Eighty years ago, the King of England gave up his crown for a girl from Biddle Street.
On December 11, 1936, England’s King Edward VIII stunned the world when he abdicated the throne to marry “the woman I love,” a twice-divorced American named Wallis Simpson. Gossip mongers around the world devoured the story, but perhaps few with as much zeal as Baltimoreans. After all, Simpson grew up on Biddle Street.
During just one three-month period in 1936, articles chronicling developments in the romance ran in The Baltimore Sun nearly every day.
One article described the gown that the 18-year-old Wallis wore when she made her society debut in 1914. A casual remark by Mrs. Simpson about her Maryland roots was probed for hidden meaning. A New York entrepreneur even tried to buy the rowhouse at 212 Biddle St., where she had lived for several years as a girl, and move the building to New Jersey, where he planned it as the central attraction in an amusement park.
“There are five things that make up the best stories,” says Baltimore historian Zippy Larson, who gives a one-hour talk about the duchess to local senior centers: “sex, money, power, religion and mystery. And her life had it all.”
But even at the time and despite her celebrity, an odor of disgrace clung to the duchess.
After all, she had been divorced twice. Shameful!
She began her affair with the king while still married to another man. Shocking!
It was whispered that she had bewitched the infatuated monarch with boudoir tricks that she picked up during a trip to Shanghai. Sleazy!
“I don’t think that Baltimore is proud of the duchess,” Letzer says. “I think Baltimore is intrigued by her.”