Wallis, Duchess of Windsor (previously Wallis Simpson and Wallis Spencer, born Bessie Wallis Warfield; 19 June 1896 – 24 April 1986) was an American socialite. Her third husband, Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII, abdicated his throne to marry her. Wallis’s father died shortly after her birth, and she and her widowed mother were partly supported by their wealthier relatives. Her first marriage, to U.S. naval officer Win Spencer, was punctuated with periods of separation and eventually ended in divorce. In 1934, during her second marriage to Ernest Simpson, she allegedly became the mistress of Edward, Prince of Wales. Two years later, after Edward’s accession as king, Wallis divorced her second husband in order to marry Edward. The King’s desire to marry a woman who had two living ex-husbands threatened to cause a constitutional crisis in the United Kingdom and the Dominions, and ultimately led to his abdication in December 1936 to marry “the woman I love”. After the abdication, the former king was created Duke of Windsor by his brother and successor, King George VI. Edward married Wallis six months later, after which she was formally known as the Duchess of Windsor, without the style “Her Royal Highness”. She was instead styled as “Her Grace”, a style normally reserved only for non-royal dukes and duchesses. Before, during, and after World War II, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were suspected by many in government and society of being Nazi sympathisers. In the 1950s and 1960s, she and the Duke shuttled between Europe and the United States, living a life of leisure as society celebrities. After the Duke’s death in 1972, the Duchess lived in seclusion, and was rarely seen in public. Her private life has been a source of much speculation, and she remains a controversial figure in British history.
Upon the Duke’s death from cancer in 1972, the Duchess travelled to the United Kingdom to attend his funeral, staying at Buckingham Palace during her visit. The Duchess, increasingly frail and suffering from dementia, lived the remainder of her life as a recluse, supported by both her husband’s estate and an allowance from the Queen. She suffered several falls, and broke her hip twice. After her husband’s death, the Duchess’s French lawyer, Suzanne Blum, assumed power of attorney. Blum sold items belonging to the Duchess to her own friends at lower than market value, and was accused of exploiting her client in Caroline Blackwood’s The Last of the Duchess, written in 1980, but not published until after Blum’s death in 1995. Later royal biographer Hugo Vickers called Blum a “Satanic figure … wearing the mantle of good intention to disguise her inner malevolence”. In 1980, the Duchess lost the power of speech. Toward the end, she was bedridden and did not receive any visitors, apart from her doctor and nurses. The Duchess of Windsor died on 24 April 1986 at her home in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris. Her funeral was held at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, attended by her two surviving sisters-in-law: the Queen Mother and Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, and other members of the royal family. The Queen, Prince Philip, and the Prince and Princess of Wales attended both the funeral ceremony and the burial. She was buried next to Edward in the Royal Burial Ground near Windsor Castle, as “Wallis, Duchess of Windsor”. Until an agreement with Queen Elizabeth II in the 1960s, the Duke and Duchess had previously planned for a burial in a purchased cemetery plot at Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore, where the father of the Duchess was interred.
- June, 19, 1896
- Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania
- April, 24, 1986
- Paris, France
- Royal Burial Grounds at Frogmore
- Berkshire, England
- United Kingdom