Wallis Simpson fails to raise eyebrows

Report of love affair with car salesman goes inside tabloids

January 31, 2003|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON - Maybe autumn's tabloid feeding frenzy about butler sex in the Royal Palace is to blame for the blase reaction to the latest news concerning the Royal Family. Maybe it is that, after revelations that Princess Diana had been wooing a man by wearing only her birthday suit under a fur coat, secret rendezvous of the 1930s seems relatively mild.

Whatever the case, Britain has reacted with a collective yawn to new information about the royal crisis of the 1930s, when King Edward VIII abdicated in the name of love, for Wallis Warfield Simpson of Baltimore, who, the news is, had enough love inside her that she also shared it with a used-car salesman, among others.

The revelations come in papers released this week by Britain's Public Records Office. The documents serve largely to reinforce what has been generally accepted as historical fact in Britain, that Edward gave up a kingdom for a woman who wouldn't give up the chance for fun with whatever man she fancied at the moment.

But the papers, which include interviews with servants as well as reports from secret police, add color to the outlines of one of the most noted, and uneasy, periods in modern British history. They also provide a degree of context to the lives of the modern Royal Family - Prince Charles and Princess Diana were not alone in their infidelities - and offer uncanny parallels to the Windsors' modern-day drama, including their efforts to manage family crises and the princess' claims that she was being followed by Britain's secret police.

The papers may also correct an inaccurate historical portrait of Simpson, said Hugo Vickers, an author who has written extensively on the Royal Family.

The media of the 1930s portrayed her as morally loose, an unschooled lower-class American digging deep for royal gold while casting a wide net to snag any number of lovers. The papers released yesterday - which include reports from secret police as well as interviews with servants - largely portray Simpson, who died in 1986, as a sympathetic woman who had great affection for commoners.

While Simpson was informal, Vickers said, she was smart, witty and on Edward's elbow, she provided a light elegance rather than a heavy weight. And while the media of her day created an impression of her as a product of the poor backwaters of Maryland, she came from a respectable family that was decidedly middle-class.

"She's worthy of a great deal more respect than she has received," Vickers said yesterday of the woman who brought the monarchy to its knees and almost crashing to the ground. "She had an incredible dignity and style, which was helped greatly by people around her who knew about these things."

Simpson followed

Simpson met Edward in the early 1930s, when he was the Prince of Wales, and the two were apparently having an affair by 1934, while Simpson was still married to Ernest Simpson. That was uncouth for a prince but outrageously scandalous for a king; when Edward ascended to the throne in 1936, Scotland Yard's Special Branch followed Simpson, investigated her acquaintances and tried without success to end the relationship, according to the documents.

The Special Branch speculated that she was a Nazi sympathizer, then that she was a Jew, and leaked the information to the media.

Guy Marcus Trundle was the name of the salesman. He was "very charming, [an] adventurer, very good looking, excellent dancer," or so say the papers that were released, which included that description, written by a supervising detective to the head of Scotland Yard. "Secret meetings," the detective wrote, "are made by appointment when intimate relations take place."

According to the papers from the Public Records Office, Ernest Simpson told detectives that his marriage was through, that he was granting his wife her request for a divorce, but that they could still save Edward's throne by asking her to end the relationship.

On Dec. 3, 1936, having fled to the south of France, Simpson issued a statement to the press offering to break things off with Edward so that he would not have to abdicate. Edward refused, and when Simpson's divorce was finalized, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin gave the king a choice: his kingdom or his woman. The country would not accept a king who married a twice-divorced American woman, Baldwin told him.

Edward, lovestruck, tried to do both but his efforts failed. In an abdication speech broadcast on radio in December 1936, he said he could no longer be king "without the help and support of the woman I love."

Edward took Simpson to Austria, persuaded to go in part by a grant of money from his brother and successor, King George VI. He was also given the title Duke of Windsor. The next year, the Duke married Simpson in France.

Parallels to princess

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