It's a story that simply won't go away.
It's an upper-class soap opera, and even after the passage of 75 years it still packs a sentimental punch and draws a willing audience into the glittering world of the British aristocracy.
It is the saga of England's Edward VIII (he reigned for less than a year and was never crowned), who found it simply impossible to continue with his royal responsibilities without the love of an ambitious commoner from Baltimore, Wallis Warfield Simpson, the Belle of Biddle Street, who was determined to bag a royal and crash her way into the upper strata of British society.
H.L. Mencken characterized the couple's love affair and Edward's subsequent abdication as the "greatest story since the Crucifixion."
Now another book about Wallis has been recently published: "That Woman," written by former Reuters correspondent Anne Sebba.
Bessie Wallis Warfield was born in 1896 in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., the only child of Teackle and Alice Montague Warfield, members of a socially prominent Baltimore family.
After her father's death when Wallis was an infant, her mother was forced to rent rooms in their East Biddle Street home and work as a hostess at the Chevy Chase Country Club to make ends meet.
Despite financial constraints, Wallis attended the Arundell School on Mount Vernon Place and Oldfields School in Glencoe. In the Oldfields leavers' book (or yearbook), writes Sebba, Wallis had scrawled next to her name, "All is Love."
It was said that Wallis was more interested in boys than books, and even as a young woman had gained a reputation for being a stylish dresser who was more than capable of handling herself on a dance floor.
She made her debut at the Bachelors Cotillon on Dec. 7, 1914, at the Lyric. When her uncle, Solomon Warfield, refused to pay for a coming-out ball because of the war in Europe, Wallis high-tailed it to Pensacola, Fla., where she stayed with a cousin while trying to recover from her social humiliation.
"Nobody ever called me beautiful or even pretty," she once said of herself. "I was too thin in an era when a certain plumpness was a girl's ideal. My jaw was clearly too big and too pointed to be classic."
Yet she also described herself as "naturally gay and flirtatious."
While in Pensacola, Wallis, who was 20, met and fell in love with an Annapolis graduate and naval aviator eight years her senior, Lt. Earl Winfield "Win" Spencer Jr., a man Sebba describes as having "movie star good looks" and a drinking problem.
After a whirlwind five-month courtship, the couple married on Nov. 8, 1916, at her church, Christ Episcopal Church on St. Paul Street. In describing the wedding, The Baltimore Sun reported that it was "one of the most important of the season ... performed in front of a large assemblage of guests."
At the time of her marriage, Wallis dropped the name "Bessie" because it was "a name given to cows," she said.
The marriage eventually foundered in 1927 because of her relentless pursuit of lovers, which only served to aggravate her husband's jealousy and alcoholism.
She met and fell in love with Ernest Aldrich Simpson, a British shipping executive of dual British-American citizenship who was married at the time.
After his divorce, the couple were wed in 1928 and settled into a comfortable life in London, where they became major figures on the social circuit.
Wallis first met Edward, then the Prince of Wales, in 1930, when she was seated next to him at a dinner during a weekend in the country. By 1934, he had shed his mistresses and set his sights on Wallis.
"I was petrified," Wallis wrote, "but I decided the prince was truly one of the most attractive personalities I ever met."
Friendship turned to love, or so history has taught us to believe, while Simpson, at first amused by his wife's infatuation, fell into despair as he came to accept that his wife was in love with Edward.
This is where Sebba introduces a new element. It has been commonly accepted that Wallis was ruthless in her pursuit of Edward, but 15 unpublished letters that she wrote to Simpson, between 1936 and 1937, tell a different story.
She described Edward as "neurotic" and explained that she had wanted out of the relationship for years and that he was relentless in his pursuit.
Wallis remained close to Simpson until his death in 1958.
In a letter to Wallis, Edward had written, "I'm like you, angel, want to die young & how marvelously divine if only WE could die together … I'm just dippy to die with YOU even if we can't live together … It's only you that keeps [me] alive and going ... I do get terribly fed up with it and despondent sometimes and feel like resigning!!!"
Edward became king after the death of his father, King George V, on Jan. 20, 1936.
"You are all and everything I have in life and WE must hold each other so tight," Edward wrote to Wallis.
While the British public was unaware of the love affair, the American press had a field day with the story. It wasn't a secret at all to the tight-knit social circle that surrounded Wallis and Edward.
Queen Mary, Edward's mother, annoyed at the situation, labeled Wallis "That Woman," while Winston Churchill called her the king's "cutie."
Eventually, the love affair resulted in a crisis, as Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin insisted that the king give up Wallis or abdicate.
A week before his abdication on Dec. 11, 1936, Wallis slipped out of England under an assumed name and took up residence at the Chateau de Cande, near Tours, France.
Her divorce became final May 3, 1937, and the couple married a month later. Thereafter, the couple became international vagabonds, wandering from one expensive hotel to another, when not living at their home in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris.
Not welcomed in England, Edward was frustrated because he was unsuccessful in getting his wife the title of "Her Royal Highness."
He died in 1972, and she in 1986.
For years, it was quite apparent that Queen Elizabeth II would not allow the couple to be buried together at Windsor Castle's Frogmore Gardens cemetery, and they made other plans. They instructed their American representative and friend, Baltimorean Clarence Miles, to purchase a grave plot in Green Mount Cemetery.
After the Duke of Windsor's death, the queen relented and agreed to allow Wallis to be buried with her husband at Frogmore.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun