|The Duchess of Windsor, 1945, in a dress by Vionnet, one of her favorite designers.|
Photo uncredited, allstarpics.net.
Following the previous post of The Devoted Classicist with mention of Billy Baldwin, this post features another famous native of Baltimore, Wallis Warfield Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, wife of the ex-King of England. Much has been written about the Duchess, one of most famous personalities of her day, but new information is brought to light in a recent book THAT WOMAN: THE LIFE OF WALLIS SIMPSON, DUCHESS OF WINDSOR by Anne Sebba. The title comes from the Queen Mum's referring to Wallis as "that woman", no doubt wondering how she was able to snare Edward VIII, as "a middle-aged married woman with large hands and a mole on her chin."
|Edward and Wallis, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.|
Redemption may eventually come to Wallis Simpson, after suffering vilification during her lifetime. Courtiers worried that the Prince of Wales' depression and stunted mental growth was a liability to the throne, but more serious was the Prince's chuminess with the Germans and his willingness to make concessions to an agressor to avoid war. The Prince and Wallis were photographed in friendly visits with Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler. It was said that even after the abdication, the Nazis had plans to install him as a puppet monarch after a successful invasion of Britain was complete.
|The Duke and Duchess of Windsor at Friedrickstrasse Station, Berlin, 1937,|
with Robert Ley, head of the German Labour Front.
Photo uncredited, FanPix.net.
The British government exiled the Windsors to the Bahamas in 1940 and installed Edward as Governor. The intent was that the remainder of their lives would be spent in what was then relative seclusion, restricting their indulgences to parties and the creation of clothes and jewelry. George VI and Elizabeth, adament in their refusal to acknowledge Wallis as HRH, seemed to blame her for the abdication despite knowing that Edward VIII would have made a disasterous monarch.
|The Windsors playing cards in Nassau, Bahamas, 1941.|
Photo: David E. Scherman for LIFE magazine.
Born Bessiewallis Warfield in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1986, Wallis' father died very soon afterwards leaving her mother in strained circumstances, eased by running a residential hotel but branding the family as "boarding-house keepers".
|Wallis Warfield in an undated photograph.|
Photo uncredited, FanPix.net.
In 1916, she married Lieutenant Winfield Spencer, Jr., a US Naval pilot who was a violent alcoholic. After the separation but before the divorce, Wallis went to live in Shanghai. There, "she learnt from the Chinese prostitutes some ancient oriental techniques for pleasuring men" and "appeared in naughty postcards". While in New York waiting for the divorce to be finalized, she met Ernest Simpson who owned a shipping firm. Although he was already married, it is generally acknowledged he did not know what hit him when he invited her "to make up a fourth at bridge". They were married in 1928 and went to live in England where the prolific romance novelist Barbara Cartland (later the stepgrandmother of Lady Diana Spencer, the Princess of Wales) taught Wallis "the niceties of British etiquette".
|Edward VIII giving a radio broadcast, 1936.|
Photo: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis
A highly visible representative of the slowly building trend to reject stifling Victorian protocol, the Prince of Wales was soon a grateful guest of the Simpson's lavish dinner parties. Completely using up her husband's resources on couture clothes and entertaining, the Prince of Wales, known for his love of everything American, was noted to be immediately enthralled by Wallis, relishing her taunting him and publicly berating him. Soon the Simpsons were weekly guests at the Prince's retreat, Fort Belvedere, and the Prince wanted Wallis as his bride, no matter the consequences.
In this book, Anne Sebba contends that Wallis was not in love with the Prince, only the opulent lifestyle. Based on new archives and letters written by Wallis to Ernest Simpson recently made available, the author re-evaluates the role of politicians in the 1930s and sheds a new light on the character and motivation of this powerful and complex woman.
|The Duchess of Windsor arriving in Florida, 1956, with her custom Maison E. Goyard luggage.|
See the June 25, 2011, post of The Devoted Classicist blog
for more about the Goyard luxury brand that continues today.
Uncredited photo from FanPix.net.
Although it may have been a "hellish exile", it was a pampered one, with a Jansen-decorated mansion in suburban Paris leased from the French government for a nominal amount, a tax-free allowance, and off-shore investments siphoned off from the Duchy of Cornwall estates. The Windsors were always commissioning jewelry for each other from Cartier; the pieces that remained after their deaths were auctioned for $50,281,887. But this book presents that this indulgent existence was better than the alternative; Wallis saved Britain from Fascism by staying with Edward.
|The Flamingo clip of diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and citrine|
set in platinum was made by Cartier, Paris, in 1940.
It is currently in a private California collection.
Author Anne Sebba will present a talk "That Woman: The Duchess of Windsor and The Scandal That Brought Down a King" on Saturday March 31, 2012, 2 pm, at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art sponsored by Decorative Arts Trust in association with The Royal Oak Foundation. A book sale and signing will accompany the talk with the public invited to attend free with regular museum admission as part of Decorative Arts Trust's educational programs. (Upper level Trust members will be invited to a reception following the talk at one of the city's most remarkable private gardens). For more information, see the D.A.T. website.
|Author Anne Sebba is also a delightful speaker.|
For those not able to attend the event, THAT WOMAN: THE LIFE OF WALLIS SIMPSON, DUCHESS OF WINDSOR may be ordered at discount here.