What Happened The Last Time A Member Of The Royal Family Married An American Divorcee?

A king, two divorces and a wedding: Who was Wallis Simpson?

Kensington Palace announced Tuesday that Meghan Markle will be baptized into the Church of England prior to her May wedding to Prince Harry.

The wedding will take place in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, the Palace announced, answering a question some had as to whether Markle and the prince could be married in a church service considering she is divorced.

It’s not the first time that question has been asked concerning a British royal and his American financee.

The same question was asked 81 years ago when King Edward III’s  desire to marry a divorced American led him to give up the throne.

Here’s the what happened when Edward and the twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson met, fell in love and married.

Who was Wallis Simpson?

Wallis Simpson was an American living in England in the 1930s with her second husband, Ernest Aldrich Simpson. She and her husband, a shipping executive, began moving in the same circles as Edward, who was then the Prince of Wales.

Simpson was introduced to the prince at Burrough Court on Jan. 10, 1931 by Thelma, Lady Furness, who was having an affair with Edward. By 1934, Simpson allegedly had replaced Lady Furness as the prince's mistress. Simpson was still married at the time.

The course of the relationship

By the end of 1934, Edward and Simpson were in love with each other. Edwards parents were upset at his dalliances with Simpson. Edward holidayed with Simpson, despite the fact she was still married.

In 1936, George V, Edward’s father, died and Edward ascended to the throne of England. It became clear that Edward wanted to marry Simpson, and factions of the British government began to align against him.

The problem with marriage

At the time, the Church of England refused to remarry divorced people if their ex-spouse was still living. The monarch is the head of the Church or England, so Edward was in a tight spot. Remember, Simpson had been divorced once and was on the way to her second divorce in order to marry Edward. 

Simpson filed for divorce on the grounds of adultery, the only reason the Church of England recognized as a legitimate reason for divorce. The decree nisi -- a court order that does not have any force unless a particular condition is met – was granted on Oct. 27, 1936. The couple officially divorced in May 1937.

Looking for a solution

Edward wanted to be king but wanted to be able to marry Simpson as well, so he sought the advice of Stanley Baldwin, the British prime minister. He went to Baldwin with a deal – allow him to remain king and marry, and Simpson would not be made queen. Baldwin did not go along with the deal.

The decision to abdicate

Realizing he did not enjoy support from either side of the British government, and that the scandal over the affair with a married woman was damaging the monarchy, Edward made the decision to give up the throne. 

Meanwhile, Simpson, under constant criticism and pressure, had left England, and in early December released a statement saying she would give up Edward to save the integrity of the monarchy. Edward rejected Simpson’s offer, and three days later, on Dec. 10, 1936, Edward signed the Instrument of Abdication giving up the throne to his brother. 

The next day he addressed the nation saying, "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." 

The couple married six months later.

What does all that have to do with Harry and Meghan?

The two cases are different for sure. Harry is fifth in line for the British throne, and Edward was a sitting king. 

Kensington Palace has confirmed that Harry and Markle will marry in May 2018. The couple will be married in a church wedding at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. 

That would not have been the case before 2002. That was because until that time, the Church of England did not allow divorced people to remarry if their ex-spouse was still alive. According to an announcement from Kensington Palace, Markle, 36, will become a British citizen and will be baptized and confirmed into the Church of England before the wedding.

Sources: Biography.com; Wikipedia; The Associated Press

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.