Wallis a Meghan: Parallels between the royal abandoners

Published: 7. 7. 2022
Author: Silvia Mária Petrovitsová
Photo: Photo, Instagram Meghan Markle, Wikimedia Commons
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Wallis Simpson and Meghan Markle: two prominent American women who had the royal throne within their reach by marrying into the British royal family. They caused commotion and brought with them a breath of fresh air. They also “stole” two popular members of the royal family from the British public.

The first one took from the Kingdom an amenable king and almost plunged the empire into chaos, the second lured away the Queen's as well as the Commonwealth's favorite. Both men gave up their royal duties and escaped the influence of their family. Allegedly because of their wives, which Edward and Harry both denied. Despite there being almost a century separating these two women, they have a lot in common.

Favor and resentment

Wallis and Meghan, American ladies bearing the title of duchess, are a favorite topic for readers – and so for the media – the world over. They each embody a fascinating story of love, favor, but also hardship, scandal, and resentment. Both of them met their princes at the same age of 34 and both were divorced before marrying their royal counterparts.

Love versus crown

Wallis came from a well-off, respected family, so she was never forced to work. Later in life, she was afforded similar privileges by marrying rich men. She first got married at twenty, her beau in 1916 was Earl Winfield Spencer Jr., a pilot in the American navy who served as the first commanding officer at a naval airbase. After several bouts of separation, they divorced in 1927. The following year, Wallis married the real estate broker, Ernest Aldrich Simpson, who left his wife and daughter to be with her. This union did not last either, suffering the blow that was Wallis' relationship with the British king-in-waiting, Edward. The prince fell in love with the married American lady pretty much at first glance, he is said to have been completely fascinated with her complex personality and ostentatious independence. After her divorce from Simpson, the prince wanted to marry Wallis right away. Understandably, the royal family was opposed to his choice of wife. At the time, the rules were strict: A divorced woman whose two ex-husbands were still alive was an absolutely unacceptable choice as the potential wife for a king and head of the Anglican Church. After the death of his father, George V, Edward took the throne, but he never stopped fighting for his love. When he understood that he would never attain said love with a crown perched atop his head, he decided to abdicate after 326 days in office without even going through an official coronation ceremony. His wedding to Wallis took place half a year later in France, in June 1937.

Banned from Britain

During WWII, the couple was Nazi sympathizers, which made them even less popular with the British people. In 1940, Edward became the governor of the Bahamas; Wallis worked for the Red Cross, trying to improve living conditions for children. After the war ended, they returned to France where they spent the rest of their lives. They were banned from entering the United Kingdom. Edward was only brought back to his homeland after his death in May 1972. He was buried at a cemetery on the sprawling premises of Windsor. The royal family magnanimously rescinded his wife's ban on entering the country, allowing her to participate in her husband's funeral. According to her wishes, she was buried beside him in 1986.

The royal rebels; former king, and later duke, Edward of Windsor, left his royal life and homeland because of his love for Wallis.

Comparisons even before the wedding

Meghan was born and grew up in Los Angeles, her mother is African American, and her father is from Holland. The media and royal biographers started drawing parallels between Meghan and Wallis pretty much as soon as she got engaged to Prince Harry. The American actress, too, was married – to fellow actor and producer, Trevor Engelson, whom she was with since 2004. They only got married in 2011, divorcing two years later. Meghan met Prince Harry in June 2016. Naturally, the relationship made her more famous than all of her previous movie roles combined. She became the most searched actress on Google that year. Following the betrothal in November 2017, the royal wedding took place at Windsor Castle on May 19, 2018, with live TV coverage broadcast all over the world. An interesting tidbit is their choice of venue for the reception – Frogmore House. Resting not too far away, in the heart of Windsor Great Park at the Royal Mausoleum, were Wallis and Edward. Unlike Wallis, Meghan was welcomed to the royal family with open arms, even being titled Her Royal Highness. Upon her departure from the United Kingdom, Meghan tried to mount a comeback to Hollywood among other ventures, doing the voiceover for a documentary about elephants for Disney+. The critics found it to be a rather poor attempt. And seeing as she no longer has the “royal” thing going for her, the movie industry feels that Meghan Markle needs them, not the other way around.

Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, during their very intimate interview with Oprah Winfrey. It was broadcast on Czech TV in April 2021.

Lots in common

Both couples were very open about their feelings. They would gaze lovingly into each other's eyes as if freshly in love even years after their wedding. Many experts on royal family relationships speculate whether giving up the privilege and luxury was worth it. What if? Did either couple regret parting with “The Firm” and giving up a carefree life? Neither one has admitted so publicly. What other similarities are there between Wallis and Meghan? Several biographers point out that the duchesses both chose to go by their middle name for unknown reasons. Wallis rejected the name Bessie, which she found unflattering. Meghan stopped using her first name Rachel most likely due to work reasons. Another similarity is their love for dogs. Wallis loved pugs while Meghan prefers beagles and labradors. They are also connected in their love of fashion and in having a distinctive style. They have both been labeled fashion icons. In the famous Oprah interview, Meghan's choice of outfit saw her symbolically take the torch from Wallis, it is not known whether on purpose or by accident. They both adored Givenchy and were avid readers of Vogue. Not only did they both appear on the front page of the magazine, but Meghan even worked on the prestigious September edition as a guest editor in 2018.

Comparing the incomparable?

Comparing Edward and Harry, however, is not exactly proper. They did both give up their royal privileges as well as duties for their love, but with very different outcomes. Edward’s abdication nearly toppled the monarchy, no British ruler has given up the throne willingly since the 11th century. Harry and Meghan’s departure also caused some tension in the inner family circle. We may go so far as to call it painful for the immediate family as well as the general public, but it had no major effect on the monarchy. Harry, 6th in line for the British throne, was mercifully spared the ultimate decision between the crown and love. Furthermore, Harry and Meghan can always come back, they are not in danger of meeting the fate the first royal abandoners did. They haven’t completely cut themselves off from the family, they still remain part of it with all the titles that go along with that. They are no longer financially dependent on the royal family, however, and can work on their own projects. How their story develops, only time will tell.

Edward and Wallis

The renowned philanderer who rarely stayed with one woman for too long seemed to have fallen in love. Fate, however, concocted for him a dilemma: throne and country or the love of a woman? Edward chose love as well as a carefree life without any stressful duties, which was something the couple were both used to and wanted to keep up. But having fewer royal duties also meant that Edward enjoyed fewer privileges. When George VI became king, he did make Edward the Duke of Windsor straight away, but he also stripped him of the title of Royal Highness, which wounded Edward deeply. Furthermore, he was forced to leave his homeland, bound never to return without an official invitation. Wallis only became a duchess after they married. She outlived her husband by 14 years, but she spent the final six isolated and bedridden due to serious health issues.

Harry and Meghan

Shortly after Harry and Meghan’s wedding, rumors started circulating about the young duchess’ unflattering behavior. Many compared Meghan to Princess Diana as well as Wallis. When Harry and Meghan’s intentions to partially give up their royal duties came to light, the comparison to Wallis became more prevalent. Harry and Meghan did, in a way, ultimately follow in the footsteps of Edward and Wallis. They stepped away from the royal glamor as well as the burden of the incumbent duties. Unlike the first royal abandoners, they were not cast into nothingness. They left for Canada, only to ultimately settle in California. They spend time on their own projects, charity, and primarily on their two children. Ever since their wedding, they have been building their new brand Sussex Royals. However, they have had to give up the royal part following “Megxit”. Their son, Archie, whose birth was celebrated all over the world is now in kindergarten. Little Lilibeth enjoys the love and care of her parents.


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