The death March 30 of Elizabeth I, the Queen Mother, at 101, reminded me that it was the Duchess of Windsor, the former Wallis Warfield Simpson, who altered the succession of the English monarchy.
When King Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936 to marry the twice-divorced Simpson, the crown passed to his brother, George VI, making Elizabeth the queen and ultimately "Queen Mum" to the current queen, Elizabeth II.
Many longtime Fauquier County residents remember that Simpson had many connections to the Virginia Piedmont, notably to Fauquier.
In 1905, when she was 10 and still known by her given name, Bessie Wallis Warfield, her mother, Alice Montague Warfield, enrolled her at Baltimore's fashionable Arundell School for Girls, close to their home. There she became friends with Phoebe Randolph and Florence Campbell, who had been born into Fauquier's fledgling hunt country society. Their friendship, though often distant, would be lifelong.
At dancing classes in Baltimore, Bessie Wallis met Hugh Spilman of Warrenton, who, nearly 20 years later, would become her companion when she sojourned in Warrenton after her first divorce from U.S. Navy Lt. Earl Winfield Spencer Jr.
Her childhood summers were spent at Pot Spring, her deceased father's family home in Timonium, Md., or at Wakefield Manor, north of Flint Hill in Rappahannock County. The manor was the home of Lelia Gordon, her mother's first cousin and the widow of Basil Gordon, a politician and Baltimore business magnate.
Old-timers recall him as the first millionaire -- in cash, no less -- to move into Virginia from "the North." At Wakefield Manor, Bessie Wallis was introduced to Piedmont society, and in her 1956 autobiography, "The Heart Has Its Reasons," she recalled being paid five cents a quart for picking bugs off rose bushes.
Bessie Wallis first visited Fauquier and Loudoun as a charge of Charlotte Noland, who from 1910-1913 ran a summer camp at Burrland, her birthplace and family home a mile south of Middleburg. As part of the "winter in Baltimore" set, Miss Charlotte, as the girls called her, coached basketball at the Arundell School.
Games were played at a nearby gymnasium, dubbed "the garage" by the girls. In "The Heart" Wallis wrote, "My being part of a team, no longer standing apart, gave me a real sense of belonging."
Of her coach, she added, "She was my model of the ideal woman, cultivated of manner, a marvelous horsewoman and a dashing figure in every setting."
Noland persuaded Bessie Wallis's family to enroll her in the Burrland "Farmerettes," as the Nolands called their teenage guests. In spring 1911, Bessie Wallis noted in her memory book, "Yes, I am really going to camp."
Burrland Sundays were special for Wallis, who by then had dropped her first name. Services at Middleburg's Emmanuel Episcopal Church were hardly exhilarating, but the wagon that drove the girls and Noland clan to town was piloted by Philip Noland, Miss Charlotte's handsome, single 35-year-old brother.
In her biography, Wallis wrote: "Our relationship had all the more luster because of the tragic barrier of age. Once, Philip Noland took me riding in his two-wheeled cart, all unaware of the emotional storm he had aroused. To my mind, it was exactly as if he had asked me to marry him, and when I came home from camp, I cried and cried over him."
The one-sided romance ended that fall, when his expected daily letters to her never arrived.
On Sunday afternoons, the girls would often wagon to Glen Ora, the Tabb estate, about a mile and a half east of Burrland. The Tabbs were cousins of the Nolands and welcomed their young charges. One of Charlotte's sisters, Rosalie or Katherine, often drove the wagon, pulled by a horse named Almo Dobbin Spec (for special) Creature. In her memoirs, Rosalie remembered a ditty the girls sang en route:
Almo, sweet Almo, where have you been?
What is your home dear? What is your phone dear?
Your number please give.
A wedding ring is the only ring Almo can wear.
The real object of the song was 17-year-old Lloyd Tabb, Glen Ora's main attraction, save for its tennis court and the promise of tea or supper. Tabb "became my ideal beau," Wallis recalled. "For two full and delicious months of daydreaming, he occupied a permanent place in my affections."
There were other pleasures. The girls swam in Burrland's ice pond, rode, picnicked and listened to Miss Charlotte's stories of England -- activities that would be staples of Foxcroft School, which she would open in 1914. On occasion, decked out in summer dresses and straw hats, the girls would arrive at garden parties in a coach called "Flying Yankee."
Wallis's initial affiliations with Virginia ended in the late winter of 1916. Corinne Mustin, Lelia Gordon's daughter, had married a Navy captain, and Corinne invited her young cousin to visit the new Pensacola, Fla., air station, which her husband commanded. That April, Wallis wrote her mother: "I have just met the world's most fascinating aviator."
Wallis Warfield married Lt. Win Spencer in November. But within a few years, his drinking, sullenness and, according to Wallis, his habit of locking her in rooms for hours on end led her to contemplate divorce. Once she had decided on that course, she returned to Wakefield Manor in late summer 1925.
The manor was still Lelia Gordon's home, but she had a new husband, Gen. George Barnett, a former Marine Corps commandant. The Barnetts recommended that Wallis see their Front Royal lawyer, Aubrey "Kingfish" Weaver, who told her that to obtain a divorce in Virginia she must live there for a year.
Warrenton was the logical choice. The town of 1,600 was close to the Gordons and also to Clovercroft, home of former Arundell School classmate Phoebe Randolph Spilman, and Oakwood, home of Madge Larrabee, whom Wallis had met in Washington.
Not too far away was Lloyd Tabb, her first beau, and Lewis Allen, the Winchester obstetrician who on June 19, 1895, had delivered Bessie Wallis Warfield. Allen often showed horses in Warrenton.
She first stayed with the Larrabees at Oakwood, off the old Waterloo Pike, and then spent time with her mother in Washington. In early October 1925, she stepped off the train alone at the Warrenton depot and was given the once-over by station hangers-on. Young women of that day were always greeted by friends or family. She was met only by a porter, who introduced himself as "Jake from the hotel."
The hotel was the Warren Green, a handsome, brick three-story affair built in 1876 and enlarged in 1910. It was a haven for traveling salesmen, then known as "drummers." There Wallis Spencer spent her "divorce year," as the press would later call her nearly two-year stay.
To Wallis, the first year was "the most tranquil I have ever known. I simply rusticated." In her autobiography, she describes the hotel and some acquaintances in detail.
Her first room, Number 212, had fading flowery wallpaper, a high brass bed, night table, an imitation mahogany bureau, enameled washstand and easy chair of cracked black leatherette. The bath was down the hall.
A saving grace was the second-story veranda, and in nice weather, she sat there to read "lots of poetry," the novels of Sinclair Lewis, Somerset Maugham and John Galsworthy. She also began reading Will Durant's "The Story of Philosophy."
A fellow boarder at the hotel was Hugh Spilman, a Fauquier National Bank teller who had been her dance partner and sometime date in Baltimore. He took her to parties and horse meets and was a nearly constant companion.
A source, who lived at Loretta north of Warrenton at the time, recalled hearing Wallis say to him, "Oh, Hughie, if you just had some money, I would marry you." The source, asking not to be named, said she was so struck by the comment that she wrote it down.
Sally Spilman Tufts recalls that her father, Baldwin Day Spilman, Hugh's cousin, played cards with Hugh in his room, where a large photograph of Wallis Spencer decorated the wall. Each time Hugh passed the photo, he would hug and kiss it.
Another friend was a Britisher, Jack Mason. "He proved to be the best of company -- a ready and fluent talker, witty, and well-informed," Wallis recalled in her memoirs. They often ate and took walks together. On one stroll, she recalled, his usual reticence to speak about his past gave way, and he said: "The trouble with a social life is the sheer weariness of continual deceit. You have two faces, the one you were born with and the mask you wear over it."
As 1926 drew to a close, Wallis visited Washington more often and traveled to New York City, where friends introduced her to Ernest Simpson, a ship broker who spent half the year in England and the other half in the United States. He was married, but their mutual attraction led to an affair. She always said the marriage was already in trouble when they met.
In December 1927, Circuit Court Judge George Latham Fletcher granted Wallis Spencer her divorce decree, and in July 1928, she married the now-divorced Ernest Simpson in London. After a honeymoon in Europe, the couple settled into English society. Two years later, at Burrough Court, a country house in Leicestershire, she met Edward, prince of Wales, heir to the English throne.
Their meetings became frequent, and a Mediterranean cruise and Austrian skiing trip solidified a friendship that grew into a romance. By 1935, she was addressing the prince by his first name, David, and the press was on their trail.
During this period of their liaison, David spent time at North Wales, then an exclusive club for the riding rich. Just to the east, on the Springs Road at Marshfield, lived Samuel Appleton, the club's manager. His grandson, Samuel Appleton Mitchell, also of Marshfield, recently told me this story, passed down by his family.
Appleton encountered the Prince of Wales and his chauffeur parked by the Springs Road, and the prince appeared downcast. Appleton invited him to tea at Marshfield, where, Mitchell said, "the prince opened up his heart to my grandfather. He wasn't sure he wanted to go through with it [marrying Wallis]. There was an ambivalence. He had trouble figuring out his own mind. And at this time, the press was talking about how awestruck he was."
Edward ascended the throne in January 1936 but abdicated in December and married "the woman I love" on June 3, 1937. (Her divorce to Simpson had been finalized in May 1937.) Edward and Wallis, now Duke and Duchess of Windsor, left England in self-imposed exile, and in 1940, his brother, King George VI, appointed Edward governor of the Bahamas.
While he was governor, the duke and his duchess paid an extended visit to the Virginia Piedmont in October 1942. A highlight of their stay was a stop at Clovercroft, where Baldwin Day Spilman boarded several English children at his own expense.
Eugene Meyer, publisher of The Washington Post, had brought them to safety from the London bombings during World War II by paying for their Atlantic passage. One of the youngsters, Christopher Leaver, became Lord Mayor of London in 1981.
The duke and duchess also visited old friends, her family at Wakefield Manor and Charlotte Noland and Dr. Allen at Foxcroft. There, at tea, and with a smile, he reminded the duke and duchess that when he delivered Wallis, he had never said a comment long attributed to him:
"She is fit for a king."
Eugene Scheel is a Waterford historian and mapmaker.