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BOOK REVIEW: Wallis in Love: The Untold Life of the Duchess of Windsor, the Woman Who Changed the Monarchy

Written by Omair Alavi

Wallis in Love: The Untold Life of the Duchess of Windsor, the Woman Who Changed the Monarchy. Photo Courtesy: Good Reads

If you think that Charles – Diana – Camilla love triangle damaged the British monarchy, think again. For before these people were even born, the biggest dent in the British monarchy was put by someone who wasn’t even British! American-born Wallis Simpson is that person, whose name would be written in the history of the world (read British history) as the woman who loved the right man at the wrong time and took him down with her ambitious nature.

Fans of the Netflix series ‘The Crown’ might think they know it all about Wallis Simpson, but there is more to ‘that’ woman in recent British history than meets the eye. Veteran writer and biographer of all things British Andrew Morton brings forth lesser-known details about the twice-divorced American socialite in Wallis in Love: The Untold Life of the Duchess of Windsor, the Woman Who Changed the Monarchy and tries to make the readers understand why they shouldn’t forgive, and forget the woman whose sole aim was to become the Queen.

For those who are still wondering who Wallis Simpson was, well she was the woman for whom King Edward VIII abdicated the British throne. As this book will tell you, Wallis and the then Prince of Wales, who later became the duchess and duke of Wales, were both in love and seemed to be made for each other too. However, her status as a divorcée caused a constitutional crisis in the United Kingdom, that led to Edward’s abdication, and their banishment from England. Think of them as the Meghan and Harry of the 1930s, however, their story would make Meghan – Harry look good

Why should one prefer this book over others talking about the duke and duchess of Windsor? For one, the author knows what he is doing since he knows all there is to know about the British monarchs, and second, Wallis and Edward’s weird ways demand to be read. He marches his readers briskly through the young Bessie Wallis Warfield’s shabby-genteel upbringing and talks about the impact of her dead father and clueless mother on her life, for the latter dependent on relatives for their upkeep. For Wallis, says Morton, attracting male attention was the only means available to move ahead in the world. However, she met her match in the royal family whose refusal to let her call herself ‘Her Royal Highness’, hurt her more than being a two-time divorcée, whose ex-husbands were still alive.

Andrew Morton, who has penned books on Princess Diana, Meghan Markle, Prince Andrew beside Angelina Jolie, Tom Cruise, and Madonna, is one of the leading biographers in the world. He knows how to engage the audience, keep them busy, and burst their perception at the same time, which is exactly what makes this book a must-read. He takes the readers down memory lane when Wallis was a simple girl with high ambitions and discloses details about her life that weren’t known to many.

He is neither amongst those who blame Wallis for causing the abdication; nor is a part of the group that paints her and Edward’s union as a great love story. In fact, he takes the neutral place between the two and explains that while Simpson had her own reasons to marry the ‘King’, it was the Prince who acted foolishly, and impulsively. He also gives details of the Prince’s exploits as a bachelor and how his parents were always worried about his excessive partying and spending time with female friends. According to the author, not even they would have known that after the King’s death, the Prince would act irresponsibly and leave the throne for a woman who loved him for the throne only!

While the Prince’s mental state is explained further with facts such as his acceptance of Hitler’s invitation to visit Germany in 1937; it is Wallis’ two marriages and subsequent affairs that take up most of the book. According to the author, while she was first married to a charming Navy airman whose violent nature made her leave him, her second marriage was somewhat settled and less adventurous, which would have been ideal for someone who had spent time with an unstable man. He further explains how Wallis used this ‘boring shipping executive’ to become friends with the then Prince of Wales, who was the most eligible bachelor in the kingdom, and the rest as they say is history.

The author’s investigative methods must be commended for he quotes those who had either met with Wallis, knew her, or had said or written something about her before she turned her attention to the future King. He also alleges that American novelist Gertrude Stein based the title character of her novel, Ida, partly on Wallis, since she was her neighbor in Baltimore and that the former duchess had multiple affairs with one Argentine and one American diplomat before the duke, and neither ended the way she had expected. Her visit to China is covered to lend credibility to the rumor that it was the ‘Chinese connection’ that helped her move into the Royal circles, whereas her ‘friend’ Herman Rogers also gets mentioned, who functioned as her “de facto husband” in crises.

Morton’s fresh angle on the abdication makes the readers realize that if Edward had surrendered his right to the throne for Wallis’s sake when his father was alive, the situation might have been resolved. However, since he insisted on marrying her after ascending to the throne, and before his scheduled formal coronation, the Church sprang into action at the appropriate time. After they were sent away, their lives were consumed by, as per Morton, ‘only two issues: their image and their bank balance.’

Last but not the least, the author divulges to the readers that Wallis Simpson wanted to become an actress at one time and might have been acting when in the Prince’s company, but her ‘act’ didn’t help her much for it cost her ‘love’ the throne. He even compares her to the other misguided members of the Royal Family, because he believes that while she didn’t physically inflict harm on the throne, her intention to become the Queen did the damage unknowingly to both the Prince, and his younger brother who succeeded him.

The readers can learn a lot about history while going through this book that is one of the few biographies that give history lessons as well. Not only does it explain why King Edward’s decision to abdicate in 1936 for the sake of “the woman I love” was not just a constitutional crisis but also a national trauma that nearly derailed the monarchy. The author argues that had Wallis been informed that the idea was impractical, she might have found another way but since it seemed like a good idea at the time, both he and the King stood their ground, only to be pushed away from the whole country.

About the author

Omair Alavi