Did they meet at the Del?

Across the bay from the San Diego Convention Center stands the majestic Hotel del Coronado—“the Del” to insiders. Built in 1888, the Del has seen its share of the rich and famous, including Wallis Simpson and the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII.

Hotel del Coronado

In 1920, the prince was honored with a grand banquet in the Crown Room of the Hotel del Coronado; at the time, Wallis Spencer (later Simpson) was living in Coronado. Publicity for the hotel notes that “their first meeting may possibly have happened” during this visit. Most historians, however, discount this possibility, noting that, while both undoubtedly frequented the Del, it is unlikely that they were there at the same time.

Because the hotel continues to “name-drop” Wallis Simpson in its advertising, The Daily Edition is taking a second look at her. Was she the mysterious, irresistible seductress with a star-crossed love life? Or was she the malevolent manipulator who almost caused the downfall of the British monarchy? It depends on who you ask.

Wallis Simpson

To the American press, the story of the king who would give up his crown for the love of his life was the greatest love story ever told. Wallis was painted as the glamorous woman from Baltimore who so beguiled Prince Edward that he would sacrifice everything to have her. On the other hand, the British, who were not so taken with Mrs. Simpson, saw her as a calculating woman who wanted either a crown or money.

The controversy continues to today. Rose Tremain, novelist and playwright, defends Wallis. “Wallis is said to have coined the statement, ‘You can’t be too rich or too thin,’ and has been stigmatized as being too ambitious, too ruthless, too greedy, too mannish, too sexual, too cruel, too divorced, too pro-German, and too American. What few people remember was that, as the storm broke in the press, Wallis begged the King to tell his people he was giving her up. She then left for France.

“Before her boat sailed, she scribbled a note to him: ‘Oh tell the country I am lost to you.’ A few days later, her solicitor called the prime minister to say that she was willing to ‘do anything to prevent the King from abdicating.’ She even offered to disappear to China. None of this moved Edward. It was his intransigence, not hers, that led to the abdication.”

Prince of Wales

The current Oscar contender, The King’s Speech, shows her in a much less flattering light. David Seidler, who wrote the screenplay for the award-winning movie, expressed this difference of opinion. “The American view of them is quite different from the British. Many Brits have a jaundiced view of them, as I do,” he admitted. “Americans are romantics, and they absolutely love the idea of the greatest love story ever told, a king who gives up his throne for the woman he loves. You Yanks have bought into this hook, line, and sinker.” He characterizes their relationship as “the most selfish love story ever told.”

In reality, the story of Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII is nether the love story of the century nor a royal scandal. Neither Wallis nor Edward could be considered “wide-eyed innocents” à la Romeo and Juliet. Both had engaged in a number of affairs: Edward had several long-term mistresses, all of whom were married, and Wallis was linked to a number of married men, including a car salesman, a duke, an Argentine diplomat, and the German ambassador to Britain.

After Edward’s abdication and her divorce, the two were quietly married in a small private ceremony and lived most of their life in exile in France. Denied the dignity of a title (although Edward was the Duke of Windsor, Wallis was prohibited from the title of Duchess of Windsor), and with nothing useful to do, they became international society’s most notorious parasites, living off the generosity of their friends and acquaintances along with a small stipend from the British government. Wallis is reported to have summed up her life by saying, “You have no idea how hard it is to live out a great romance!”

Believe what you will about Wallis and Edward, but I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to go to the Del and visit the Crown Room and have a glass of champagne while I imagine the strikingly beautiful wife of a Navy captain catching the eye of the future King of England, beginning the romance that has enthralled the world for almost a century. Some stories are just too good to ruin with facts!

Prepared by Kay Daugherty.