Meghan Markle and her husband Prince Harry made headlines this week after announcing they plan “to step back” as senior members of Britain’s royal family.
A statement issued Wednesday evening, described as “a personal message from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex,” said Harry and Meghan intend to “become financially independent” and to “balance” their time between the U.K. and North America.
The British monarchy has scant precedent for such an announcement, but some media outlets have drawn comparisons to the intriguing and much more controversial love affair-turned-marriage between Baltimore’s very own Wallis Warfield Simpson and King Edward VIII.
Here’s what we know about the “other” Yankee who became a member of England’s ruling family:
Who was she? Wallis Warfield Simpson was born June 19, 1896, the poor relation of a wealthy Baltimore family. Her father died when she was an infant. She was raised by her widowed mother, and to make ends meet, the pair survived on handouts from an uncle.
What are her Baltimore roots? She lived for a time at 212 E. Biddle St. She attended Oldfields School, the girls’ boarding school in Sparks-Glencoe, and, according to one biography, as a teen she would sneak out her bedroom window to rendezvous with boyfriends. Since 2005, a local collection of her memorabilia known as the Wallis Simpson Museum was located at 206 E. Biddle St. That collection was auctioned on EBay, with a starting bid of $7,000, because the collection’s owners moved to a warmer climate.
Collector Philip Baty is selling his collection of Wallis Simpson memorabilia at auction. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun video)
She must have been beautiful. Not quite. Stylish — yes, but in her opinion, her jaw gave her face a mannish air. “I’m nothing to look at,” she once told a friend, “so the only thing I can do is dress better than anyone else.”
Why did the British royal family get in such a tizzy when King Edward VIII proposed marriage to Wallis? Simpson was not only American, she was divorced from her first husband and estranged from her second. A royal marriage would have conflicted with the king’s role as head of the Church of England, which at the time forbade marriage to a divorcee with a living former spouse.
What secured Wallis Simpson her place in the history of romance? On Dec. 10, 1936, Edward announced in a broadcast that he was abdicating the throne because he “found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King...without the help and support of the woman I love.” He was given the title of Duke of Windsor.
How did the royal family snub the new duchess? Simpson desperately wanted a title that matched her husband’s and to be addressed as “her royal highness” — an honor the new king, George VI, refused to permit. Instead, she was referred to by those of much lower status as “her grace.”
Did it matter that Edward abdicated his throne? It might have changed the course of history. Unlike the brother who succeeded him, Edward was a Nazi sympathizer who once said of the German Fuhrer: “Hitler is a very great man.” Jokesters have suggested that a statue to Simpson be erected on the famously empty fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square in honor of the divorcee who “saved” England by pulling Edward off of the throne.