Introduction: In this article, Melissa Davenport Berry continues her series on descendants of the Jamestown settlers, writing about Wallis Simpson, for whom King Edward VIII abdicated his throne. Melissa is a genealogist who has a blog, AnceStory Archives, and a Facebook group, New England Family Genealogy and History.
“I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.”
–King Edward VIII, 11 December 1936, Abdication Speech, BBC
Today I continue with my “Jamestown Descendants: Who’s Who” series with a focus on the lineage of the notorious Wallis, Duchess of Windsor (1896-1986). She became the wife of the former King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom, who abdicated his throne in order to wed the twice-divorced Wallis. Their romance was one of the most scandalous relationships in the world.
Edward’s intention to marry her while he was still king created a constitutional crisis (the marriage would not have received the approval of the Royal Family nor the Church of England), so he quit being king to become her husband. Instead of being king, he became the Duke of Windsor, and she the Duchess of Windsor.
Wallis, born Bessie Wallis Warfield in Blue Ridge, Pennsylvania, was a 10th lineal descendant of Jamestown’s Peter Montague and shared blood lines with her royal lover.
See Wallis’s American lineage here: Americana-Archives.
In this article, I will explore Wallis’ early years and her maternal familial ties bred from old Virginia stock dating back to Jamestown. (On her paternal side is a group of pioneer empire builders. Among them are leading bankers, lawyers, generals, and patriots.)
Here is a photo of Wallis Warfield in 1914. That year she was one of the most popular debutantes in society.
The photo caption read:
Miss Wallis Warfield, Baltimore girl with many friends in Philadelphia who has been a house guest of Major General George Barnett of the Marine Corps in Washington. She has been entertained at the Capital. [Note: Gen. Barnett was married to Wallis’ cousin Lelia Sinclair Montague.]
According to sources, her family tree includes English barons and lords: Hugh Courtenay, 10th Earl of Devon, founder of the Most Noble Order of the Garter; King Edward I; and the Plantagenets.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor left no issue, but there are still plenty of descendants that share the Montague/Warfield blood lines today.
When King Edward VIII was courting the “American divorcee,” a great campaign was forged to smear Wallis’ character and pedigree.
When the romance started Wallis was on her second marriage, to Ernest Simpson, and Edward had a steady mistress, Viscountess Thelma (nee Morgan) Furness, wife of Marmaduke Furness and the aunt to Gloria Vanderbilt.
How did the Wallis-Edward love match come about? The El Paso Herald Post said it started with an introduction by Lady Furness.
The photo caption read:
Lady Furness (right), who introduced Mrs. Wallis Simpson of Baltimore to King Edward VIII, and her twin sister, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt (left), stand at the rail like any first-trip sky-line-gazers as they return to New York after a European visit. They – and particularly Lady Furness – are credited with being the first American women to penetrate the innermost circles of British royalty as close friends of the then Prince of Wales.
The above photograph accompanied this article, which reported that the romance between Wallis Simpson and the now King Edward VIII was causing controversy.
This article reported:
Disclosure of the incident [the clerics snubbing Mrs. Simpson] caused speculation over whether the two church dignitaries, backed by other high members of the peerage, might not put indirect pressure on the King, by their disapproval, to make his association with Mrs. Simpson less noticeable.
…The incident involving the two archbishops, court sources said, involved a personal interview with King Edward at which they plainly indicated Mrs. Simpson was the reason for their refusal to attend the function [where she was scheduled to be in attendance], whereupon the King blushed furiously and seemed most distressed.
Britain’s government, church, Royal Family, and most of its citizens objected to the match, and Wallis was painted as a seductress who lured the king into her web and away from his throne.
During Christmas in 1936 (Edward abdicated on December 10) a cherished holiday carol had a new lyric line: “Hark the Herald Angels sing, Wallis Simpson’s pinched our King!”
Wallis was portrayed as a Becky Sharp. Was she? Or was it the unfortunate circumstances of her father’s death, which put her mother in financial straits and resulted in a pattern of dependence on wealthy family members and procuring rich husbands. Did Wallis inherit the same vicious cycle which led to her fate?
Their affair was the talk of both sides of the Atlantic – but despite alleged racy behavior, one cannot deny Wallis’ good lineage.
For example, Gerald Duncan, reporter for the Cleveland Dealer, dished up a four-part series on Wallis providing her genealogy and background to dismantle the tabloid gossip.
One of Duncan’s articles, published in 1936 at the height of the scandal, may give some clues.
This article reported:
A flippant anecdote about Mrs. Simpson is going the rounds in Baltimore. One hears it in the smart cocktail lounge of the old Belvedere, a landmark of southern society where the fashionable folk digest the gossip of the moment, and in the drawing rooms of the smart Roland Park.
The story goes – legend or gospel though it may be – that Mrs. Simpson, being wooed by His Britannic Majesty Edward VIII, got panicky when she heard reports in London that reflected upon her forebears. To still these chattering tongues, the tea-table tidings have it, she cabled a Baltimore relative in her pique:
“Please send family tree. Stop. They claim here I am plumber’s daughter.”
To this urgent request the relative is said to have replied:
“Here is family tree. Stop. Don’t act like plumber’s daughter.”
Lineage Old as King’s.
That incident is indicative of the family pride of the Warfields and the Montagues, from which Wally Simpson sprang. True it is that her mother took in boarders – or had “paying guests,” as Baltimoreans prefer to have it known – but blood as ancient as that of England’s king flows in the veins of the royal favorite.
Mrs. Simpson need make no more apology for her family than Edward. For hers was an old and noble family when Queen Anne died in 1714 and the English crown passed to Edward’s ancestor, the Elector of Hanover, who, as George I, was the first member of the German house to occupy the English throne.
On the distaff side, the Baltimore divorcee comes from a line that changed the course of English history. She is a descendant of a Montague who fought by the side of William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, thus establishing the Normans on the English throne.
The House of Montague is a pillar of aristocracy in England today, with the [9th] Duke of Manchester its titular head. [The duke was born William Montague to George Montague, 8th Duke of Manchester and American heiress Consuelo Yznaga. The 9th Duke of Manchester also married an American heiress, Helena Zimmerman, who was the mother of Alexander Montague, 10th Duke of Manchester.] The American [Montague] branch was rooted in Virginia when, early in the seventeenth century, Peter Montague followed the pioneering settlers to Jamestown. Before he was 21 – which would be sometime before 1624 – he left for the Virginia wilds.
Thus Mrs. Simpson has rightful claim to the F. F. V. distinction – meaning, First Families of Virginia. Her great-great-grandfather, John Montague, distinguished himself during the Revolutionary War by running in front of George Washington to receive a sword thrust intended for the Father of His Country. Montague bore the scars until his death in 1831.
He married Rebecca Brown and their son, Henry Brown Montague – Wallis’ great grandfather – was the first of the clan to move to Baltimore. He married Mary Ann Moody and their son, William Latane Montague – Wallis’ grandfather – became a New York broker and later moved to Richmond. He married Sallie Howard Love and their daughter, Alice Mary Montague – mother to Wallis – was a noted beauty of the society circles.
To be continued…
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Note on the header image: Wallis Simpson with the Prince of Wales at Kitzbühel, Austria, in February 1935 before they were married. Credit: published in Life, 14 December 1936, p. 37; Wikimedia Commons.