Wallis Simpson

3 June 2011

You have no idea how hard it is to live out a great romance.’ – Wallis Simpson.

Wallis Simpson and Edward Formerly VIII were married on this day, 3rd June 1937 at the Chateau de Candé in France. The groom wore a very dapper suit, which must have been a bit of a more comfy contrast to the uniform, dripping with medals that he must always have expected to wear on his wedding day. His bride looked elegant and unruffled in a pale blue dress by the American designer Mainboucher, who designed a lot of her clothes and even invented a shade of blue, Wallis Blue just for her. It was said to match the exact shade of her eyes.

Sadly the exact shade of Wallis’ lovely crepe gown has faded over the years to a more traditionally bridal cream. It’s still considered one of the most iconic dresses of the twentieth century though and is housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.

The photos from their wedding day are interesting, I think. To me they look nervous but defiant and not exactly thrilled. In fact, I think that Edward looks the happier of the two.

I don’t know much about Wallis Simpson, although lately I have been inspired with a keen desire to learn more. I remember reading a novel about her when I was a teenager and coming away with the impression of a rather slutty, cold hearted schemer – a well dressed collision of Scarlett O’Hara and Wharton’s Undine Spragg.

I’ve often wondered about Wallis though – I mean, a King voluntarily gave up his throne for her after all so surely there must have been more to her than scheming, glitz and some interesting sexual tricks? As a teenager I used to look at pictures of her and think how weird the whole thing as she was, to my eyes then, really unattractive with greasy looking hair, caked on make up and weird eyebrows (I was a trad goth at the time so this was possibly a mite hypocritical). Also to one who grew up in a world dominated by Princess Diana, Wallis Simpson looked, um, a bit old?

I’m older myself now. Hell, I’m not far off the age Wallis was when she married her prince and I’m now the same age as Catherine Parr was when she died, which is apparently akin to being a wizened old crone according to some historical biographers. Crikey, I’ll soon be the same age as Marie Antoinette was when she was executed. I used to think that she was SO old but I feel pretty sprightly all things considered. Mind you, I’m not a Tudor or locked up in the Conciergerie…

Getting back to Wallis, I think I can see now why she was so attractive – it’s nothing to do with looks and more to do with good old fashioned allure, which is something that a teenaged me would never have comprehended.

Mind you, Wallis herself seems to have had no illusions about her looks: ‘My husband gave up everything for me… I’m not a beautiful woman. I’m nothing to look at, so the only thing I can do is dress better than anyone else.

Poor Wallis though. I mean, maybe she was the dreadful person that popular imagining seems to have decided that she must have been thanks to nabbing the King, hanging out with Hitler and all the rest of it. Of course being the object of what appears to have been if not an epic family feud at least a bit of a family stand-off doesn’t help matters much but I’ve started to wonder if there was more to her than meets the eye.

I’ve chatted on here before about the weird way that the British media and some parts of the public love to criticise people from non royal or even aristocratic backgrounds who marry into the Royal Family. Actually, I’ll be more specific as Princess Anne and Margaret both married men from pretty normal backgrounds and they don’t seem to have attracted nearly so much spite and criticism as their female counterparts. I think that Wallis, who was American and so not from an easily categorised British class, may have been a victim of this weird class ridden envy, confusion and suspicion.

What do you think? Intrigued by Wallis? Wonder what all the fuss was about? Any books you’d like to recommend to me? I’m going to read a few this summer so I can get a bit more of a handle on Wallis and maybe make my own mind up about her.