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 Wednesday, 29 January, 2003, 18:06 GMT
Profile: Wallis Simpson
Wallis Simpson in December 1936, days before the abdication
Edward's love for Wallis Simpson became an obsession

As the Public Record Office releases more documents concerning the abdication of King Edward VIII, BBC News Online looks at the life of Wallis Simpson - the woman for whom he relinquished the throne.

Bessie Wallis Warfield, as she was born in Baltimore, Maryland, was something of a misfit from the start.

Her arrival in June, 1896, came just seven months after the marriage of her parents, causing some embarrassment to Warfield relatives for whom moral propriety was essential as the elite of Baltimore society.

Bessie's father died when she was five months old and throughout her formative years, she and her mother had to rely on irregular handouts from a wealthy relative.

A young Wallis Simpson
Free after her first divorce in 1927
Bessie discarded her first name - because "so many cows are called Bessie" - and learned how to flirt. But she was still shut out of the world she regarded as her birthright.

Soon after the humiliation of "coming out" without the usual debutante's celebration ball, she grasped the first means of escape from Baltimore by becoming engaged.

House party

But her marriage to her first husband, Navy pilot Earl Winfield Spencer, was apparently a disaster from the start.

He turned out to be a moody alcoholic so Wallis left him, and after a passionate but short-lived affair with an Argentine diplomat, became a single woman again.

Divorced, Wallis began an affair with a married man, Ernest Simpson, a British-American businessman. They wed in 1928.

"I really feel so tired of fighting the world all alone and with no money," she wrote to her mother.

Settled into English society, she met Edward, Prince of Wales, at a house party given by his mistress, Lady Thelma Furness, at Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire.

Duke and Duchess of Windsor
The couple enjoyed busy social lives in Europe
He was charming, the most eligible bachelor in the world; she was married, at 35 no longer in the first flush of youth and no beauty. But she was seductive.

By 1934, the prince was a frequent visitor to the Simpsons' home, and it has been said their relationship was consummated that year.

Wallis told her aunt: "It requires great tact to manage both men. I shall try to keep them both."

'Contempt and bullying'

By January, 1936, though, the prince had become King and his love for Wallis an obsession. The Simpson marriage cracked under the strain and Wallis sought a divorce.

Despite his several mistresses, Edward has been characterised as Mrs Simpson's lapdog.

You can't abdicate and eat it

Duchess of Windsor
"There must have been some sort of sadomasochistic relationship," says Philip Ziegler, Edward VIII's official biographer. "He relished the contempt and bullying she bestowed on him."

He eventually abdicated on 11 December, 1936.

But a document which stayed in the private papers of the then prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, for 13 years before even Buckingham Palace became aware of it, raises doubts about whether Wallis Simpson was the schemer of popular perception.

The paper, only released in 2000, is a declaration, signed by Mrs Simpson in the final days before the abdication, that "she has abandoned any interest in marrying His Majesty".

She found Edward's dependence upon her burdensome and claustrophobic, writing to her uncle: "How can a woman be a whole empire to a man?"


Other revelations long after her death in 1986 were to prove more damaging to her reputation.

Duke and Duchess with Hitler at Berchtesgaden
The couple were guests at Hitler's mountain retreat
Frozen out by the British royals, the duke and duchess's alleged pro-German sympathies became the subject of an FBI investigation in 1941.

The FBI was told that during the German invasion of France the previous year, the duchess was said to have passed information to the Nazis' foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop.

Officers were told that von Ribbentrop had been the duchess's lover when he was ambassador to Britain in 1936, sending her 17 carnations every day to remind her of the number of times they had slept together.

And, 13 years after Edward had given up his throne to marry her, the duchess reportedly embarked on an affair with Jimmy Donahue, a playboy grandson of the stores mogul, FW Woolworth.

She was 54, he was 34, homosexual, outrageous and promiscuous.

The duke, meanwhile, fully aware of the relationship, trailed behind them for most of the four-year affair.

But, it seems, neither the duke nor the duchess found a fulfilling role from the day he gave up the Crown. As the duchess once said: "You can't abdicate and eat it."

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