It’s been 81 years since the last divorced American married into the royal family, and things have changed significantly since 1937 when Wallis Warfield Simpson of Baltimore, Maryland, married Prince Edward. Meghan Markle owes a debt of gratitude to Wallis Simpson who broke down barriers and forced a dialogue being the first divorced person to marry into the royal family, forcing an abdication and causing a rift within the family which was not healed in Prince Edward’s lifetime.
While it was a different time, with different characters, and more on the line (Edward was to serve as king of England, while it is unlikely that Prince Harry will ever be called to do so, being sixth in line at this time), Prince Edward was forced to choose between “love and country” and chose the love of twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson.
But 81 years ago, Prince Harry would not have been allowed to marry Meghan Markle and remain even sixth in line to the throne, says News4Jax. Like Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson, Prince Harry would have likely been given a title like Duke of Windsor when marrying a divorced woman and forced to live in exile. It might not have gone that smoothly for Harry and Meghan as Markle’s race would have been a big deal in 1937.
When Prince Edward married Wallis Simpson, often referred to as “Mrs. Simpson” in the British press, the couple became known as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and the two were forced to live outside of the U.K. in the Bahamas in order to continue receiving an allowance. In fact, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were required to ask permission if they wanted to visit England until the death of the Duchess of Windsor in 1986.
Fans of The Crown saw Princess Margaret, the sister of Queen Elizabeth, attempt to marry her divorced lover Peter Townsend in 1952 and was given a similar ultimatum. Princess Margaret was told she could not get married to a divorced person in the Church of England, and she, too, would have to live outside of the U.K. in a place like Australia, Canada, or a British island in the Caribbean with a reduced allowance. Given those conditions, Margaret turned Townsend down.
Meghan Markle is benefitting from a passage of time and the divorces of three of the children of Queen Elizabeth: Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, and Harry’s father, Prince Charles. In 2002, a meeting called the General Synod took place, according to the BBC, making it possible for divorced people to marry in the Church of England.
“The Church of England teaches that marriage is for life. It also recognizes that some marriages sadly do fail and, if this should happen, it seeks to be available for all involved. The Church accepts that, in exceptional circumstances, a divorced person may marry again in church during the lifetime of a former spouse.”
Back in 1937 after Prince Edward made the decision to abdicate, choosing the love of Wallis over his love of country, Mrs. Simpson became a public enemy, which caused certain members of the royal household to refuse to speak her name (including her mother-in-law), reports the Baltimore Sun, Wallis’ hometown newspaper.
In Prince Edward’s abdication speech, Edward said he could not bear the burden of being king of England without the support of Wallis.
“[I have] 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.”
While Wallis Simpson was given the title of Duchess of Windsor when the two married in France in 1937, she was never able to be called “her royal highness,” instead she was referred to as “her grace.”
Tomorrow, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry will receive the titles of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and after the wedding ceremony, Meghan will be Rachel, Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Sussex.