Meghan Markle vs Wal­lis Simp­son

Two Amer­i­can divorcées mar­ry­ing into the Bri­tish royal fam­ily: one was met with dis­dain, the other with adu­la­tion. What a dif­fer­ence 80 years makes


WHEN Meghan Markle walks down the aisle at St Ge­orge’s Chapel in Wind­sor Cas­tle on 19 May, lis­ten care­fully for a low hum­ming be­low the sing­ing of the choir. It will be the sound of the Duke and Duchess of Wind­sor, who are buried at Frog­more within the cas­tle grounds, fu­ri­ously spin­ning in their graves.

While the duchess was the last Amer­i­can to marry into the royal fam­ily, her fate was the po­lar op­po­site to that of the charis­matic Ms Markle.

Their lives stand as vivid tes­ti­mony to the changes in Bri­tish so­ci­ety – and the House of Wind­sor – over the past two royal reigns.

The is­sue that binds and di­vides them is that of di­vorce. How dif­fer­ently they were treated – for­mer ac­tress Meghan, who di­vorced her film pro­ducer hus­band, Trevor En­gel­son, af­ter less than two years of mar­riage, has been warmly wel­comed into the royal bo­som.

She was in­vited to spend Christ­mas with the royal fam­ily at San­dring­ham even though she isn’t yet of­fi­cially part of it, and she walked arm-in-arm with fi­ancé Harry, chat­ting with the Duke and Duchess of Cam­bridge as they left St Mary Mag­da­lene Church af­ter the Christ­mas Day ser­vice – her place firmly ahead of Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Princesses Beatrice and Eu­ge­nie.

By con­trast, when King Ed­ward VIII de­cided he couldn’t reign with­out, as he said in his fa­mous ab­di­ca­tion broad­cast, “the help and sup­port of the woman I love”, he and his fu­ture wife, Wal­lis Simp­son, were ef­fec­tively ex­iled from the realm.

For the rest of their lives they were con­demned to roam the earth with­out pur­pose or plan – at var­i­ous times liv­ing in Paris, New York, the Ba­hamas and the south of France – the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment turn­ing a deaf ear to the duke’s plead­ings to be given a worth­while job.

Though the de­ci­sion to ab­di­cate was his and his alone – “You’re a damned fool,” his fu­ture wife told him when the king broke the news – Wal­lis Simp­son was sin­gled out as the pri­mary cul­prit in the con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis that gripped the na­tion in the dy­ing days of 1936.

The king’s mother, Queen Mary, con­sid­ered her a “sor­cer­ess” for lur­ing Ed­ward VIII from his destiny and

his duty. Some se­nior gov­ern­ment min­is­ters thought her a Nazi spy while high-so­ci­ety gos­siped that this rather manly look­ing woman had se­duced the sovereign thanks to ex­otic sex­ual tech­niques that she’d learnt in the sing-song houses of Hong Kong and Shang­hai.

Fast-for­ward 80 years and the next Amer­i­can to marry a royal prince is al­ready in dan­ger of be­com­ing a fully cer­ti­fied na­tional treasure.

Her ra­di­at­ing warmth, easy man­ner and beauty re­mind me of you-knowwho, while her love of cook­ing at home in her “cosies” with a glass of wine in hand, and the fact she’s a grafter (as a job­bing ac­tress she did cal­lig­ra­phy to pay the bills) make her seem more down-toearth than any other royal – de­spite also be­ing a prod­uct of Hol­ly­wood.

And though she’s only smiled, shaken hands and, at Harry’s in­sti­ga­tion, had group hugs at a handful of royal en­gage­ments, she’s taken to this malarkey as if to the manor born.

CO­IN­CI­DEN­TALLY, both these Amer­i­cans – Meghan, a Cal­i­for­nia babe, Wal­lis from Bal­ti­more, Mary­land – met their fu­ture royal hus­bands when they were 34. At that time nei­ther had much of a clue about the work­ings of the royal fam­ily – or the coun­try that would shape their lives.

Meghan fa­mously re­marked in her en­gage­ment in­ter­view she didn’t know much about Prince Harry be­fore she met him for their first date at a pri­vate mem­bers’ club in cen­tral Lon­don in July 2016.

Her ig­no­rance was cap­tured for pos­ter­ity in Oc­to­ber 2015 when she was asked in a quick-fire quiz filmed for Hello! mag­a­zine in Canada whom she pre­ferred, Harry or Wil­liam.

She looked non­plussed and had to be prompted by the in­ter­viewer to choose the un­mar­ried Harry rather than his at­tached older brother. “I don’t know . . . Err, Harry, sure.”

Around the time she met the man in ques­tion, she ap­peared on yet an­other tele­vised Q&A – this time, on the com­edy chan­nel Dave to pro­mote Suits – and was tested on her knowl­edge of Bri­tain.

She flunked out, gamely fail­ing to iden­tify the na­tional an­i­mals of Eng­land, Wales and Scot­land (cor­rect an­swers: lion, dragon and uni­corn) and looked bethe wildered when asked what “ap­ples and pears” (cor­rect an­swer: stairs) meant in cock­ney rhyming slang.

Wal­lis Simp­son would’ve felt her pain. When she first ar­rived in Lon­don as the wife of An­glo-Amer­i­can ship­ping agent Ernest, she had no time for English peo­ple and didn’t un­der­stand the pitch of their hu­mour, their love of mil­i­tary his­tory, their pride in the flag and their pas­sion for dogs and horses.

When she met Ed­ward, Prince of Wales at a house party in Le­ices­ter­shire, hosted by his mis­tress Vis­count­ess Fur­ness in 1931, she still found the Bri­tish a mys­tery, par­tic­u­larly the na­tional fas­ci­na­tion with the royal fam­ily.

“That a whole na­tion should pre­oc­cupy it­self with a sin­gle fam­ily’s com­ings and go­ings – and not too ex­cit­ing ones at that – seemed to me in­com­pre­hen­si­ble,” she would later write in her mem­oir The Heart Has Its Rea­sons, pub­lished in 1956.

It was the fact nei­ther Amer­i­can was mar­i­nated in the minu­tiae of the monar­chy that was half the at­trac­tion for their fu­ture hus­bands.

In Wal­lis’ fa­mous – if du­bi­ously ac­cu­rate – ac­count of her first meet­ing with Prince of Wales she re­calls his open­ing con­ver­sa­tional gam­bit con­cerned the dis­may Amer­i­can visi­tors felt about the lack of cen­tral heat­ing in English coun­try houses.

She re­torted, “I’m sorry sir, you’ve dis­ap­pointed me. The same ques­tion is asked of ev­ery Amer­i­can woman who comes to your coun­try. I’d hoped for some­thing more orig­i­nal from the Prince of Wales.”

In the eyes of the fu­ture king, her sassy, ir­rev­er­ent re­sponse was a re­fresh­ing an­ti­dote to the def­er­ence he nor­mally en­coun­tered.

Decades later, Prince Harry ad­mit­ted he had to up his con­ver­sa­tional game when he first met Meghan.

On the sur­face she’s a sunny and un­com­pli­cated Cal­i­for­nia girl who claims to live by the ethos that “most things can be cured with ei­ther yoga, the beach or a few av­o­ca­dos”, but be­neath that she’s a suc­cess­ful, even steely, ca­reer woman in her own right.

As Meghan her­self has said, “I never wanted to be a lady who lunches – I’ve al­ways wanted to be a woman who works.”

MEGHAN would’ve been a rare bird in Wal­lis’ day. In that era the only pedi­gree that counted was fam­ily and fi­nance. With an African-Amer­i­can mother and an­ces­tors who worked as slaves on the cot­ton plan­ta­tions of Ge­or­gia, the bira­cial ac­tress would prob­a­bly not have been coun­te­nanced by the snob­bish so­cialite Wal­lis Simp­son.

Un­til abo­li­tion in 1865, Wal­lis’ fam­ily, the Warfields, had built their var­i­ous for­tunes on the back of slave labour. Her third cousin, Ed­win Warfield, who was elected 45th Gover­nor of Mary­land in 1903, gave sev­eral speeches where he dis­cussed “Slav­ery as I knew it.”

Though Wal­lis was a poor re­la­tion of the Warfield clan – largely be­cause her fa­ther had died from tu­ber­cu­lo­sis when she was a baby, leaving her and her mother, Alice, re­liant on a Scrooge-like un­cle – she was still sur­rounded by black but­lers, maids and other staff.

In cor­re­spon­dence and in con­ver­sa­tion, she used what would be con­sid­ered highly racially of­fen­sive lan­guage to de­scribe African Amer­i­cans.

As far as she was con­cerned they were down­stairs staff. She later con­fessed the first time she’d shaken the hand of a per­son of colour was on a walk­a­bout dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, when the Duke of Wind­sor was Gover­nor of the Ba­hamas.

On the sub­ject of race, Meghan has been can­did about some up­set­ting ex­pe­hus­band, ri­ences in her past. When she was a baby, her mother, “caramel in com­plex­ion with a light-skinned baby in tow”, was of­ten mis­taken for a nanny. And once when Meghan was in col­lege she heard her mother be­ing called the N-word dur­ing a road-rage in­ci­dent.

“We were leaving a con­cert and she wasn’t pulling out of a park­ing space quickly enough for an­other driver. My skin rushed with heat as I looked to my mom. Her eyes welled with hate­ful tears,” she wrote in an es­say about race for Elle mag­a­zine. Later, as an ac­tress, she says she “wasn’t black enough for the black roles and I wasn’t white enough for the white ones, leaving me some­where in the mid­dle as the eth­nic chameleon who couldn’t book a job”.

None­the­less she flour­ished in her act­ing ca­reer, just as she’d done ear­lier on in her ed­u­ca­tion – study­ing the­atre and in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at the pres­ti­gious North­west­ern Univer­sity.

But in Wal­lis’ day it was an odd­ity for a woman to at­tend col­lege, and a pos­i­tive rar­ity for a woman of colour to gain a de­gree as Meghan did.

EVEN though Wal­lis had, in her own words, a 24-hour pho­to­graphic mem­ory and sailed through school ex­ams, the height of her am­bi­tion was to marry – and marry well. She spent her early adult life rac­ing to find a hus­band, then rush­ing to di­vorce him. As her un­cle Sol solemnly in­formed her in 1927 when she di­vorced her first Spencer – who had turned out to be a moody al­co­holic – Wal­lis was the first Warfield in 300 years to di­vorce. Ten years later she di­vorced a sec­ond time af­ter a nine-year mar­riage to Ernest Simp­son.

By con­trast in Meghan’s fam­ily short mar­riages and quick di­vorces seem to be the norm. Her fa­ther, Thomas (73), al­ready had two chil­dren from a pre­vi­ous mar­riage when he met Meghan’s mother, Do­ria, on the set of a soap opera where they both worked. He was a light­ing di­rec­tor and she a temp 12 years his ju­nior.

They went on to have their daugh­ter and they too di­vorced when she was six. Then in Au­gust 2013 Meghan ended her own two-year mar­riage to En­gel­son.

Where Wal­lis and Meghan would recognise each other is in their un­ques­tioned abil­ity as net­work­ers.

Wal­lis’ so­cial tri­umph was to im­port the Amer­i­can tra­di­tion of the cock­tail hour, where her grow­ing cir­cle of mainly Amer­i­can friends dropped in to the apart­ment near Mar­ble Arch for drinks and con­ver­sa­tion in the early evening.

Word got around and her sa­lon at­tracted busi­ness­men, jour­nal­ists, lawyers and even­tu­ally a smat­ter­ing of aris­to­crats and mi­nor roy­alty.

Af­ter meet­ing the Prince of Wales, he too be­came a reg­u­lar there, of­ten stay­ing for din­ner.

The mod­ern-day equiv­a­lent to the sa-

lon is In­sta­gram, Face­book, Twit­ter and the per­sonal blog – and Meghan of­ten used so­cial me­dia to speak to and post pic­tures of her fa­mous friends – So­phie El­lis-Bex­tor and Ser­ena Wil­liams among them.

A vo­ra­cious net­worker her­self, she also used her life­style blog, The Tig, to com­mu­ni­cate with other women she ad­mires.

Her blog posts also con­veyed her pas­sion for food, travel, beauty and fash­ion, com­bined with her ad­vo­cacy for women’s rights and gen­der equal­ity, and give glimpses into her in­ner life.

By the time she closed down her in­ter­net por­tals fol­low­ing her en­gage­ment last Novem­ber, she’d ac­cu­mu­lated three mil­lion fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram alone.

Where Wal­lis, Meghan and in­deed Diana, Princess of Wales, reign supreme is in the power of fash­ion.

The so-called re­venge dress worn by the princess for a char­ity event at the Ser­pen­tine Gallery on the night the Prince of Wales ad­mit­ted his adul­tery on tele­vi­sion will go down in his­tory as an iconic mo­ment that de­fined their mar­riage and re­vealed her lib­er­a­tion as an in­de­pen­dent woman.

Wal­lis also used her wardrobe as a weapon – her sleek, crafted style in sharp con­trast to the homely fash­ions pre­ferred by her en­emy, Queen El­iz­a­beth, the Queen Mother, whom she called “Cookie” since she said she re­sem­bled a cook.

What be­came known as the Wind­sor style – a neat but fluid sil­hou­ette – en­sured she was able to el­e­gantly dis­play the di­a­mond bracelet, flamingo brooch cov­ered with ru­bies, sap­phires, emer­alds and di­a­monds, and other jew­ellery show­ered upon her by her hus­band.

The ex­trav­a­gance of her wardrobe and her life­style – the Wind­sors em­ployed around 25 full-time staff dressed in royal liv­ery at their man­sion in the south of France – was in marked con­trast to the util­i­tar­ian ethos of the House of Wind­sor.

Liv­ing well and liv­ing gra­ciously was her best re­venge on the royal fam­ily.

For Meghan, her in­duc­tion into the royal fam­ily is an op­por­tu­nity to in­flu­ence her new army of fans by wear­ing the la­bels of eco­log­i­cally and eth­i­cally minded de­sign­ers, as well as com­pa­nies that have a phil­an­thropic el­e­ment in their busi­ness ethos.

Care­ful and con­sid­ered, Meghan is com­pletely aware any­thing she wears – be it make-up, clothes or jew­ellery – has an im­pact. This is why dur­ing her visit to Cardiff last month she car­ried a bag by DeMel­lier, a Bri­tish la­bel that funds life-sav­ing vac­cines through its sales, and a cru­elty-free coat by Stella Mc­Cart­ney.

As she once noted on her blog, “It’s good if you’re fab­u­lous but great if you do some­thing of value to the world.”

IN THEIR markedly dif­fer­ent ways Wal­lis Simp­son and Meghan Markle have changed the monar­chy – or at least the way the monar­chy is per­ceived.

The pres­ence of Wal­lis ar­guably saved the coun­try from a pro-Ger­man monarch dur­ing Bri­tain’s dark­est days at the be­gin­ning of the Sec­ond World War.

Ed­ward VIII’s de­ci­sion to ab­di­cate so he could marry the twice-di­vorced Amer­i­can placed the bur­den of king­ship on his younger brother, Ge­orge VI, who to­gether with the Queen Mother proved to be stal­wart and steady.

Mean­while the Duke and Duchess of Wind­sor sniped from the side­lines, se­cretly ask­ing the Nazis to look af­ter their homes in Paris and Cannes dur­ing hos­til­i­ties. In the end Wal­lis’ life was a friv­o­lous and ul­ti­mately vac­u­ous coun­ter­point to the House of Wind­sor, the vic­tory of style over sub­stance.

Yet while the first Amer­i­can duchess di­vided the na­tion, Meghan, sim­ply by be­ing her­self – bira­cial, di­vorced and Amer­i­can and cer­tainly not from the up­per classes – is a unit­ing fig­ure.

Her very pres­ence in the royal ranks demon­strates that the monar­chy has be­come a more in­clu­sive and down-toearth in­sti­tu­tion than ar­guably at any time in its his­tory.

CHILD­HOOD MEM­O­RIES LEFT: Meghan as a baby with her mom, Daria Rad­lan. RIGHT: Baby Wallis, the fu­ture Duchess of Windsor held by her mother, Alice Mon­tague.

Snooty so­cialite Wallis Simp­son trig­gered a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis when Ed­ward VIII ad­bi­cated the throne so he could be with her.

HUS­BAND NO 1 Win­field Spencer

HUS­BAND NO 2 Ernest Simp­son

HUS­BAND NO 3 King Ed­ward VIII

The ease with which Meghan Markle has been ac­cepted by Prince Harry’s fam­ily has sur­prised many royal watch­ers.

IN­FLU­EN­TIAL WO­MAN LEFT: Meghan – back when she was still a so­cial net­worker – reg­u­larly shared life­style tips with her so­cial me­dia fol­low­ers. ABOVE: She also of­ten posted pic­tures of fa­mous friends – Ser­ena Wil­liams among them.

SAR­TO­RIAL EL­E­GANCE LEFT: There was no love lost be­tween Wallis Simp­son (left) and Queen El­iz­a­beth II (right), seen here dur­ing a dur­ing a visit by the royal party to Paris in 1972. ABOVE: Wallis Simp­son used fash­ion as a weapon and reg­u­larly rubbed it...

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