The Duchess of Windsor, above, looks every bit the royal she never really was. The tale of Bessie Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson Windsor is a long and winding one. Fascinating in so many aspects, the story continues to play out in books, films and essays that look at both her, the Duke of Windsor and the two of them together.
The public has been hardest on Wallis. She was "the other woman" who supposedly brought the uncrowned king of England to his knees by her conniving and wily charms. What could this golden boy of a prince possibly have seen in her let alone given up his crown for? She wasn't considered attractive; Grace Kelly she was not. She must have had something...
History is revealing what most of the world couldn't guess. Edward was spoiled, headstrong and almost looking for a way out of being king. Wallis' plan to become part of his social set to advance her standing and that of husband Ernest Simpson backfired when Edward declared he couldn't live without her. He threatened to kill himself if she left him. Being the reason for the suicide of a king of England was too much a burden for Wallis. She chose many years of vilification by the press and public instead.
Time softened that, though she was never given the title "Royal Highness" Edward insisted she deserved. The Windsors became charter members of cafe society's Windsor Set, a rather louche and purposeless group of playboys and royals who had money or position (usually not both).
Anne Sebba's biography, "That Woman", paints a mostly sympathetic picture of Wallis without hiding the fact that having someone gaga over you and plying you with jewels can be very persuasive. Wallis was always ambitious and determined, but in the Duke of Windsor she made the best of a hand she didn't expect to get— softened of course by Mainbocher and Cartier.
So Wallis can't really be a Woman We Love, but ya gotta love this story. It appears in "17 Carnations" by Andrew Morton (of the Diana biographies). It's the latest in books about the Windsors, investigating if they were or were not puppets of the Nazis, Nazi spies, defeatist traitors, ambassadors for a negotiated truce or simply delusional about world affairs. One might think the latter from the tale of "Operation Cleopatra Whim".
After the abdication in 1936, Edward and Wallis decamped to Europe. They were living in France but had moved to Spain and finally Portugal in the wake of Hitler's rise to power. They were finally persuaded to leave the continent in 1940. Edward was to be installed as Governor of the Bahamas. This would get them out of harm's way— the harm they might do by any associations with the enemy, naive or otherwise.
|The notorious swimsuit|
|Queen of the Nile|
|In 2012's "W.E."|
Edward had asked German officials to watch over their properties in Paris and Nice and was given assurance they would. Wallis had left her "favorite Nile green bathing suit" behind in the Nice house and wanted it for the move to Bermuda. American diplomats were engaged to retrieve the swimsuit as Germany was at war with Britain and France. In secret correspondence the affair was dubbed "Operation Cleopatra Whim". We'll never know whether Wallis kicked up a big fuss or Edward made one for her. Certainly the swimsuit is attractive, and we all know how hard it is to find a good one.
Wallis actually aged well. She's credited with saying, "You can never be too thin or too rich", but that might have been said by others first. She certainly was thin and was never rich enough for her tastes. Always on the best-dressed lists, her husband may actually have had the more fashion flair. But he's not particularly a Man We Love either.