One of Britain's most distinguished biographers turns her focus on one of the most vilified woman of the last century. Historian Anne Sebba has written the first full biography of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, by a woman which attempts to understand this fascinating and enigmatic American divorcee who nearly became Queen of England. 'That woman', as she was referred to by the Queen Mother, became a hate figure for allegedly ensnaring a British king. Born in 1896 in Baltimore, Bessiewallis Warfield endured an impoverished and comparatively obscure childhood which inflamed a burning desire to rise above her circumstances. Neither beautiful nor brilliant, and no longer young, she nevertheless became one of the most talked about women of her generation, and inspired such deep love and adoration in Edward VIII that even giving up a throne and an empire for her was not enough to prove his total devotion. Wallis lived by her wit and her wits, while both her apparent and alleged moral transgressions added to her aura and dazzle. Accused of Fascist sympathies, having Nazi lovers and learning bizarre sexual techniques in China, she was the subject of widespread gossip and fascination that has only increased with the years. In death, the Duchess became a symbol of empowerment and a style icon, a woman whose unequivocal aim was to win in the game of life. Based on new archives and material recently made available, this scrupulously researched biography re evaluates the role of politicians in the 1930s, sheds new light on the character and motivations of this powerful, charismatic and complex woman, and questions was this really the romantic love story of the century?
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Anne Sebba read History at King's College London then joined Reuters as a foreign correspondent based in London and Rome. She has written eight works of non-fiction, mostly about iconic women, presented BBC radio documentaries, and is an accredited Nadfas lecturer. She is married with three children. www.annesebba.com http://www.facebook.com/anne.sebba https://twitter.com/annesebbaExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
1Becoming Wallis'She has the Warfield look'
Choosing your own name is the supreme act of self-creation. Wallis, the androgynous and unusual name she insisted on for herself, is a bold statement of identity. 'Wallis' is saying not only this is who I am but you will know no one else like me. Take me on my own terms. It was a credo she lived by.From the start this woman fashioned herself as something strong, intriguing, distinctive. In taking such a name she was constructing an identity, giving herself from a young age freedom that women of her era could not take for granted. She was displaying a contempt for tradition and the ordinary which would be so crucial to her destiny. Having chosen her own name she had to work hard to live up to it, to create a strong relationship with it. Although her surname changed many times, this name was one of the few constants in her life. 'Hi, I'm Wallis,' she would say when she entered a room.The name her parents chose for her was 'Bessiewallis', to honour both her mother's beloved sister Bessie and her grandfather's illustrious friend Severn Teackle Wallis, an author and legislator and, in Baltimore, an important man. The latter had been imprisoned for a time during the Civil War, along with Wallis's grandfather, for supporting a call for secession from the Union, but was later appointed provost at the University of Maryland. Her own father, too, bore this man's name. His statue stands today at one end of Mount Vernon Square, the city's main plaza, overshadowed though it is by the imposing 178-foot-high monument of George Washington in the centre, the first erected in the first President's honour. But she soon jettisoned 'Bessie', describing it as a name fit only for cows.'Wallis', however, was a man's name for a woman who could hold her own with men.Wallis was never a woman's woman. She wanted to be something out of the ordinary for a woman. She was funny, clever, smart - in both the English and American uses of the term. She wanted to pit her wits not against other women but against men in a man's world. With her sharp understanding of appearances, she always knew the importance of a name. Of course she had seen her mother change from 'Alys' to 'Alice'. But that was subtle, gentle, barely noticeable. Choosing Wallis in her youth was as much part of her armour as the carefully selected designer clothes and decor of her middle years. When inviting friends to her third wedding, her husband-to-be, the ex-King, a man with even more names to accommodate, suddenly started referring to her as 'Mrs Warfield'. This was a name she had never owned, nor could claim any right to. She encouraged it to shield the man she had dragged along in her wake.Defining herself by her name was one of the first acts of a young girl intent on controlling a cold and often unfriendly world. Whenever Wallis succeeded, she felt most at peace. But for much of her life she was dependent on the charity of others and this led to long bouts of unhappiness to which she responded in a variety of ways.There is no birth certificate for Wallis. It was not a legal requirement at the time to have one in Pennsylvania, where she was born amid some secrecy and scandal probably on 19 June 1896. Nor was there a newspaper announcement of her birth. The place where she was born, however, is not in doubt: a small wooden building known as Square Cottage at the back of the Monterey Inn in the summer resort of Blue Ridge Summit. The Blue Ridge Summit community, at the top of the South Mountain at Monterey Pass, was in its heyday as a fashionable spa and holiday area at the beginning of the twentieth century, after the introduction of the railroad in 1872. Blue Ridge Summit strays into four counties - two on the Pennsylvania side of the line and two on the Maryland side - and straddles the historic Mason - Dixon line, significantly giving Wallis aspects of both theSouth and North of the United States in her make-up. This was something she was to make much of later.Her parents had gone there ostensibly to escape the heat of a Baltimore summer and in the hope of improving her father's health, but also because they were in flight from disapproving families. In her memoirs, Wallis is vague about the marriage of her parents, the consumptive Teackle Wallis Warfield and the spirited if flighty Alice Montague, a marriage neither family wanted.'Without taking their families into their confidence, they slipped away and were married, according to one story in a church in Washington, according to another in a church in Baltimore,' Wallis wrote sixty years later. She would have us believe that Teackle and Alice were married in June 1895 when both were twenty-six years old. But, more likely, the marriage had been solemnized just seven months before her birth, on 19 November 1895, as a monograph on the Church of St Michael and All Angels in Baltimore states. According to this account, Dr C. Ernest Smith, the Rector, was called upon to officiate at a quiet marriage which attracted little attention at the time. 'On that day Teackle Wallis Warfield took as his bride Miss Alice M. Montague, a communicant of the parish. The ceremony took place not in the main church itself but in the rectory at 1929 St Paul Street in the presence of several friends.'This version makes it seem that the marriage was arranged as soon as Alice realized she was pregnant, that the first and only child of the union was most probably conceived out of wedlock and that neither family attended. Perhaps, more significantly, it also indicates there was never a time in Wallis's life when she did not have to harbour secrets.Wallis, with an attempt at insouciance, wrote later in her own account of how she once asked her mother for the date and time of her birth 'and she answered impatiently that she had been far too busy at the time to consult the calendar let alone the clock'. But the child may also have arrived prematurely, as the family doctor was not available and the twenty-two-year-old, newly qualified Dr Lewis Miles Allen received an emergency call from the Monterey Inn and delivered the baby in Alice's hotel bedroom.The Warfields and the Montagues, although both shared impeccable Southern credentials and both were supporters of the Confederacy during the Civil War, did not get on. Both came from ancient and respected stock and traced their arrival in America to the seventeenth century. There is a much trumpeted mention of the Warfields in the Domesday Book and one of Wallis's ancestors, Pagan de Warfield, is said to have accompanied William the Conqueror from France and fought in the Battle of Hastings. The Montagues, similarly, hailed from an old English aristocratic family that arrived in America in 1621 when one Peter Montague left Buckinghamshire and settled on land in Virginia granted him by King Charles I. Wallis always felt proud of her ancestry and had reason to. 'For those who are prepared to accept that there can be class distinctions of any kind in the United States,' wrote the social commentator Alastair Forbes in the mid-1970s, 'she can be said to come from a far higher stratum than say Princess Grace of Monaco, Jacqueline Bouvier or the Jerome or Vanderbilt ladies of the nineteenth century. By present English standards of birth she might rank rather below two recent royal duchesses and rather above two others.' But the Montagues, whatever their past prosperity as landowners, were no longer prosperous. They were much livelier than the politically and commercially active Warfields, whom they considered to be nouveau. They believed that their beautiful and vivacious Alice could have held out for a much better match than marriage to Teackle Wallis. The solemn Warfield clan in their turn not only looked down on the Montagues, they worried that Teackle Wallis would never be strong enough to support a wife and therefore should not seek one.T. Wallis, as he styled himself, was the youngest of four brothers (the first, Daniel, had died young) and two daughters born to Henry Mactier Warfield and his wife Anna Emory. The Emorys were physicians and, like so many upper-class Marylanders, slave owners whose sympathies were Southern. Dr Emory joined the Confederate army as a surgeon and was stationed in Richmond, Virginia until the end of the war. The eldest surviving son, Solomon Davies Warfield, was a successful and prominent banker, president of the Continental Trust company (the premier investmentcompany in Baltimore in that era), and a millionaire bachelor who kept an apartment on New York's Fifth Avenue where he was said to entertain his mistresses. The second son, Richard Emory Warfield, lived in Philadelphia and was thriving in the insurance business, while the fourth, Henry Warfield, had a farm at Timonium in Baltimore County.Teackle was always frail but at eighteen, when he fell ill with consumption (tuberculosis), it was decided that, instead of sending him to recuperate at a sanatorium or in a more favourable climate, he should work as a lowly clerk in his uncle's Continental Trust in Baltimore, an environment not chosen to assuage his illness but which the family presumably hoped would draw attention away from such embarrassing debility. Little was known in the nineteenth century about cures for or reasons for contracting consumption, although its bacterial cause was eventually isolated in 1882. There was no definitive treatment for the disease until the mid-twentieth century. At the time of Wallis's birth, it was not only widespread but considered shameful, partly since it was thought to be a disease of poverty. Death was the likely outcome for at least 80 per cent of patients. Usually, after a horrific period of night sweats, chills and paroxysmal coughing, the disease spread to other organs of the body, leading to the wasting away which gave the disease its name. It was not surprising therefore that Tea...
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