It was the scandal which almost brought down the monarchy. Now, as official records are published for the first time, Nick Morrison looks at the secrets of Edward and Mrs Simpson.

SHE was the divorced socialite with a reputation for taking a string of young lovers. He was the heir to the throne with the common touch, a playboy reputation and a need to settle down. She became one of the most hated women in Britain, despised for stealing a King from his subjects. He became a sad and pathetic figure, exiled from his homeland and suspected for his apparent Nazi sympathies.

When Edward, Prince of Wales, lost his heart to Wallis Simpson, he set in motion a chain of events which provoked his abdication and plunged the monarchy into its most serious crisis for 300 years.

Now, following the death of the Queen Mother last year, the publication of the so-called Abdication Papers has uncovered the secret life of the Windsors, revealing a world of betrayal, hatred, intrigue and lust.

After his abdication in 1936, Edward VIII went into voluntary exile, living most of his life in France, apart from a wartime stint as Governor of the Bahamas. It was only in death, at his funeral at Windsor in 1972, that he was finally accepted back into the Royal Family.

And the papers reveal that this estrangement from his family began the moment he agreed to marry Mrs Simpson.

Members of the Royal Family were forbidden from attending the wedding - a ceremony carried out on June 3, 1937 by Robert Anderson Jardine, vicar of St Paul's in Darlington. Two months before the marriage, Home Secretary Sir John Simon wrote to the King, George VI, advising him that travelling to the ceremony would demonstrate that the new Duchess was accepted.

A few days later, a courtier replied saying that the King had written to his brother, adding: "His Majesty has firmly told him that no brother nor sister can attend the wedding, nor will His Majesty allow one of his chaplains to officiate."

And this wish to distance the Royal Family from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor did not diminish after the marriage, with the Queen Mother instrumental in preventing her brother-in-law and his wife from returning to Britain after the Abdication Crisis.

In a hand-written letter to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, dated December 14, 1938, George VI said: "I think you know that neither the Queen (Elizabeth, later the Queen Mother) nor Queen Mary (George V's widow) have any desire to meet the Duchess of Windsor, and therefore any visit made for the purpose of introducing her to members of the Royal Family obviously becomes impossible."

In an angry letter to Chamberlain, the Duke, who abdicated on December 11, 1936, complained that he was being condemned to exile.

Writing from Cannes in the south of France on December 22, 1937, the Duke, signing himself "Edward", said: "When I decided to give up the Throne last December, I realised that the only dignified and sensible course for me to follow was to leave the country for a period, the length of which was naturally to be determined by a number of considerations.

"But I never intended, nor would I ever have agreed, to renounce my native land or my right to return to it for all time."

The former King said it had been proposed to stop payment of an undisclosed allowance, agreed with George VI the day before the abdication, should he return to England without Government approval.

"I regard such a proposal as both unfair and intolerable, as it would be tantamount to my accepting payment for remaining in exile," the Duke told Chamberlain. "It is hardly necessary for me to repeat to you my loyalty to my brother as King, but I cannot refrain from saying, that the treatment which has been meted out to my wife and myself since last December, by the Royal Family and by the Government, has caused us acute pain.

"Not only do I consider this treatment uncalled for, but I regard the petty injustices that have been heaped upon us, as the only element that could possibly revive in those that might resent them, the very emotions which I was fortunate enough to be able to suppress a year ago."

As well as the political intrigue, the Abdication Papers also illuminate the reality behind the romance of the century. Far from being the devoted mistress who had found love at the third attempt, Wallis Simpson had a secret lover while she was being courted by the Prince of Wales.

Special Branch officers keeping Mrs Simpson under surveillance discovered that she was having an affair, with one Guy Marcus Trundle, a married motor engineer and car salesman from York. According to a police report, the divorcee paid her secret lover money and bought him expensive presents.

The report said: "Trundle is described as a very charming adventurer, very good looking, well bred and an excellent dancer. He meets Mrs Simpson quite openly at informal social gatherings as a personal friend, but secret meetings are made by appointment when intimate relations take place."

Efforts to ensure Mrs Simspon was free to marry Edward VIII were similarly mired in intrigue. Her then-husband, Ernest Aldrich Simpson, was offered £150,000 - the equivalent of £7.5m today - to spend the weekend with another woman, giving Wallis grounds for divorce and pave the way for her to marry her royal suitor.

Edward's final year as monarch in 1936 began with a private meeting in which he was branded a "madman" by Simpson for even contemplating the possibility of marrying his wife. According to a record of the frank and emotionally charged exchange between the two, the King "broke down" after telling Simpson that he was "in love with his wife and that he wanted to marry her".

The note began: "Simpson told the King that he must be mad to entertain such an idea, that he must realise that she was already married and, even if she were divorced, it would be impossible for him to marry a woman who had been twice divorced."

That, according to the records, was the only time that both men discussed the question of divorce. It was only later that year, at the Simpsons' divorce hearing in Ipswich, that Mr and Mrs Simpson were accused of taking part in a plan to end their marriage for the sake of the King.

Francis Stephenson, a solicitor, intervened in the divorce hearing. He said: "I was told that Mrs Simpson was the King's mistress and that her husband was to be paid a large sum of money to let his wife divorce him. In one case I was told the sum to be paid to him was £100,000 and another sum mentioned was £150,000."

According to statements taken by the King's Proctor shortly after Stephenson's intervention, Mr Simpson and a lady had arrived at the Hotel de Paris, in Bray, on the weekend of July 21, 1936. The woman, who signed the hotel register EH Kennedy as a cover for her true identity, was also said to have been paid £300 to take part in the ruse. Mr Simpson denied the allegations and the decree absolute finally went through unchallenged when Stephenson withdrew his intervention.

The constitutional crisis followed, as too did the abdication and exile. But on June 3, 1937, Edward VIII, then the Duke of Windsor, married Mrs Simpson.

The forbidden speech

Edward VIII's announcement that he was giving up the throne for "the woman I love" became one of the most poignant radio broadcasts of all time. But the King had wanted to deliver an impassioned plea for public support for his aim of marrying Wallis Simpson and retain his throne. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin blocked the oration, and, in the end, Edward was confined to making a farewell address.

This is an extract from the banned speech:

It was never my intention to hide anything from you. Hitherto it has not been possible for me to speak, but now I must. I could not go on bearing the heavy burdens that constan tly rest on me as King, unless I could be strengthened in the task by a happy married life; and so I am firmly resolved to marry the woman I love, when she is free to marry me.

"You know me well enough to understand that I never could have contemplated a marriage of convenience. It has taken me a long time to find the woman I want to make my wife. Without her I have been a very lonely man. With her I shall have a home and all the companionship and mutual sympathy which married life can bring.

"Neither Mrs Simpson nor I have ever sought to insist that she should be Queen. All we desired was that our married happiness should carry with it a proper title and dignity for her, befitting my wife.

"Now that I have at last been able to take you so fully into my confidence, I feel it is best to go away for a while, so that you may reflect on what I have said.

"Nothing is nearer to my heart than that I should return; but whatever may befall, I shall always have a deep affection for my country, for the Empire and for you all."