Wallis Simpson: A life in pictures

Posted by
Stylist Team
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites

Wallis Simpson changed the face of the monarchy, quite literally, when King Edward VIII, abdicated so that he could marry her. The twice-divorced American charmed the then-Prince with her blasé attitude towards the importance of monarchy, but was subject of much criticism throughout her life from royalist gossip-mongers upset by the Edward's abdication.

With Madonna in the directing chair for the latest film to examine Simpson's life, W.E., we take a look at the life of "that woman". Click an image below to open the gallery.

Picture credits: Rex Features

  • Wallis Simpson: a life in pictures

    Humble beginnings

    Wallis Simpson was born Bessie Wallis Warfield on 19th June 1896 in a hotel near Baltimore. Her father, a flour merchant who had run for mayor in 1875, died shortly after. Her mother and her depended on wealthier relatives to support them.

  • Wallis Simpson: a life in pictures

    Fear of Flying

    Before she met first husband Earl Winfield Spencer, Wallis Simpson witnessed two aeroplane crashes two weeks apart, giving her a lifelong fear of flying.

  • Wallis Simpson: a life in pictures

    First Marriage

    In 1916, Wallis met Earl Winfield Spencer, who was to become her first husband.

  • Wallis Simpson: a life in pictures

    Troubled couple

    On 8th November 1916, the couple married. Earl Winfield Spencer turned out to be an alcoholic, and even drank before he flew, once crashing his plane into the sea. He escaped, bizarrely, unscathed.

  • Wallis Simpson: a life in pictures

    First Divorce

    By 1925, Wallis and her husband no longer lived together. Their divorce was finalised on 10th December 1927.

  • Wallis Simpson: a life in pictures

    Second Marriage

    Before the marriage was dissolved, Wallis had become involved with Ernest Aldrich Simpson (pictured, not with Wallis), an Anglo-American shipping executive. He divorced his first wife, Dorothea to marry Wallis Spencer on 21 July 1928.

  • Wallis Simpson: a life in pictures

    Wallis meets her prince

    By the early thirties, All of Wallis's investments had been wiped out in the Wall Street Crash, and her and Ernest were struggling to maintain their lavish lifestyle. In 1931, Wallis met Edward, Prince of Wales, through his mistress, Lady Thelma Furness.

  • Wallis Simpson: a life in pictures

    Edward becomes king

    When King George V died in January 1936, Prince Edward broke protocol by watching the proclamation of his accession from a window of St. James's Palace, in the company of the still-married Wallis. It was clear that he was besotted with her and that it was his intention to marry her.

  • Wallis Simpson: a life in pictures


    By December 1936, Wallis escaped to the south of France to escape the media attention that her now-confirmed relationship with Edward had brought on. Despite previously filing for a divorce from Ernest on the grounds of his infidelity with her childhood friend, Mary Kirk, she was viewed with disdain by the British press.

  • Wallis Simpson: a life in pictures

    Edward abdicates

    On 10th December 1936, King Edward signed the Instrument of Abdication, stating: "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." In the following months, the couple remained apart to wait for Wallis's divorce to be finalised so as to avoid further criticism and media attention.

  • Wallis Simpson: a life in pictures

    Third marriage

    On 3rd June 1937, one month after being reunited, the couple married at the Château de Candé. They became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor - though Wallis was not allowed to use the 'Royal Highness' prefix. Wallis's ex-husband Ernest married Mary Kirk later that year.

  • Wallis Simpson: a life in pictures

    Style Icon

    By the late thirties, the couple were society regulars and Wallis had become something of a style icon.

  • Wallis Simpson: a life in pictures

    Nazi Connections

    Before the Second World War started, the Duke and Duchess lived in France. They made a high-profile visit to Hitler in his Berchtesgaden retreat, and the German premier said of Wallis: "she would have made a good Queen". The visit sparked rumours that Wallis was a German agent and a Nazi sympathiser.

  • Wallis Simpson: a life in pictures

    International lifestyle

    The Duke and Duchess spent World War Two avoiding German troops, escaping their home in Paris to Biarritz, then Spain, then Lisbon, before departing to the Bahamas, where she worked for the Red Cross and Edward was Governor.

  • Wallis Simpson: a life in pictures

    'Queen of Shops''

    Though the Duchess' style was adored by many, she was criticised in the British press for spending so much money in American shops while British citizens were forced to lively austerely on rations.

    Some of her jewels were stolen when she stayed at the Earl of Dudley's lodge.

  • Wallis Simpson: a life in pictures


    The couple returned to live their retirement in Paris. Splitting their time between two residences, their countryside house neighboured Oswald Mosley's. The Duke and Duchess became friends with the British Union of Fascists leader and his wife, Diana.

  • Wallis Simpson: a life in pictures

    Elizabeth's Visit

    Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles visited the Duke and Duchess in Paris, who continued to dress impeccably and live in the uppermost echelons of society.

  • Wallis Simpson: a life in pictures

    Edward dies

    In 1972, the Duke of Windsor died of cancer. Wallis returned to England for his funeral and lived off of Edward's estate and an allowance from Queen Elizabeth.

  • Wallis Simpson: a life in pictures

    Later Life

    After Edward's death, Wallis became a recluse. She developed dementia and suffered from various falls and ailments. She gave her legal authority to her French lawyer, Suzanne Blum. Towards her end, she was bedridden and received no visitors bar her doctors and nurses. After her death in 24th April 1986, Blum auctioned Wallis's huge jewelry collection, giving the $45m proceeds to the Pasteur Institute. Mohammed Al-Fayed bought much of her non-financial estate, including the lease to the Duchess of Windsor's Parisian mansion.