twice divorced (well, technically, she was divorcing her second husband – it hadn’t yet been finalized). The marriage was opposed by the government on religious, legal, political, and moral grounds. So, Edward VIII quit, choosing love over duty. In doing so, the throne passed to his younger brother, Albert, whose name on the throne was George VI. George VI is Queen Elizabeth’s father. Really, Elizabeth was never “supposed” to be queen. It would be the equivalent of William abdicating and the throne going to Harry, and then Archie. It wasn’t supposed to happen, but I do believe it was meant to happen.

Edward and Wallis met in 1931, and by 1934 they were lovers – even though Wallis was very much still married. In 1936 he proposed, and, after the melee from the abdication, they married in 1937. They remained married until Edward’s death 35 years later. (After his abdication, Edward became the Duke of Windsor.) Edward only served on the throne less than a year – he ascended in January 1936, and by December, he left. He hadn’t even had time to have a coronation, and his planned coronation for May 12, 1937 instead went to his brother, George VI. In less than a month, Edward and Wallis married on June 3. She was given the title Duchess of Windsor, but was refused the HRH title by George VI, which essentially ended any shard of a relationship the brothers had left.

Though I agree that choosing love over anything is paramount, the Windsors had a really weird marriage. Edward was so dependent on her that it was less of an equal partnership and more of what a modern day person might call a dominant/submissive relationship, with Wallis as the alpha dog. The two never had children, instead choosing to remain, quite frankly, wildly obsessed with each other. Though odd, it was a true love match, lasting until the end of Edward’s life in 1972. Wallis died 14 years later in 1986.

The Wallis to Meghan comparison pre-January 8, 2020 was quite enlightening: Look how far the British Royal Family can come in terms of embracing an American divorcee from 1937, when Edward and Wallis married, to 2018, when Harry and Meghan married. But now, post-January 8, 2020, because Harry made a decision for his marriage much like Edward did, Meghan is being reviled and despised on a level akin to Wallis, which I didn’t think was possible to do in the modern age. Though similar, the situations are radically different, though both do have one common denominator – Wallis changed the monarchy forever by shifting the line of succession, and I believe Meghan will change the monarchy forever by her (and Harry’s) decision to choose happiness over duty.

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