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The Duchess of Windsor: The Uncommon Life of Wallis Simpson

The Duchess of Windsor: The Uncommon Life of Wallis Simpson

4.3 23
by Greg King

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A woman's life can really be a succession of lives, each revolving around some emotionally compelling situation or challenge, and each marked off by some intense experience.

It was the love story of the century--the king and the commoner. In December 1936, King Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry "the woman I love," Wallis Warfield Simpson, a


A woman's life can really be a succession of lives, each revolving around some emotionally compelling situation or challenge, and each marked off by some intense experience.

It was the love story of the century--the king and the commoner. In December 1936, King Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry "the woman I love," Wallis Warfield Simpson, a twice-divorced American who quickly became one of the twentieth century's most famous personalities, a figure of intrigue and mystery, both admired and reviled.

"Never explain, never complain."

Wrongly blamed for the abdication crisis, Wallis suffered hostility from the Royal Family and much of the world. Yet interest in her story has remained constant, resulting in a small library of biographies that convey a thinly veiled animosity toward their subject. The truth, however, is infinitely more fascinating than the shallow, pathetic portrait that has often been painted.

"For a gallant spirit, there can never be defeat."

Using previously untapped sources, acclaimed biographer Greg King presents a complete and, for the first time, sympathetic portrait of the Duchess that sifts the decades of rumor and accusation to reveal the woman behind the legend. From her birth in Pennsylvania during the Gilded Age to her death in Paris in 1986, King takes the reader through a world of privilege, palaces, high society, and love with the accompaniment of hatreds, feuds, conspiracies, and lies. The cast of characters is vast: politicians and presidents, dictators and socialites. Twenty-four pages of photographs reveal the life of the Duchess in all its incomparable glamour and romance.

Editorial Reviews

Merle Rubin
King does indeed present a sympathetic and believable portrait of Wallis Simpson....Wallis Simpson's life is indeed a fascinating one. As a biographical subject, her story has a great deal to offer.
The Christian Science Monitor
Kirkus Reviews
This readable, thoroughly researched biography of the much maligned duchess convincingly lays to rest much of the negative gossip—including reports of her sexual eccentricities—that swirled around the duchess and her husband in the nearly 40 years they were married. King (The Last Empress, not reviewed, etc.) set out to write "a fair and favorable" biography of Wallis Warfield Simpson, the twice-divorced woman whose last husband, King Edward VIII of England, abdicated his throne in order to marry her. King has succeeded for the most part, illuminating details of Wallis's dramatic life from her birth near Baltimore in 1896 to her lonely death in Paris nearly 90 years later. Outlining a privileged, although not affluent, upbringing in Baltimore society, the author describes her subject's first marriage to a US Navy flier who was verbally and physically abusive; and her second marriage to Ernest Simpson, who brought her to live in London, where she met the then prince of Wales, soon to become king. Although Wallis was neither beautiful or brilliant, Edward (called David by intimates) "seemed bewitched," showering her with attention and jewels. Her appeal lay in her southern charm and ability to focus completely on the man she loved, asserts King. Once she was married, Wallis's commitment to decorating houses, visiting couturiers, and creating for her husband a life appropriate to the former king of England was relieved by the Windsors' service in the Bahamas during WWII. Wallis worked long and arduous days to improve health and education facilities for the poor of the Bahamas. Throughout the Windsors' marriage, the British royal family remained intransigent over extending anyrecognition to Wallis; the couple remained exiles from England, riding the social circuit between France and the US. It still seems a shallow and self-indulgent lifestyle, despite King's efforts to give it heft. Still, an intriguing slice of history with its centerpiece a royal romance nearly as riveting as the saga of Charles and Diana.

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The Duchess of Windsor

The Uncommon Life of Wallis Simpson

By Greg King


Copyright © 2011 Greg King
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8065-3521-0


Romeo and Juliet in Baltimore

Sixty years after the fact, writing her memoirs from the comfort of her great nineteenth-century Parisian villa and pondering her place in history, Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, deliberately altered the date of her parents' wedding. Records indicate that the marriage was solemnized on November 19, 1895. Wallis Windsor, however, would insist that it had taken place in June, a difference of five months. Like so many aspects of her life, this discrepancy would lead to years of insinuation.

There was nothing extraordinary in the glum little ceremony that united Teackle Wallis Warfield and Alice Montague in marriage that late November afternoon. The circumstances, however, belied the peculiar nature of the event. The Reverend Dr. C. Ernest Smith faced the couple not before the altar of his Church of St. Michael and All Angels in Baltimore but in the dimly lit drawing room of the adjacent rectory. The customary trappings of a happy society wedding were notably absent: No congregation looked on in support as their vows were exchanged; no organ thundered in celebration; no voices were raised in joyous song; no fragrant scent of flowers filled the air.

It cannot have been the wedding that twenty-four-year-old Alice Montague had envisioned for herself. Tall and slender, with golden hair worn plaited or loosely coiled atop her head, Alice was the product of a proud, aristocratic heritage. In the waning November light, wide deep blue eyes gazed out from the chiseled lines of her ivory face. She possessed other charms as well: In an era when most young women remained carefully sheltered and prided themselves on their domestic skills and comprehension of social expectations, she happily dominated conversations with her biting wit. Her mind was exceptionally quick, and her charm impressed even the most staid of companions.

Quiet, thoughtful Teackle Wallis Warfield had been attracted to the vivacious and magnetic woman who now stood at his side. T. Wallis, as the groom chose to call himself, looked much older than his bride, an unwelcome illusion aided by his receding hairline and slight, almost-stooped figure. But he was also handsome, with light blue eyes and a dashing little mustache that lent him an air of dignity. Half-hidden in the shadows was the pallor of his skin, the hollowed cheeks, the red-rimmed eyes that spoke of his inability to sleep. His loud coughs, however, interrupting the short, sad service, were an uncomfortable reminder of not only just how ill the groom had become but of the uncertainties the young couple would face in the future. For T. Wallis Warfield, at the age of twenty-five, was already dying.

The nature of his illness, the troubling circumstances surrounding the union, and the absolute hush that descended over the marriage taking place that November afternoon in Baltimore would forever haunt the little girl born to the couple seven months later. It is but one of the many ironies in the life of Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, that she, party to perhaps the twentieth century's most celebrated and publicized marriage, should have been the product of one of the nineteenth century's most private.

In the fading years of the nineteenth century, the city of Baltimore was a place of great contrasts. Its heritage was firmly rooted in the distant days of the eighteenth century, but the city also reflected the changing times: telephone and electric lines formed aerial lattices over colonial squares, and factory smokestacks spewed forth clouds of industrial waste into the Atlantic sky. The city, like the great mass of America itself, filled with immigrants and tycoons, great wealth and appalling poverty, and the still-bleeding wounds from the devastating Civil War, hovered uneasily between the old century and the new.

Baltimore remained a bastion of the defeated Confederacy, a city that prided itself on its unique, carefully cultivated charm. Although it lay less than fifty miles from the nation's capital, Baltimore regarded itself not as a northern town but as a refined southern outpost. When the Civil War had come, the city's sympathies were expressed in lively demonstrations, street parades, and a rebellious state legislature that had argued the benefits of secession from the United States. As a result, it was occupied by Union troops throughout the hostilities, leaving divisive scars which lasted well into the twentieth century.

Mingled with these southern influences was a distinctly English flavor. Baltimore had modeled itself not only on the great cities to the south but also along the more genteel lines of English towns, a holdover from the days before the American Revolution, when an imported British aristocracy ruled the New World and transplanted the ideas of Georgian London to the wild shores of the Americas. Many of the town's illustrious families were descendants of the first English settlers along the eastern seaboard; in time they had formed into a carefully knit community which believed itself superior to later settlers. Here position and breeding counted for a great deal, and the offspring of these families were raised with high expectations and imbued with a sense of their own social heritage and unique obligations.

The charm of Baltimore lay in its picturesque atmosphere. Cobbled streets, shaded by rows of linden and oak trees, were lined with Georgian and Italianate mansions. Endless rows of upright brick town houses skirted narrow side streets and circled small parks whose stretches of grass were guarded by wrought-iron fences. The smell of salt air wafting in on ocean breezes, the squawking of gulls, clatter of carriages, chiming of clocks, and tolling of church bells filled the senses. Chesapeake Bay brought commerce and trade, and the waterfront was lined with the swaying masts of dozens of ships. When night came, sidewalks were illuminated by flickering gaslights.

Here, in a quiet, dignified house on 34 East Preston Street, an indomitable widow, Anna Emory Warfield, presided over one of the city's noble old families. The house, like its owner, was austere, solid, and unobtrusive. The Warfields were socially prominent, respectable, and comfortable, if not wealthy. For generations they had acted as civil servants, bankers, businessmen, and public officials. They knew the importance of their place in Baltimore society, and each generation was raised with a careful understanding not only of their position but of their impressive inheritance and breeding.

In the midst of the abdication crisis, Wallis was often dismissed as a common, vulgar American of little breeding and no heritage. In truth, the Duchess of Windsor was born of privileged ancestry, and the number of kings, earls, dukes, and aristocrats in her family tree rivaled those of her most vehement enemy, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Like her future husband, she counted William the Conqueror among her forebears. Indeed, one of her ancestors, Pagan de Warfield, had accompanied William from France and fought beside him in the Battle of Hastings. For his service, he was rewarded with a grant of land near Windsor Castle in Berkshire, named Warfield's Walk in his honor. Thereafter, the Warfield name appeared frequently in British history, and the family could proudly boast of their mention in the famous Domesday Book.

During the reign of King Edward III, Robert de Warfield was made a Knight of the Order of the Garter, the highest honor in the kingdom. The King himself, through one of those murky liaisons that litter royal history, was thought to have been an ancestor. Throughout the centuries, Warfields served prominently at the English court, enjoying both close ties with the Royal Family and impressive financial and titular rewards for their loyal sacrifices.

The American history of the family was just as illustrious. In 1662, Richard Warfield left his native Berkshire and sailed to the colonies, where he became a prosperous gentleman farmer. He purchased hundreds of acres of fertile land along the Severn River, near what was to become Baltimore, and his wealth ensured his lasting influence in the colony. When he died, he left his six sons an impressive inheritance of land, money, and power. In the centuries that followed, Warfields fought in George Washington's army during the Revolution and became successful bankers, lawyers, and civil servants; several held positions of great political power, including Edwin Warfield, who became governor of Maryland.

True to the sentiments of their Baltimore neighbors, the nineteenth-century Warfields remained staunch supporters of the Confederacy. Anna Emory Warfield's late husband, Henry Mactier Warfield, had been one of those local heroes who had proudly upheld the tradition. A prominent member of the Maryland legislature when the Civil War erupted, he had been one of the first officials to call for the secession of his state from the Union. Although there was widespread support for such a drastic measure, the forces of the Union won the day. On September 12, 1861, the night before the scheduled vote, Gen. John A. Dix, Baltimore's federal department commander, ordered the arrest of the rebel legislators, Warfield included.

For fourteen months, Henry Mactier Warfield and nine of his fellow legislators languished in Union bonds. At first, he was imprisoned within the thick, menacing bastions of Baltimore's Fort McHenry. From the tiny windows of his dank cell he could gaze upon the same impressive ramparts above which, fifty years earlier, Francis Scott Key had spied the fluttering remnants of an American flag and been moved to write The Star-Spangled Banner. Warfield was later taken to Fort Lafayette, thence to Fort Warren, located in Boston Harbor. The damp, musty cells, the meager diet, and the ferocity of life in a Union prison took their toll on Warfield's body, but his spirit remained as independent as ever. He refused repeated offers of freedom, on the condition that he take a public oath of allegiance to the Union and was moved to write to Abraham Lincoln's secretary of war, Edwin Stanton: "Sir, as I am confined without charges, I renew my claim to be discharged without conditions." Such stubborn resolve eventually paid off, and it was a point of family pride that Warfield was released without ever having taken a Union oath.

Upon his release from prison, Henry Mactier Warfield resumed his business life with great success. His eventual position as one of the directors of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad provided ample prestige and financial security for his growing family. He invested large sums of his sizable income in grain and flour exports and further increased his holdings. His success and popularity eventually won him the first presidency of the Baltimore Chamber of Commerce.

Warfield was not a man obsessed with the outward trappings of wealth. The family's comfortable town house on Baltimore's East Preston Street, home to the generation of Warfields who would shepherd the family into the twentieth century, was a perfect expression of his solemn character. Here he and his wife, Anna Emory, raised their seven children according to strict Victorian standards. Along with two daughters, Ann and Elizabeth, Anna had given birth to five sons, including Daniel, who died while still a child; Solomon Davies; Richard Emory; and Henry Mactier Jr.

The youngest son, Teackle Wallis, had been named after his father's great friend Severn Teackle Wallis, a fellow legislator who had been imprisoned at the outbreak of the Civil War for supporting Henry Mactier Warfield's call for secession. Wallis, like his friend, had been released from prison and gone on to great personal and financial success. His credits included distinguished author and lawyer; in time he became a provost of the University of Maryland, immortalized in a statue that dominated Baltimore's Mount Vernon Place.

Teackle Wallis, however, proved unequal to the aspirations implicit in his prestigious name. Although he grew into a rather handsome young man, he never managed to match either the considerable accomplishments of his famous namesake or even those of his successful brothers. Fathered when Henry Mactier was already in his early sixties, T. Wallis was charming and extremely thoughtful; but he was also weak and suffered from chronic illness. Whereas his brothers had been noted for their robust health and physical presence, T. Wallis had never expressed more than a passing interest in athletic pursuits, and whatever intellectual promise he had shown had been cut short when he fell ill with consumption and had to withdraw from the university. The greater part of his life was passed in isolation, alone in his room, with hours spent either in bed or brooding over his future.

Within the sheltered, privileged world inhabited by the Warfields, illness was regarded not so much as a personal misfortune as it was a weakness of character and private disgrace. At the time, America was consumed with a new appetite for healthy living and outdoor exercise, led by future president Theodore Roosevelt; summer camps and rustic hotels had sprung up to accommodate the taste for rural holidays filled with vigorous activity. Weakness and physical frailty were abhorred. A young man such as T. Wallis, therefore, had quickly become a disappointment to his family, and it appears that little attempt was made to disguise these feelings. Rather than acknowledge their son's illness, the family made a fateful decision: The Warfields deliberately ignored it. T. Wallis was not, as might have been expected, dispatched to some distant health resort in a warmer climate, but instead put to work as a clerk at his uncle's Continental Trust in Baltimore, to learn the business by starting at the lowest level.

The job at the Continental Trust was scarcely glamorous, and T. Wallis seems not to have much cared for the career chosen by his family. But his continuing financial dependence ensured his silent cooperation. In these gloomy, routine surroundings, the young man's romantic inclinations remained carefully cloistered. Then, at the age of twenty-five, he fell in love.

The object of his affections was twenty-four-year-old Alice Montague, daughter of insurance salesman William Montague and his wife, Mary Anne. In later years Alice left no record of her first meeting with her future husband, nor did her daughter seem too inquisitive. We know nothing, therefore, of their first acquaintance and very little of their courtship.

Alice Montague, like her future husband, was the product of distinguished stock. The family was an old and respected one in their native England. They could lay claim to at least one king, Sir Simon Montecute, who was head of the House of Montague in the fourteenth century and married Aufrica, daughter of the King of the Isle of Man, in the Irish Sea. When Aufrica's father died, Simon inherited his throne and reigned as king for over fifty years. Ties with the British aristocracy were equally dose. The Montagues were not only nobles in their own right but were also related to the Dukes of Manchester and the Earls of Sandwich.

In 1621, some forty-one years before the first Warfield arrived, Peter Montague (Wallis's first U.S. ancestor) left Buckinghamshire and took up residence in the New World, settling in Virginia on a land grant, which, under King Charles II, was further expanded. He became a successful farmer, took a seat in the House of Burgesses, and married the daughter of the Virginia colony's governor. Like the Warfields, the Montagues fought valiantly in the American Revolution, and one even threw himself in the path of a charging soldier, taking a saber cut meant for Gen. George Washington.

"Beyond the fact that the Warfields and the Montagues shared the Mason-Dixon line as a common frontier," the Duchess later wrote, "they had almost nothing in common." Unlike the staid Warfields, with their indomitable sense of duty, the Montagues placed more emphasis on enjoyment of life. Their magnetic personalities captivated and bewitched, and their slightly bohemian habits gave them a reputation as true southern eccentrics. Whereas solemnity and dignity were hallmarks of the Warfields, the Montagues were frivolous and carefree. As the years passed, the lands, prestige, and wealth faded. By the end of the nineteenth century, they were still regarded as one of Virginia's most distinguished families, although reduced circumstances meant that they no longer lived in the style to which their ancestors had become accustomed. According to the Duchess, her family's money had all but disappeared: "It had been a painfully long time since any except the most venerable of them could remember having enough to support themselves in the style they considered traditionally their own." Although their once-great houses crumbled from lack of funds, they continued to live in them like relics of some vanished civilization, holding fast to a heritage peppered with notable names and cultivated charms.


Excerpted from The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King. Copyright © 2011 Greg King. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Greg King's biographies The Last Empress, The Man Who Killed Rasputin, and The Mad King have been universally acclaimed and internationally published. He lives in Everett, Washington.

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The Duchess Of Windsor 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Mary_T More than 1 year ago
Wallis Simpson really thought she was going to be Queen of England. Seriously. That alone is enough to convince the reader that Wallis was a fearfully ambitious woman. This very well researched book starts off with a sordid childhood and uncertain parentage which would deter most women from aspiring to royalty. But the author, Greg King, explains how all these obstacles were overcome by love. Almost. The deep life-long love of Edward VIII, King of England, almost succeeded in putting a crown on the head of an illegitimate American divorce'. It's a sensational story that has been told many times before; the young, handsome King who fell madly in love with a commoner. But this "Cinderella" story was not to have a fairytale ending. The British parlaiment and the royal family were horrified at their affair, and adamantly refused to accept Wallis into the ermine-trimmed world of the Windsors. A suitable spouse for the King was to be unmarried, a virgin, a member of the Church of England, and come from British (or at least European) nobility. Wallis was none of these. An illegitimate, divorced, Catholic American was the antithesis of the British notion of a queen. When these sentiments became clear to Wallis, she and Edward (called David by his friends and family) relented and proposed, reluctantly, that Wallis would not be Queen, but Princess Consort. Smaller crown. To their dismay, this proposal was also rejected outright. Surprisingly, it took some time before David and Wallis were made to understand that Wallis' presence in his life in any capacity would not be tolerated, even as a mistress. David had been raised in the royal bubble, where every whim was accommodated, every wish a command. To be told "no" was simply incomprehensible to him. So he and Wallis were married, assuming that the rest of the Windsors would "come around" in time. They were wrong. David abdicated the throne in favor of his younger brother, who was to become father of the current Queen Elizabeth II. David and Wallis did not realize that the Windsors meant to banish them not just from the throne, but from the family and the nation. King deftly tells the sad story of David and Wallis' life after abdication. For years afterward, both of them waited for the royal family to relent and allow them to return to the fold. It never happened. They wandered around Europe where they were wined and dined by those who wanted a taste of royalty at their cocktail soirees. Finally David was offered the Governorship of the Bahamas. He accepted it, although Wallis considered the backwater post another insult. It's a beautiful, strange, sad love story filled with passion, war, family grudges, and royal ambition. And all the more captivating because it's true.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I checked this book out from the library, but it was so good on the Duchess I had to buy it for my collection. Just about the best book written on her, including things I never knew, and I've read just about everything printed, including her own book 'The Heart has Its Reasons' (which I reccommend).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have always been fascinated by this story. My uncle shared his memories of it when it happened. This book is very long and sometimes painfully detailed, at length descriptions of clothing and furniture, but it provides a side to the events that may not be known. I felt bad for Wallace because the King was so adamant about marrying her and placed her in a very bad position. I also wonder what would have happened if Charles had been stronger and not married Diana and encouraged Camilla to divorce so they could marry. The book does a good job of relating events both past and present. It is thorough and made me feel like the royal family are out of touch and very unforgiving and mean spirited. It is a great love story and I think it is well worth reading. Patricia C., Baltimore, Md.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the best book on the Duchess of Windsor that I've ever read. Finally, a balanced and accurate portrait of Wallis. Well-documented denials of the most outragrous rumour which circulated around the Duchess. This book is a wonderful glimpse into their personalities and their private lives. Its wonderful to see the real Wallis emerge from all the fictions which rose up around her. Beautifuly written and totally absorbing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This bio was very much enjoyed. Greg King lets you know, right from the top, that he is in sympathy with The Duchess so the slant he takes is not a surprise at all. He did a superb job, as he did with Empress Alexandra, in producing a well-rounded study of a fascinating woman. So many 'myths' surrounding The Duchess have been effectively put to rest, the research was outstanding. A definite plus for any person interested in The British Royal Family and the 'ins and outs' of royal protocol and royal hypocrisy. The only downside to this bio was the introduction of Diana, Princess of Wales in the opening chapter. Yes, there are similarites between her treatment by the royals and The Duchess' and, yes, there was a possibility that Diana might have lived in Wallis' Paris home but I did not feel this bio was the place to drum up sympathy for the princess. Her situation-in-marriage was totally different.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked this book and feel the author did his research well. I have read many a book on the Duke and Dutchess as well as Elizabeth and Bertie. However I felt a little ripped off when he kept refering to the pictures in the book but they are not there.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Glad to finally know the real story oh The Duke and Duchess of Windsor. A lengthy but great read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting, well written. Provides a different (and perhaps truer) portrait of Wallis Simpson.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Even though it is a long book to read, it is worth reading. Wallis Simpson was a woman who was wanting to live the good life, but caused a future king to fall in love with her instead. The queen mother and all the way down to Prince Charles treated them horribly all through their marriage, yet Prince Charles, a future king himself, has been allowed to marry a divorced woman and stay in the line if succession. Funny how family treats itself when it's royalty. Actually, it is very sad.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I appreciated the author's presentation of facts instead of rumor. A very good read.
LadyDiUS59 More than 1 year ago
I found the information as a historical book that I was looking for. She was a very strong woman who understood the man she fell in love with and gave up many of the things she had to endure to be with the man who brought her comfort and to deal with the family he came from. She was in the public eye through her husband and that of the world. I found that I too am a very strong woman that is a leader in this world through hard times and can see myself in the life she once had through the love of a man that I am truly in love with.
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lotsofpuppies More than 1 year ago
I did not know much about Wallis Simpson before reading this book.  I had heard of her and what I heard was not at all flattering.  I read a sample of the e-book and immediately could not put it down!  It was unbiased, but honest about the Duchess' life, loves, and impact upon society.  What it must have been like to have lived such a life.  After reading King's biography, I had a much better understanding of a woman much maligned and misunderstood.
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