03 December 2011

Book Review: The Royal W.E.

Although many American girls have dreamt of marrying a prince, very few have ever achieved it. There was the glamorous movie star Grace Kelly who became a Serene Highness. Today, there is New York socialite Marie-Chantal Miller, whose father-in-law used to be the King of Greece. But the American dame who snagged an actual King and Emperor has a name that is synonymous with infamy.

Not that Bessiewallis Warfield Spencer Simpson doesn’t have her defenders. Chief among them is longtime royal blogger Victoria Martinez , whose 2011 e-book, “The Royal W.E.: Unique Glimpses of The Duke & Duchess of Windsor,” sets out to tell the behind-the-scenes story of Wallis Simpson and her Prince Charming from a more sympathetic point of view. To be fair, Wallis and King Edward suffered from bad press from the very beginning, a situation they only managed to fuel throughout their lives.

Martinez’s book takes us back before the beginning—before the then-Prince of Wales met the woman for whom he would give up the British Empire. Through careful research and a bit of psychological reckoning, Martinez ably demonstrates how the couple’s past lives led them to each other’s arms. The prince hated protocol and ceremony, he felt unloved by his undemonstrative parents, and at every turn he was hemmed in by his high rank. Refusing to make an appropriate marriage, he found his comfort with motherly married women. Wallis was the last in a string of such misalliances. But, Wallis was no less lovelorn; having made an unfortunate and abusive early marriage, she found a second husband who provided security if not passion. When the prince and Wallis met, she was dazzled by the charming, boyish prince and he was ensnared by the forthright, strong woman. It is hard to imagine that either dreamt where their joint path would lead.

“W.E.” is presented as a series of short essays, mostly derived from Martinez’s earlier blog posts. The research is impeccable and many of the stories and insights will be new to any but the most avid royal readers. Her writing is fresh and inviting, and she often approaches her topic like a detective. As Martinez explains in her introduction, she has had a strong desire since childhood to really understand the real tale of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

I am no apologist for the couple, who seem to have made a series of poor choices throughout their lives together, but I am persuaded that neither is quite as selfish or self-deluded as they are often portrayed. However, I don’t subscribe to the Romeo-and-Juliet romanticism doled out by their defenders. Martinez manages to present a more balanced—though still favorable view—that captures them as human beings rather than archetypes.
The format of the book makes it easy to read, although I was a bit overwhelmed by all of the preliminary information, which includes a nine-page foreword by Windsor biographer Greg King, endorsements from two more royal authors, and Martinez’s own acknowledgements and introduction. Had it been a printed book, I would have been tempted to skip straight to the well-crafted essays.

In most of them, Martinez strives to contradict some of the more outlandish accusations that have been leveled at the Windsors, particularly Wallis, including reports that she had secret sexual powers or that she was not actually a woman at all.

Since I have some knowledge of the couple’s history, I was particularly intrigued by some of the lesser-known stories. Two essays in particular stand out. In “A Fool Would Know,” Martinez discusses the mysterious theft of the Duchess of Windsor’s jewelry during a sojourn at an English country house. This is our intrepid author at her Agatha Christie best: no theory is left unexamined although the crime remains unsolved.

Secondly, I was quite intrigued by “A Dreadful Woman,” in which Martinez explores the strained relationships between Wallis and her various royal in-laws. In this examination, the Kent branch of the family emerges as the most humane and forgiving—with royal family black sheep Princess Michael of Kent as the one true friend of the elderly and widowed Duchess of Windsor. The late Queen Mother’s relationship with the Duchess of Windsor is traced from its early misunderstandings to full-scale warfare. And, the Queen Mother’s bitter hatred is represented as the poison that spoils any chance Wallis and her prince might have had for reconciling with the family. The enmity between the two women was unrelenting—while the Duke of Windsor’s mother, the formidable Queen Mary, is granted a moment of human kindness as Martinez recounts her concern for Wallis during an illness. In this section, Martinez may be a bit heavy handed in her favorable bias toward Wallis, but it is nonetheless a fascinating exploration of some truly hyperbolic family dynamics.

Overall, “The Royal W.E.” offers cleverly composed, thoroughly researched glimpses of the American divorcee and the King who gave up his throne for her. I encourage you to keep an open mind as you read it; you just might realize that sometimes a fairytale doesn’t have any actual villains, just a lot of people in genuine emotional distress trying their best to make a life for themselves in very unusual circumstances. Click the Amazon linkbelow to buy it for just $2.99.

Read The Arbitrary History Blog by Victoria Martinez.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting..did she happened to mention, or have you heard about the "mystery child" that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor had that was supposedly sent to the USA? I have seen this supposed daughter's website and it seems intriguing..