All society pretensions aside -- because she was from a poor branch of the family -- the late Duchess of Windsor, formerly Wallis Warfield Simpson of Baltimore, who died Thursday in Paris, was indisputably from one of the First Families of Maryland.
Richard Warfield arrived from England in 1632, and his descendants included Gov. Edwin Warfield, who served in Annapolis from 1904 to 1908, for whom the steamboat Governor Warfield on the Old Bay Line to Norfolk was later named.
The duchess was descended from another family branch. After her father, Teackle Wallis Warfield, died in her childhood, she was educated by an uncle, Solomon Davies Warfield, once the postmaster of Baltimore and board chairman of the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, corporate parent of the Old Bay Line.
In 1916, she married a Navy pilot, Earl Winfield Spencer Jr. A few years ago, visiting the Del Coronado Hotel adjoining an air base near San Diego, I saw a hotel historical exhibit contending that Wallis Spencer first met her future husband -- who was then the Prince of Wales and the heir to the throne -- at a party there around 1920. There is no evidence that their relationship began earlier than the 1930s.
In 1925, the future duchess established legal residency in Fauquier County seeking and ultimately receiving a divorce from Spencer on the ground of desertion. She then lived two years at the Warren Green Hotel. On a brief visit to New York she met her second husband, Ernest Simpson of London. She later divorced Simpson in order to marry King Edward VIII, who in 1936 gave up his throne for her.
Maj. Gen. Edwin (Ted) Warfield III (USAF reserve, retired), grandson of the former governor, a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates and former adjutant general of Maryland, said he got 11 telephone calls on Thursday from news reporters seeking reminiscences about Wallis, his "second cousin five times removed." (Never underestimate the precision of a Maryland or, for that matter, a Virginia genealogist!)
"I danced with her one time at the Hunt Ball, and found her to be a beautiful lady," Ted Warfield said, noting that she was 17 years older than he. When the Simpson-King Edward matter was in the headlines, Warfield said, he was attending Kent School in Connecticut. "They called me Wally," Warfield said, "which annoyed me mightily."
On the same subject, Chalmers M. Roberts, The Washington Post's retired diplomatic correspondent who wrote the 1977 book "The Washington Post, the First 100 Years," noted that The Post had a real scoop on Edward VIII's plan to marry Wallis Simpson even if it might cost his throne.
The story, written by Edward T. Folliard, was published Oct. 17, 1936, two months before the king's abdication. The story came from Eugene Meyer, then the publisher of The Post, who, not by coincidence, had Lord Lothian -- later British ambassador to Washington -- as his house guest at the time. "Meyer . . . never thereafter ceased to boast about his coup as a reporter," Roberts' book recounts.