THAT WOMAN

The biography “That Woman, the life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor” dedicated by Anne Sebba to the Duchess retraces the astonishing life of the modest and twice divorced American who shook the throne of England at the dawn of WWII.

Anne Sebba, who is English, refrains from any judgment with regard to her subject, who happens to be one of the most vilified women of the last century.

However, there would have been no Elizabeth II without a Wallis Simpson. And the face of the world would perhaps have been totally different if Edward VIII had not abdicated out of love to leave the throne to his brother who, with his Prime Minister, stood up against Nazi Germany – and then to his niece.

Wallis, born Warfield in 1896 descends from two middle class families in the South of the US. She quickly loses her father, but the education offered by her mother and her family allows her to enter a girls’ school intended to educate the future wives of wealthy families.

Wallis marries in 1916 with a US Navy officer, Earl Windfield Spencer Jr. She follows her husband to the Far East where he is assigned but their marriage soon falls apart, in particular because of Earl’s alcoholism. They divorce in 1927.

Wallis remarries in 1928 to Ernest Simpson, the American-English manager of a family maritime business. The couple, who lives in London and who wants to enter the high society of the time, meets the Prince of Wales in 1931 thanks to Thelma Furness who happens to be one of Wallis friends but also the Prince’s mistress.

The grandson of Queen Victoria is 37 years old, has a charisma that enchants the whole country and the frenzied desire to remain a bachelor, even if he is destined to become King.

The Simpsons live well beyond their means but nevertheless give reception after reception in order to maintain their relationship with this desirable high society. The Prince of Wales is far from insensitive to the American charm of Wallis, which Ernest cannot ignore. He cannot ignore all the advantages that this royal flirtation can bring to the couple too.

The flirtation gradually becomes an unmanagable royal passion for a cold-headed Wallis and an overwhelmed Ernest. Wallis has cashed in on her charms and soon finds herself cornered.  Whereas she wants to break with this possessive Prince who became King of England in 1936 under the name of Edward VIII, must now divorce because he abdicates after ten months of reign.

Wallis, who received all the social and monetary benefits from her royal affair, is now trapped. The King, emotionally weak because of his rigid upbringing, is madly in love with this dominating woman who also perhaps allows him to flee from his numerous royal duties.

He abdicates for the woman he loves, according to the formula now consecrated, in order to marry Wallis. He is the head of the Anglican Church and as such, a marriage with a divorced woman is impossible.

How can you refuse to divorce when the whole world is talking about the most beautiful love story of all time? Impossible. How to refuse to divorce when the abdication to the throne of the most powerful Empire in the world is at stake? Impossible too.

He abdicates for the woman he loves, according to the formula now consecrated, but the connections developed by Edward VIII and his mistress towards Nazi Germany greatly worried the English government. Edward’s abdication in favor of his brother Albert reassures the English political class and Wallis becomes the perfect scapegoat.

But in fact, Wallis becomes in the eyes of the royal family, the press and the British people the cause of the downfall of the King. And as two living kings cannot coexist in England, Edward VIII, now Duke of Windsor, goes into exile with the woman he loves.

A long wandering will begin for the lovers. They marry in France at the Candé castle during an intimate and sad ceremony and then move to the Bahamas where the Duke is appointed governor. They finally return to France at the end of WWII where they settle until the end of their lives. Wallis will never recover from not being granted the title of Royal Highness and Edward will never be able to mourn his motherland and his royal lifestyle.

To compensate, Wallis will build a stylish wardrobe and an impressive collection of jewelry – which, to be honest, are both fabulous.

Did they love each other? We’ll never know. One was inconsistent, possessive and submissive. The other was calculating, materialistic and with no passion. And the two finally found themselves trapped by circumstances.

Edouard will die in 1972, Wallis in 1986 and their life together in Paris will be made up of solitary evenings, rare social outings and luxury purchases. Neither of them will seem to make any attempt to give any meaning to their lives as ultra-privileged and the only wreaths visible at Wallis funeral will be sent by the fashion houses of which she was a client.

How sad.

June 30, 2023

Vintage shirt and skirt from the 50s found at Marcel et Jeannette, Saint-Ouen flea market – Jimmy Choo shoes – Miu Miu sunglasses – Vintage Gucci handbag