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Vol. 2, No. 3
(626) 791-8973


© 2003 By William A. Cohen, PhD, The Institute of Leader Arts,

Adapted from a forthcoming book The Art of the Strategist: 10 Essential Principles for Leading Your Company to Victory to be published by AMACOM in 2004

If you really want to understand the power of strategy, I ask you to leave business, warfare, or any area you might normally consider as fertile for the application of strategy principles. Imagine this scenario. A 40-year old once divorced, and now unhappily married, not particularly glamorous, American matron would like to marry English royalty. Impossible? On May 3rd, 1937, this particular divorcee applied known principles of strategy and did exactly that.

On that date, American commoner, Wallis Simpson, by then twice divorced, married the former King of England, Edward VIII, to become the Duchess of Windsor. Edward even abdicated his throne in order to marry her.

How did Wallis Simpson accomplish this? First, she clearly defined her objective. We know this from a good friend and schoolmate who explained that Wallis had set out from the start to win the prince. Quite simply, while still in America, she planned to meet him and get him to fall in love with her. Of course, Wallis Simpson followed other principles well understood by students of strategy. Her plan was simple. Get to England. Meet the prince. Get him to fall in love with her. Divorce her husband. Marry the prince. Clearly she was committed to her “impossible dream” from the start.

Either through luck, or with Wallis’ encouragement, her husband moved to London. The tabloids all said that Thelma, the Viscountess Furness was Prince Edward’s lover. So Simpson sought out and became a friend of the Vicountess. Through Thelma, Wallis met the prince.

Some months later, Thelma travelled to America. By then, Wallis had seized the initiative. She was not just Thelma’s acquaintance. She had become her best friend. When Thelma expressed concern that other women might court the prince in her absence, her “good friend” Wallis volunteered to “look after” him. Wallis had again taken the initiative and seized the moment.

With Thelma’s blessing, Wallis and the prince were together almost every evening. For all practical purposes, Wallis became mistress of Fort Beveldere, the prince’s private retreat outside of London, even if she was not the mistress of the prince. Simpson did everything, from redecorating his house to planning the daily menus and taking personal care of the prince’s pet pug dogs. To do this, she economized her time elsewhere and concentrated it at the prince’s estate. She clearly didn’t spend much time with her husband.

Moreover, she didn’t behave as did others who visited at Fort Beveldere. Wallis did the unexpected. For example, during one dinner party, she playfully slapped the prince’s hand and scolded him for his poor table manners when he reached to take a lettuce leaf out of the salad with his fingers. Thelma, nor none of Edwards other girl friends had ever done anything like that. Guests were scandalized that this commoner would treat the future king in so cavalier a fashion. The prince, however, was amused. It is important to understand that this happened before the two became lovers.

By the time Thelma returned to London two months later, however, Wallis had the situation well in hand her. Thelma was out, Wallis was in. “Wallis looked after the prince exceedingly well,” Thelma wryly commented later to reporters.

However, Wallis was still married. She had to both get out of her marriage, and convince the prince to marry her. She managed both. First, she deepened the prince’s affections by supporting his love of all things American from casual sportswear to jazz music. Another words, she exploited her initial success. At the same time she continued to exhibit the lesson of surprise. Refusing to play a subordinate role in the relationship, she dominated the prince rather than the other way around as in the relationships in his previous affairs. At least one friend claimed that this hold became so strong that Edward became Wallis’ “absolute slave.”

On January 20, 1936, the King of England died and Prince Edward became King Edward VIII. If anything it appeared a wedding was even less likely. The Church of England opposed divorce and as king, Edward was charged with defending the faith. Moreover, the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 forbade a member of the royal family to marry without the consent of Parliament. Was Parliament likely to approve the marriage of the king to a married, once-divorced, American commoner? In her dreams!

Under these new conditions Wallis demonstrated applications of the principleas of taking the indirect approach and simultaneous multiple approaches. Wallis’ husband, Ernest Simpson, was embarrassed by this affair which had become public and was attracting increasing attention. Many women with similar designs might have asked for a divorce. Wallis did not. She did the unexpected again. According to some sources, she actually told her husband that she would not divorce him . . . unless it was to marry the king.

This was the indirect approach and it was very clever. It meant that the only salvation for Simpson’s honor (and ego) would be in Wallis’ marriage to the monarch. So, Ernest Simpson actually asked for and received a private audience with the king. Actually advocating for Wallis, he told Edward that he would agree to divorce Wallis, but only on condition that the king marry and remain faithful to her. Wallis may have been stuck under English law, but by having multiple alternatives, doing the unexpected and taking the indirect approach she found a way to make it irrelevant.

The English Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, issued an ultimatum to Edward: renounce Wallis or abdicate. Otherwise, the government would resign and the opposition party would refuse to serve.

On December 11, 1936, Edward abdicated to marry “the woman he loved.” He became the Duke of Windsor. He and Wallis were married a few months later. One of the great love stories of the century? Perhaps. However, the British government’s secret files on Simpson and Edward were supposed to remain sealed for 100 years, that is until 2067. But they didn’t.

In 1999 the law was changed requiring the Public Records Office to open all files that did not affect national security. There was a shocking revelation. Simpson had a lover, a “charming adventurer” by the name of Guy Marcus Trundle, not only during her campaign to win Edward, but after Edward had resigned the kingship and married her as well! 1

Simpson’s strategy may have been deceitful and without moral principles, but without a doubt, it was an amazing demonstration of the power of the principles of strategy in an entirely non-business and non-war situation.

You may well wonder about the ethics of some of Wallis’ tactics. Like “the force,” the essential principles of strategy are phenomena which have a dark side. Like “the force,” the principles work no matter who, or for what purposes they are wielded. A skilled practitioner of these principles has a tremendous advantage which can be employed for either good or evil. But an evil practitioner loses these advantages if a practitioner with integrity understands them as well.


2 Times Wire Services, “Mrs. Simpson Cheated on Edward, Papers Show,” Los Angeles Times (January 30, 2003) p. A4.