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A Review of the Book That Woman (The Life of Wallis Simpson Duchess of Windsor)

Updated on August 15, 2012

A Fairytale Gone Wrong

Wallis Simpson is the subject of the book That Woman (The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor) written by Anne Sebba in 2012. The title is taken from a phrase the Queen Mother Elizabeth used to show her distaste for Wallis Simpson instead of having to say her name. Watching the movie The King’s Speech I wanted to learn more about the lady who caused the King to leave his throne. What made her so fascinating to him? It seemed to be an obsession more than a real love.

The book is very interesting because it takes you into the life of Wallis her beginnings, her marriages, and her life with the ex-King. When one hears the story of how the King abdicated to be with the woman he loved romantics will think what a love story. It wasn’t exactly a love story that most would have wanted.


Wallis was born in Pennsylvania, where her parents had gone to escape the heat of the Baltimore summers. Her life began in secrecy because her parents married when her mother was 7 months old. The secrets don’t end there because there were rumors through her life that she was born with a problem. There are several theories and the book covers them well. It was very surprising because I had not heard that about Wallis Simpson before reading the book.

Growing up Wallis had a very close friend named Mary whom she met at school. Later Mary would be in the middle of drama that was Wallis' making.

Wallis at young age went to school, but she did not really have a career in mind. Her thought was to find herself a husband. Wallis remarked at the family dinner table that “the man she married would have to have lots of money. This was something nice girls did not say.” Wallis had a goal and it seems she got what she went after.

Her first marriage was to a naval pilot named Win Spencer. Wallis had never met a pilot before and he was attractive and had a job that was intriguing. Wallis should have courted Win a little longer than she did because she soon found him to have some major flaws. A cousin thought she married him just out of curiosity because she didn’t know much about the facts of life at that time. Her marriage to Win showed her that without a lot of love it wasn’t going to last too long.


After separating from Win Wallis still thought marriage was worth pursuing, but it seemed like she was looking for a man who could give her the finer things in life. In order to find the perfect mate she began to go to all the social scenes in DC and Paris. After being dejected by a beau she had her heart set on she reunited with husband one Win once again. It was a mistake. They ended up getting a divorce.

Husband 2 was a man named Ernest Simpson. Ernest and Wallis seemed to make a good pair and in fact they really seemed to love and have affection for each other. He was a shipping executive and they traveled often to London. It was there that Wallis began to spend time with her future third husband. The book talks about the relationship between Ernest and Wallis and if the Wall Street crash hadn’t affected their money situation one wonders if Wallis would have left Ernest to find greener pastures. After divorcing Ernest Wallis still corresponded with him and at times she truly seemed to regret marrying King David whom she called Peter Pan in her letters to Ernest.


The most fascinating part of the book is of course the relationship of Wallis and Edward. It is in these chapters that you learn about the personalities of each of them and how they somehow could not break free from each other. Wallis was an obsession for Edward. He had always liked the American ways and he found a woman who was almost like a mother to him. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind to him and talked down to him in front of all their friends and still he seemed star struck by her.

Wallis wanted security, money, and a title. She always struggled to find it and was always afraid of losing it. In the book she isn’t really sure she wanted to be Edward’s wife. He was smothering in his need for her and she liked to have a little more freedom. She didn’t want to be the one responsible for causing a crisis in England. The phrase things are meant to be couldn’t have been more appropriate. Had Edward been in reign England would have been in peril due to his political views especially concerning Germany.

The intriguing thing in the book is how they really could not stay in England once Edward abdicated. They were constantly moving to different locations and always trying to find a way to get back to England and have a title and the respect of his family and the nation.

The book That Woman takes the reader into the world of high society and British rule. It shows us the real personality of Wallis Simpson her flaws, her ambitions, and the decisions that would alter her life forever. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence is appropriate here. Not many women would have liked to have stepped into Wallis’ shoes. It really wasn’t a fairy tale ending.


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