1928. A middle-aged foreigner comes to London with average looks, no money and no connections.Wallis’s first months in the city are lonely, dull and depressing. With no friends of her own she follows the glamorous set in magazines and goes to watch society weddings. Her stuffy husband Ernest’s idea of fun, meanwhile, is touring historic monuments.
When an unexpected encounter leads to a house party with the Prince of Wales, Wallis’s star begins to rise. Her secret weapon is her American pep and honesty. For the prince she is a breath of fresh air. As her friendship with him grows, their relationship deepens into love. Wallis is plunged into a world of unimaginable luxury and privilege, enjoying weekends together at his private palace on the grounds of Windsor Castle.
Wallis knows the fun and excitement can’t last. The prince will have to marry and she will return to Ernest. The sudden death of George V seems to make this inevitable; the Prince of Wales is now King Edward VIII. When, to her shock and amazement, he refuses to give her up–or recognize that they are facing impossible odds–her fairy tale becomes a nightmare. The royal family close ranks to shut her out and Ernest gives an ultimatum.
Wallis finds herself trapped when Edward insists on abdicating his throne. She can’t escape the overwhelming public outrage and villainized, she becomes the woman everyone blames–the face of the most dramatic royal scandal of the twentieth century.”
There’s a new historical fiction novel about my favorite royal story: the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Their love affair changed the course of British history, and even though I’ve read dozens of accounts of how it all went down, there’s no one general consensus. That’s what makes The Duchess by Wendy Holden (Amazon) so compelling: it offers a fresh take on the well-known story.
The story offers a dual timeline starting in 1972 when the Duke of Windsor has died and his body is returned to England, then flashing back to 1928 when Wallis Simpson first arrives in England with her second husband, Ernest. What I really liked about this book was that is made the Simpsons utterly middle class. They struggled to make ends meet. Ernest is under incredible pressure to make his business succeed and spends much time away from home. And Wallis is introduced as someone who is frigid based upon the abuse of her first husband, who raped and beat her. She and Ernest are not intimate in any way.
Wallis is ambitious socially, but breaking into society is a bit of a challenge. Luckily, she has help from the American Morgan sisters, Consuelo and Thelma. Thelma is married to a count, and opens the doors to higher society. The problem is, how to present one’s self to society when money is tight. Wallis is clever in her use of markets and tailors who can make it seem like the Simpsons have more money than they really do. It takes several years, but eventually Wallis finds herself in the same social circles as the Prince of Wales, Edward, known as David to intimates.
Holden portrays the future king as a man who really never wanted the job, and there are historical anecdotes to suggest he said this as early as age 6, and that his affair with Wallis was just the excuse he needed to step down once his time came. Wallis is portrayed sympathetically as a woman who has fallen in love with a man who was not her husband, She realizes she is destined to just be a mistress, but David doesn’t want it that way. There’s some indication that David couldn’t perform adequately for women prior to Wallis, and her frigidity melts away once in the arms of her prince. Theirs is a true love connection. This is another well-known rumor for those that have read anything about the couple.
Wallis is the most pragmatic of mistresses. Once the king dies and David is elevated to become Edward VIII, she realizes she has no future with him because he insists she divorce her husband and he will make her queen. Wallis tries to break it off, but he sends a note saying if she does, he will slit his throat. This is also based upon anecdotal rumors that I had also read and seen in documentaries about the situation. Wallis is, in a word, trapped. Sure, she loves David, but her standing in society, which took her so long to achieve, will all be for naught if the king abdicates. Ultimately, that proves not to be true: the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were the top of society’s A-list until the Duke’s health declined. But David’s dream of retiring to his country estate in England and acting like a younger brother to the king was not to be. They spent the rest of their lives being the life of the party with no real contributions to society other than their fashion choices and the vast jewelry collection of the duchess.
This is Wendy Holden’s second book on royal outsiders. I thoroughly enjoyed her first book, The Royal Governess by Wendy Holden (click for my review). I can’t wait to read the final book book of the trilogy because of Holden’s ability to weave a story, even though I have no clue who it could be about!
This is the 58th Audiobook I’ve listened to as part of my 2021 Audiobook Challenge.
For more reviews, visit www.bargain-sleuth.com
Never miss a post! Subscribe to our email list below.
This post contains affiliate links.