By Alexander Larman
SIR ANTHONY Hawke was in a bad temper.The 67-year-old former politician and High Court judge was suffering from a severe cold on the morning of October 27, 1936. But his ill-health was nothing compared to the bafflement with which he greeted the hoopla that had begun to take place outside his courtroom at Ipswich County Hall.
Despite the elaborate planning, nobody had apparently bothered to inform the judge of the upheaval his court would face. But Mr Justice Hawke had not been a member of the High Court of Justice for the past eight years without acquiring a keen knowledge of the law and human nature.
Thus in his eyes there was something amiss about the slight, nervous-looking middleaged woman who stood before him in an expensive dark navy woollen suit. After meeting the Prince of Wales, in January 1931, Wallis Simpson had become his mistress three years later.
Now, in Mr Justice Hawke’s court, she was attempting to divorce her second husband, Ernest Simpson, an Anglo-American shipping executive and former officer in the Coldstream Guards. Her aim was to marry Edward who, since January 1936, had ruled as EdwardVIII.Their love affair had caused a constitutional crisis – quite simply, he could not marry a twice-divorced woman and remain king. Two weeks earlier, fearing further damage to his reputation, Wallis had written to Edward to suggest abandoning her divorce proceedings. But to no avail.
She had spent a sleepless night at Beach House in Felixstowe where she had lived for the previous six weeks for the purposes of the divorce. As she wrote in her memoirs, “I paced the small floor for hours, wondering whether I was doing the right thing, whether my recklessness of consequences had betrayed me, whether I was right in my confidence that what I was about to do would bring no harm to the King.”
EARLY that morning,Wallis dressed in dark, fashionable clothing, knowing she would be photographed, and breakfasted lightly. She was met by Edward’s chauffeur in a black Buick sedan car which whisked her to Ipswich at impressive speed, outstripping photographers hoping for a glimpse of the soon-to-be divorcée.
Her court case had been dominating the international press for days.According to the news magazine Cavalcade, “Four thousand words... were put across the cable to the United States by the Associated Press in the last few days... of a story of which not one word was printed in British newspapers.”
The Home Secretary John Simon described the US papers’ motives: “A Royal romance interests everybody, but a romance between the King of England and the daughter of the proprietor of a Baltimore boarding-house roused to a frenzy the inhabitants of a Republic dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
Arriving at the courthouse,Wallis – accompanied by a detective, her solicitor Theodore Goddard and her counsel Norman Birkett – was hustled swiftly through a side door before the police locked and bolted the front of the building. Such secrecy was the result of a royal entreaty from the King to the chief constable of Suffolk, an unparalleled usage, some might even say abuse, of
COURTING CONTROVERSY: Below, judge Anthony Hawke, who presided over the second divorce of Wallis Simpson, right, pictured with Edward after their marriage. Above, Edward VIII being driven from Windsor Castle after his abdication speech
royal powers. The King’s intention was to avoid embarrassment, but also to ensure Wallis’s safety. One anonymous letter received at New Scotland Yard had called Edward “a rotten swine asking us to pay for emerelds [sic] and fine things for his ugly whore” and threatened that “if that Yankee harlot does not get out, we will smash her windows and give her a hiding”.
Wallis, meanwhile, entered a virtually empty court and took the witness box to be cross-examined by her counsel in front of a few witnesses who were integral to the case, along with around 20 journalists.
Norman Birkett allowed her to trot out an account of how her marriage to Ernest had been happy until the autumn of 1934, at which point she claimed he became “indifferent”, went away for weekends and did not respond to complaints.This continued, in her version, until Easter 1936, when she claimed to have received a letter alleging an extramarital affair. Wallis identified her husband from a photograph, and his handwriting in the register of the Hotel de Paris in the Thames-side village of Bray, using the pseudonym “Arthur Simmons”.
Two waiters and a hall porter testified to seeing Simpson in bed with a woman not his wife – “both of them occupied… it was a little bed”. It was obligatory for the petitioner to be asked if she herself had committed adultery. As Robert Egerton, her solicitor’s