What do Meghan Markle and Wallis Simpson have in common? Both American women changed British royal history by marrying Prince Harry and King Edward VIII, causing rifts with William and King George

Meghan Markle and Wallis Simpson both changed the course of British royal history by marrying into the family, but do they have anything else in common? Photos: Yousuf Karsh, @misanharriman/Instagram
The American women who changed the course of the British royal family. That’s the mammoth influence Wallis Simpson and Meghan Markle have had on the Windsors. Simpson was married to King Edward VIII who abdicated the throne so that he could be with his wife. The marriage was frowned upon as Wallis – an American socialite – had been married and divorced twice before.
The Duke of Windsor, King Edward VIII, and the duchess, Mrs Wallis Simpson, just before their wedding, in 1937. Photo: Archive

As head of the Church of England, it was deemed unacceptable that Edward marry Wallis.

Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, speak with onlookers as they arrive for their visit to represent the 6th Invictus Games 2023, in Düsseldorf, Germany, on September 6. Photo: EPA-EFE
Markle, 41, also American and divorced, was accepted into the royal family. But the British press hounded her and when Harry wanted to take a step back from royal life, he too faced a decision: his love or his duty to the crown? He chose love.

So how similar are these two women who have shaped history and changed the narrative of British culture for decades to come? They may be generations apart, with Simpson passing away nearly four decades ago in 1986, but they’ve got plenty in common.

Here’s how Simpson and Markle’s lives run in tandem.

The introduction

Wallis Simpson and Prince Edward stayed together until his death in 1972. Photo: @goddessof/Instagram

It’s widely held that both couples met through a mutual friend. Edward was introduced to Simpson at a weekend party hosted by Lady Furness in 1931. Simpson was there with her then husband, Ernest, per The History Press. Fast forward to Harry and Meghan and the lovebirds also met through a mutual friend.

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Britain’s Prince Harry and his fiancée Meghan Markle pose for photographers in the grounds of Kensington Palace in London, following the announcement of their engagement. Photo: AP

Harry and Meghan were set up on a blind date by their mutual friend Misha Nonoo, reports Vanity Fair. Talking about their first meeting in a post-engagement interview with the BBC, Markle talked about how they had a few months of privacy in their relationship before going public.

American divorcees

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, at the Commonwealth Day Service 2020 on in March 2020, in London, England. Photo: Getty Images

Soon after news was leaked that Meghan was dating Harry, comparisons between herself and Simpson began. The entry point to the conversation was the fact that both women were previously married and American.

Markle was married to her film producer husband Trevor Engelson for two years. The couple dated for six years before getting engaged, reports Grazia. They married in 2011 in Jamaica. Her divorce was finalised in 2013 and she met Harry in 2016.

The Duke of Windsor, King Edward VIII, waves his hat to the welcoming crowds as he arrives with the duchess at Victoria Station, London, from Paris, in 1956. Photo: Reuters

People reports Simpson was a convenient scapegoat who was vilified by the press for her relationship with Edward. By the time Wallis met Edward, she had been divorced from her first husband Earl Winfield Spencer and was married to her second husband Ernest Simpson. She got officially divorced from Ernest in 1936 and married Edward in 1937, reports The History Press.

Love for duty

King Edward VIII put love before royal titles for Wallis Simpson. Photo: AFP

A common theme surrounding Wallis and Meghan is that both men chose their wives and love over duty. Edward was the only British sovereign to voluntary decide to give up the crown. He announced on British radio in December 1936 that he could not be king without the support of “the woman I love”.

Edward was previously a popular member of the royal family. After his decision to abdicate, he was ousted from duties and lived a life in exile.

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Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex attend the National Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral on June 3, in London, England. Photo: Wire Image
The queen gave her blessing to Harry marrying Meghan, signalling what many thought was a move towards the royal family modernising, as Meghan was also divorced and American. However in 2020, Harry and Meghan confirmed they would be stepping back as senior working members of the royal family and wanted to live “financially independently”.
The move caused a rift in the royal family with the similarities between Simpson and Markle again being drawn. Harry and Meghan have blasted the British press for attacking them and moved to the US to start a new life. Since then, Harry has only returned to the UK a handful of times. In a bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2021, Harry and Meghan detailed the experience they had been though since leaving royal life, with the couple saying they felt “free”.


A 1930s portrait of American-born Wallis Simpson, who became Duchess of Windsor in 1937 by marrying Edward of England, Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII of England. Photo: AFP

Before meeting Edward, Simpson was known in social circles, but that’s where her influence stopped. After her relationship with the incumbent king, she was named “Woman of the Year” by Time in 1936, recognising as the most talked and “interest-compelling person” in the world. Her name and image were instantly recognisable and she because a household name overnight.

A pre-super fame Meghan Markle participates in AOL’s Build Speaker Series to discuss her role on the television show Suits at AOL Studios in New York. Photo: AP
Markle, meanwhile, had achieved minor fame for her role on TV series Suits. But it was when she dated Harry, and over the subsequent scandal, that her fame really extended. In 2018 she was named a runner up for Time’s person of the year.

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Brothers at odds

This picture was taken in 1920 when the Prince of Wales, King Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor, left for Australia. Photo: Central Press

Edward’s relationship with Simpson was said to cause such strife with his brother King George VI (then known as Prince Albert, Duke of York) that the relationship completely broke down. According to The History Press, after the abdication, King George stopped visiting his brother and the dereliction of duty was considered by many as the ultimate sin.

Britain’s Prince William and Kate, Princess of Wales, and Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, leave the gate to view the floral tributes for the late Queen Elizabeth outside Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, on September 10. Photo: AP
It seems Harry and William also had a similar experience for some time. Harry told Oprah Winfrey that his relationship with his brother William was one of “space at the moment” in 2021. He added that “time heals all things, hopefully”. William and Harry have through the years united as they faced the scrutiny of the world growing up. After their mother, Princess Diana’s death in 1997, the brothers and their strong bond was visible for everyone to see.
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  • Markle, a Suits actress, and Simpson, a late American socialite, both married British royals and caused controversies – so what else do they have in common?
  • The two divorcees met their spouses, Prince Harry and then-King Edward VIII, through mutual friends – and the ensuing romances created family tensions and global infamy