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The King and Mrs. Simpson

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Their passion has been chronicled by historians, biographers and even by the lovers themselves in their respective memoirs. But nothing could plumb the relationship and evoke the intensity of the couple’s feelings better than the letters Edward, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, and Wallis Warfield Simpson wrote to each other during the six-year period before their marriage. Until the Duchess’ death at 89 last month, the contents of these letters, excerpted on the following pages, were known only to a few. They had been preserved by the Duchess in a vault with instructions that they be published posthumously.

They reveal an extraordinary love marred by bitterness against an establishment that refused to allow a monarch to pursue his private happiness. The object of His Majesty’s desire was, at the time of their first meeting in January 1931, a witty but rather plain 34-year-old American without significant wealth or education. Her father, a Maryland businessman, had died when Wallis was 5 months old, and her childhood in Baltimore had been that of a poor relation. Her mother had hoped for a glittering match for her only child, but in 1916, Wallis, then 20, married a Navy pilot, Earl Winfield Spencer, who had neither money nor social position. The union was a disaster, and by 1922 Wallis and Spencer were living apart. Her second marriage, in 1928, was to Ernest Simpson, a courtly businessman, half American, half British, and head of the London office of his family’s shipping firm. Wallis quickly established a modest reputation as a London hostess in their flat at Bryanston Court near Oxford Street. She and Ernest traveled in a social circle that included U.S. Embassy officials. One night in December 1930 the new first secretary at the embassy, Benjamin K. Thaw, was invited to dinner at the Simpsons’ with his wife, Consuelo (one of the social Morgans), and her sister, Thelma, Viscountess Furness. Thelma happened to be the Prince of Wales’s mistress.

Through friendship with Thelma, Wallis and Ernest were introduced to the Prince. They later became regular guests at his country retreat, Fort Belvedere, and His Royal Highness came to dine at Bryanston Court. In January 1934 the Viscountess set off on a trip to the U.S. and said to Wallis: “I’m afraid the Prince is going to be lonely; won’t you look after him?”

She carried out her friend’s wish exceptionally well. David, as Wallis was later to call the Prince, using the last of his seven Christian names, began telephoning or dropping by almost daily. By the time Thelma returned three months later, she had lost him to Wallis. The new favorite even accompanied the Prince on trips. By 1935 Wallis and her Prince had begun writing to each other when apart. This was no love affair of an ordinary sort. Though the Prince was only two years older than Wallis, it was overwhelmingly a mother-son relationship. His letters are infantile, adoring and trusting. Hers are sensible, admonishing and possessive. Both correspondents often write in haphazard fashion, paying little attention to punctuation or spelling. Like many lovers, they developed a private language. The “WE” that appears frequently stands for their joint first names, Wallis Edward, and symbolizes their union in love; the adjective “eanum” also appears often and means tiny, poor, affecting or pathetic. Other intimate expressions must be left to the imagination of readers.

The first serious letter between the lovers was written by Wallis in the summer of 1935 after the Prince’s thoughtlessness had caused the Simpsons to quarrel:

Tuesday a.m.

David dear—I was and still am most terribly upset. You see my dear one can’t go through life stepping on other people. I know that you aren’t really selfish or thoughtless at heart but your life has been such that you have been the one considered so that, quite naturally, you only think of what you want and take it too without the slightest thought of others. One can arrive at the same result in a kinder way. I had a long quiet talk with E [Ernest Simpson] last night and I felt very eanum at the end. Everything he said was so true. The evening was difficult as you did stay much too late. Doesn’t your love for me reach to the heights of wanting to make things a little easier for me? The lovely things you say to me aren’t of much value unless they are backed up by equal actions…. Last night you should have left by 8. Then you telephone the second time—which just did finish the evening and made a row. You must have understood from my conversation the first time that I was upset and also very disappointed in a boy and that nothing you could say could help in the least…Sometimes I think you haven’t grown up where love is concerned and perhaps it’s only a boyish passion for surely it lacks the thought of me that a man’s love is capable of. Please understand I am not writing a lecture only your behaviour last night made me realise how very alone I shall be some day-arid because I love you I don’t seem to have the strength to protect myself from your youthfulness…God bless WE and be kind to me in the years to come for I have lost something noble for a boy who may always remain Peter Pan.

PS “All of us” would like you to tear this very inadequate letter up as of course “all of us” realize we can’t-write as well as we talk and act.

That July the Prince took part in a naval review in the English Channel. In the middle of the night he wrote longingly to Wallis from on board HMS Faulknor.

Tuesday, 1 o’clock a.m.

Wallis-A boy is holding a girl so very tight in his arms tonight. He will miss her more tomorrow because he will have been away from her some hours longer and cannot see her till Wed-y night. A girl knows that not anybody or anything can separate WE-not even the stars-and that WE belong to each other for ever. WE love [twice underlined] each other more than life so God bless WE. Your [twice underlined] David

In August 1935 Wallis accompanied the Prince on a vacation trip to the French Riviera. A number of undated notes survive, written from Wallis to the Prince during their stay at Cannes. They illustrate the extent to which she had taken charge of his domestic life.

Le Roc, Golfc Juan, a.m.

David-Have the table moved back as far as possible and if the Vs [Sir Robert Vansittart, Permanent Undersecretary at the Foreign Office and a friend of the Prince] are coming there would be far more room for 10 if the Finn [the butler] could produce chairs without arms. Here is a suggestion for seating. I would also have two sorts of cocktails and white wine offered as well as the vin rosé, the servants to serve the wine. Also I didn’t see a green vegetable on the menu. Sorry to bother you but I like everyone to think you do things well. Perhaps I’m quite fond of you…

I think it would be nice to have the [Winston] Churchill drinks on the porch outside the drawing room. I also think you are a very nice boy.

Their summer holiday continues in Budapest, and the lovers cannot resist sending notes when apart even for a few hours. Edward to Wallis:

Hotel Dunapalota, Budapest

Goodbye my sweetheart. I’m sad not to have seen you before I go but am glad you are making such long drowsy. I hope to be back by six o’clock and to find a girl and her eanum dog ‘waiting for a boy here. I have left the Ford WE always use for you to drive in this afternoon but please be back by six. I have also left a new Time and a letter [from Selby, British Minister to Vienna] re motoring in Austria but the latter may be too much detail and not your type of thing and a boy will explain it. Oh! I miss you so my sweetheart and hate this afternoon without you. God bless WE Wallis.

By the time the Prince returned from his holiday with Wallis at the beginning of October 1935, the idea of making her his wife had become a fixed and passionate desire despite the obstacles. He had not yet begun to work out how he might realize this desire. “It was all quite vague but nonetheless vivid,” he later wrote in his memoirs, published in 1951, “this dream of being able to bring into my life what for so long had been lacking, without which my service to the state would seem an empty thing.” The love letters that he wrote to Wallis in the course of that autumn reveal the growing intensity of his feelings.

The Fort [Fort Belvedere] 3 a.m.

Oh! a boy does miss and want a girl here so terribly tonight. Will try and sleep now but am not hopeful yet. Have been numbering our pictures. Please, please Wallis don’t get scared or loose [sic] faith when you are away from me. I love you more every minute and no difficulties or complications can possibly prevent our ultimate happiness. WE are so strong together in our purpose which is our very life that it must not, cannot fail for any reason or obstacle that may confront us…I do hate and loathe the present situation until I can start in to talk more than you do my sweetheart and am just going mad at the mere thought (let alone knowing) that you are alone there with Ernest. You know your David will love you and look after you so long as he has breath in his eanum body.

The health of the Prince’s father, King George V, who was now 70 and had for eight years been seriously ill with bronchial disorders, worsened, and his eldest son rushed to his bedside. Edward to Wallis:

Sandringham, Norfolk, Sat-y [Jan. 18, 1936] My own Sweetheart just a line to say I love you more and more and need you so to be with me at this difficult time. There is no hope whatsoever for the King it’s only a matter of how long and I won’t be able to get up to London tomorrow if he’s worse. But I do long long [sic] to see you even for a few minutes my Wallis it-would help so much. Please take care of yourself and don’t get a cold. You are all and everything I have in life and WE must hold each other so tight. It will all work out right for us. God bless WE. Your David

George V died on Jan. 20, and Wallis’ David was suddenly King Edward VIII. He saw less of her but continued to write to her when they were apart. Wallis meanwhile seemed to feel then that their dream of marriage was impossible. Wallis to Edward:

Bryanston Court

February 1936

I am sad because I miss you and being near and yet so far seems most unfair. Some day of course I must learn to be always alone for I will be in my heart also I must develop strength to look at papers containing your photographs and accounts of your activities—and perhaps you will miss the eanum in your scheme. One can be awfully alone in crowds-but also perhaps both of us will cease to want-what is hardest to have and be content with the simple ‘way…God bless you and above all make you strong where you have been weak.

Wallis’ marriage to Ernest had long been a charade. In fact Simpson was involved in an affair with one of Wallis’ friends. Edward VIII conferred with him over the best way to end the marriage. Simpson, loyal to his King’s wishes, did not oppose the plan. Edward began asking his lawyer, George Allen, about the best and quickest means for a Simpson divorce. Edward to Wallis:

The Fort

ERI [Edward Rex Imperator]
Friday night [June 5, 1936]
Oh! my sweetheart it is so sad to return here-without you…My talk with Ernest was difficult this evening but I must get after him now or he wont move. It’s so unsatisfactory until its all settled and WE really are one and I cant bear your having to hear unpleasant things said as I’m just as sensitive as you are you know that. I know you will approve of [Allen’s] plan but of course wont do a thing until WE can discuss it. Its the only way. I must make own drowsy now which I expect you are doing too and I only hope a girl is missing a boy as much as he is missing her. I’ll finish in the morning. God bless WE.

Sat-y [June 6]
Good morning my sweetheart but again I’ve just been talking to you and you have accused me of extreme drowsiness. Make ooh! Its not a very nice day so I hope next Saturday will be…I’ll be planting to day I think but I’ve just got two of those d_______d red boxes full of mostly bunk to read too. Take care of yourself my dear Wallis for your David who loves you more and more.

Later that summer the King and Wallis with a party of friends took a four-week cruise along the Yugoslavian, Greek and Turkish coasts. They were recognized and mobbed everywhere, and photographs of the King and Wallis together, often very informally dressed, caused a sensation in the American press. Wallis was obviously unnerved by all this. On the night of September 16, in a dramatic letter, she wrote to the King breaking off their affair:

Hotel Meurice, Rue de Rivoli: Paris

It is too stupid to have to have a cold at just this moment, however I am tucked up in bed feeling very very rotten. But I did have a trout and 2 ears of delicious corn. This is a difficult letter to write-but I feel it is easier than talking and less painful. I must really return to Ernest for a great many reasons which please be patient and read. The first being because we are so awfully congenial and understand getting on together very well-which really is an art in marriage. We have no small irritations one for the other. I have confidence in his being able to take care of me and of himself. In other words I feel secure with him and am only left with my side of the show to run. We each do our little jobs separately-with occasional help one for the other and it all runs smoothly no nerve strain. True we are poor and unable to do the attractive amusing things in life which I must confess I do love and enjoy-also the possession of beautiful things is thrilling to me and much appreciated but weighed against a calm congenial life I choose the latter for I know that though I shall suffer greatly now I shall be a happier calmer old lady…I know Ernest and have the deepest affection and respect for him. I feel I am better with him than with you—and so you must understand. I am sure dear David that in a few months your life will run again as it did before and without my nagging. Also you have been independent of affection all your life. We have had lovely beautiful times together and I thank God for them and know that you will go on with your fob doing it better and in a more dignified manner each year. That would please me so. I am sure you and I would only create disaster together. I shall always read all about you-believing only half-and you will know I want you to be happy. I feel sure I can’t make you so and I honestly don’t think you can me. I shall have Allen arrange the return of everything. [This apparently refers to the large financial settlement the King had made upon her.] I am sure that after this letter you will realize that no human being could assume this responsibility and it would be most unfair to make things harder for me by seeing me. Good-bye WE all say.

That same night the King wrote to Wallis from The Fort. Though he had not yet received her letter, she had already voiced the same doubts to him over the telephone, but he took no account of them.

Twelve-thirty a.m.

Good night my Wallis. Why do you say such hard things to David on the telephone sometimes? Hard things like you would prefer to have someone else with you tonight when you are sick that I would be bored that I dont understand you and lots of others which hurt me so and show that lack of faith and confidence in me which makes me so terribly unhappy…I feel like bursting tonight with love and such a longing to hold you tighter than I ever have before. Mr Loo and I are up here in our blue room and missing you like the dickens. [Their cairn terrier, Slipper, was nicknamed Mr Loo. Because loo is a British term for lavatory, readers might assume the dog had problems being house-broken.] Its hell but its lovely in a way too. Please try and trust me like you love me and dont have any doubts. I promise you there is not the slightest reason to…I’m exhausted now and will try to make drowsel which I hope you will be able to do and I’ll finish in the morning to send by air mail so as you can read all I have to say as quickly as possible. God bless WE

Wallis evidently yielded to his blandishments, for she returned to England and reluctantly agreed to go ahead with her divorce case against Ernest Simpson. For legal reasons this was to take place not in London, but at the provincial court in Ipswich in the county of Suffolk; and to meet the requirements of the court, Wallis took up residence that October in the nearby coastal resort of Felixstowe. But once again she was plagued by doubts and by the public reaction to her relationship with the King. Wallis to Edward:

[On Claridge’s writing paper but from Felixstowe]
Thursday [Oct. 15, 1936]
My dear-This is really more than you or I bargained for-this being haunted by the press. Do you feel you still want me to go ahead [with the divorce] as I feel it will hurt your popularity in the country. Last night I heard so much from the Hunters [George and Kitty Hunter, her best English friends] that made me shiver-and I am very upset and ill today from talking until 4. It nearly ended in a row as naturally it wasn’t pleasant things I heard of the way the man in the street regards me. I hear you have been hissed in the cinema, that a man in a white tie refused to get up in the theatre when they played God Save the King and that in one place they added and Mrs Simpson. Really David darling if I hurt you to this extent isn’t it best for me to steal quietly away. Today Ernest called up to say he was deluged with cables from the U.S. press and also that it had been broadcast in America last night…We can never stop America but I hope we can get small announcements after it is over from Beaver-brook [Lord Beaverbrook, the influential proprietor of the Daily Express, was asked by the King to suppress all advance news of the Simpson divorce.]…I can’t help but feel you will have trouble in the House of Commons etc and may be forced to go. I can’t put you in that position. Also I’m terrified that this judge here will lose his nerve-and then what? I am sorry to bother you my darling-but I feel like an animal in a trap and these two buzzards working me up over the way you are losing your popularity-through me. Do please say what you think best for all concerned when you call me after reading this. Together I suppose we are strong enough to face this mean world-but separated I feel eanum and scared for you, your safety etc. Also the Hunters say I might easily have a brick thrown at my car. Hold me tight please David.

The King would not hear of abandoning the divorce. He soon received an urgent request for an interview from the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, who asked the King if he could prevail upon Mrs. Simpson to withdraw her divorce petition. The King replied (as he recalled in his memoirs): “I have no right to interfere with the affairs of an individual. It would be wrong were I to attempt to influence Mrs. Simpson just because she happens to be a friend of the King.” Baldwin did not press the point or inquire further, and the meeting broke up having achieved nothing. At the time the King does not appear to have told Wallis about this episode. He continued to send her amorous and encouraging notes.

The Fort, Saturday [October 24]
These three gardenias are eanum but they say enormous ooh and that a boy loves a girl more and more and is holding her so tight these trying days of waiting. Far the hardest is not being able to be together and one is so lonely and cut off. But it will be all over soon now my sweetheart and it will be so lovely and exciting when it is. I know it sounds easy to say dont worry but dont too much please Wallis. I’m doing half the worrying and looking after things this end. Oh! how I long for you here and everybody and everything at The Fort misses you too dreadfully. Its a lovely day only THEY didn’t make the sun come out alas. God bless WE my beloved sweetheart.

On October 27 Wallis received her provisional divorce decree at Ipswich. This would make her free to marry the King six months later, just before the date—May 12—set for his coronation. But by the middle of November the political establishment had made it clear that it would not accept Wallis as Queen.

Undaunted, His Majesty informed Prime Minister Baldwin, as well as his mother, Queen Mary, and three brothers, that if he could marry Mrs. Simpson, he would be “happy and in consequence perhaps a better King.” If the government opposed the marriage, as Baldwin had indicated it would, then he was “prepared to go.”

While the King was off on a short trip to Wales, Wallis met with Esmond Harms-worth, heir to the Daily Mail press empire. Harmsworth suggested to Wallis the idea of a morganatic marriage—a wedlock once common in German royal states—whereby Wallis would become the King’s wife but not share his royal rank; instead, she would become a duchess. Fascinated by the idea, she proposed it to the King, who was reluctant at first but then took the plan up with enthusiasm.

Soon after, distraught over the press coverage, Wallis slipped out of England for Cannes. She then wrote to the King urging him to stop pressing his marriage plans until the next autumn and to remain apart from her. By playing for time she presumably hoped that the King could take his case to the people and win public support—or possibly that his ardor for her would cool.

Lou Viei, Cannes

Sunday [December 6, 1936]
Darling—I am sending this by air as I think it important you have it before. 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…My plan in detail is that you would say I [the King] stand back of everything I have said but I do not wish to create a situation within the country so I therefore will not press the issue at the moment but reopen it in the autumn. Then if in the autumn they turn it down your plan [abdication] comes into action. I ask you to put that to Mr B so that no-one can say we haven’t tried in every way to do our duty in such a big cause…I feel so terrified of what the world will say and I again repeat that they will say I could have stopped it…No one but Baldwin and the Dominions ‘want you to go and as the Aga Khan telephoned they haven’t given you a fighting. The people in the press are clamoring for a word from you. You owe it to them to tell them something and if you made that gesture by radio-by October Mr B couldn’t afford to say no [to a national radio broadcast, which needed government approval] and I think the Dominions could be won over. Think my Sweetheart isn’t it better in the long run not to be hasty or selfish but back up your people and make an 8 mouth sacrifice for them. Then they will give you-what you want and if they can’t we will be vindicated in the eyes of the-world and no one can say you shirked and ran away when the people were rallying to your aid. You must speak and tell the plan of the Duchess [morganatic marriage]…I worry too about the legal side because that would be a tragedy if they refused me [a divorce]. This plea is to beg you to submit my idea to B. If he refuses-I have spoken to you so there is no more to say except I’m holding you tighter than ever.

Once Edward VIII had made up his mind, nothing could persuade him to postpone abdication. It was a stricken and defeated Wallis who, off in France, awaited the ex-King’s farewell broadcast to his people on the night of Friday, December 11: “I was lying on the sofa with my hands over my eyes, trying to hide my tears,” she later wrote in her memoirs. “After he finished, the others quietly went away and left me alone. I lay there a long time before I could control myself enough to walk through the house and go upstairs to my room.”