When a maid came to rouse her mistress, American socialite Wallis Warfield Simpson was discovered lying dead on her bedroom floor, having been shot twice. As no one could recall hearing gunshots, the matter became an international mystery and one of the greatest unsolved crimes of the twentieth century. Papers were found in her desk that would have confirmed the process of divorce from her second husband, Ernest Aldrich Simpson. Mr. Simpson was detained for questioning, but no more than circumstantial evidence arose, and he was eventually released with no further serious suspects.
At a dinner on January 10, 1931, Mrs. Simpson met the other party to the affair, Edward Windsor, Prince of Wales. They were introduced by Edward’s mistress of the time, Thelma, Lady Furness. He lived as a passionate womanizer and was privately criticized for having the maturity of an adolescent by his secretary, Alan Lascelles. Edward and Wallis met often at house parties. She was even presented at court, which caused further scandal. In January of 1934, Lady Furness went on a trip to New York City, during which time Wallis and Edward’s affair eclipsed all others. Servants caught them in bed together, but Edward was quick to deny this to his father, King George V.
Scandal continued to climb as Edward and Wallis were seemingly everywhere together. He gave her tremendous gifts of jewels and took her on trips through Europe as well as shorter holidays on his yacht. Government officials began to worry about Edward’s overwhelming affection for the American divorcee almost to the point of enslaving himself to her. After visiting an antique store, the shopkeep noted that Wallis had Edward “completely under her thumb.” Upon the death of George V in January of 1936, Edward became King of the UK and Emperor of India, yet he seemed dominated by someone outside of the bounds of government.
After months of continuing the affair with officials scrambling to keep it out of the news, Mrs. Simpson began proceedings to divorce her husband so she might marry the king. Aldrich Simpson had been working to keep his shipping firm afloat during the Great Depression and seemed nearly forgotten by his wife, who was so close to the King as not to feel the financial difficulties of their lifestyle. For these stressful reasons, when Wallis was found dead, Aldrich was the prime suspect. However, after intense questioning from many levels of police, it was believed that he was still genial with his wife, would have gone through with the divorce, and moved on with his life. Aldrich, a naturalized British citizen, left for New York and never returned. He would marry again twice.
Another suspect was the ousted Thelma, Viscountess Furness, who had divorced her husband the viscount in 1933. After being cast off by Prince Edward, she had a brief fling with Prince Aly Khan, Imam of Ismaili Shi’a Islam. She carried resentment toward Wallis, but there was no proof as to grounds for murder upon hearing that her stolen prince might be married.
Darker conspiracy theories suggest actions from MI5 or royal agents hoping to keep the crown clear from further scandal and tampering foreign hands.
The truth remains unknown, and Edward continued his reign heartbroken. He rarely appeared in public, and, when he did, he was described as in deep mourning or “sporting a faraway look in his eyes.” The king let matters of politics fall mainly upon his Prime Ministers Baldwin, Chamberlain, and Churchill, assisting only when necessary. He quietly applauded Chamberlain’s ambitions for “peace in our time” and determined that Britain should not worry about matters on the Continent, expanding his melancholy to his foreign policy.
When World War II broke out, Edward gave dour speeches and encouraged Churchill to “give Hitler what he wants” so that England might be “left alone.” With the king’s weakness felt, the morale of Britain tumbled, finally prompting a discouraged nation to sue for peace after a narrow victory in the Battle of Britain and the dark days of the Blitz. As Britain came out of the war and America saw less need to join, Hitler took up his allies to march on Moscow, battling Stalin until 1949 in a war that crippled his own rule. Britain, meanwhile, began decolonization as the empire fell to revolutions calling for independence. By the time Edward’s niece Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne, only a few countries still remained in what would become the Commonwealth.
In reality, Mrs. Wallis Simpson went through with her divorce of Aldrich Simpson. The two remained amiable toward one another with gifts and commentary on memoirs. Edward abdicated in favor of marrying Wallis, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor settled in the Bahamas quietly as World War II engulfed the world.