The Windsor Library: A Reading List

The Windsors

Since I started the World of Wallis project, the most frequent question I’m asked is “Which books about the Windsors can you recommend?”

With this in mind, I have put together the following as a reading list.

Please note, this only includes non-fiction works at present and some are sadly out of print but generally available on eBay or abebooks.com. Where possible, clicking the front cover image will take you directly to a purchase page.

1. That Woman by Anne Sebba

That Woman

Published: 2012

One of Britain’s most distinguished biographers turns her focus on one of the most vilified women of the twentieth century. Historian Anne Sebba has written the first full biography by a woman of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor.

‘That Woman’, as she was referred to by the Queen Mother, became a hate figure for ensnaring a British king and destabilising the monarchy. Neither beautiful nor brilliant, she nevertheless became one of the most talked-about women of her generation, and she inspired such deep love and adoration in Edward VIII that he gave up a throne and an empire for her. Wallis lived by her wit and her wits, while both her apparent and alleged moral transgressions added to her aura and dazzle.

Based on new archives and material only recently made available, this scrupulously researched biography sheds new light on the character and motivations of a powerful, charismatic and complex woman.

Available from: Amazon Prime

Format: Hardback, Paperback, Kindle and Audible

World of Wallis Rating: 10/10

Review: The definitive Wallis biography. A balanced portrayal of the Duchess with an impeccably researched story that is beautifully told. From Wallis’ early years in Baltimore, through her school life, her time in China, her first two marriages and her ‘Wallis in Wonderland’ era, Anne Sebba brings Wallis to the reader as if driving her to your home for a tea party. She does not shy away from confronting rumour and gossip, nor does she paper over any faults. The Bahamas years are especially fascinating and the whirlwind of 50s and 60s life with the Windsors is told with great humour and charm. If you only read one book on the Duchess of Windsor, make it this one!

2. Behind Closed Doors by Hugo Vickers

Published: 2011

Hugo Vickers has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Royal Family, and has had a fascination with the story of the Duchess of Windsor since he was a young man. There have been a number of books about this doomed couple, but this book brings a new perspective on the story by focussing on the later years of exile.

While Vickers has his own theories about the Abdication itself, and he makes it very clear that Mrs Simpson did not lure the King from the throne, the drama of this narrative comes from the criminal exploitation of an old sick woman after the death of her husband. She was ruthlessly exploited by a French lawyer called Suzanne Blum. Some members of the Royal Family, like Mountbatten and the Queen Mother, don’t emerge with much credit either.

Hugo Vickers relates a tragic story which has lost none of its resonance over the years since the Duchess died in 1986.

Available from: Amazon Prime

Format: Hardback (Rare), Paperback, Kindle, Audible

World of Wallis Rating: 10/10

Review: This is a beautiful work by one of the most respected royal biographers. Hugo Vickers met the Duchess personally and perhaps this is why he deals with a very sensitive subject so perfectly. This book does not recount the saga of the Abdication, rather, it begins when the Duke of Windsor dies in 1972 and shines a light on the tragic last years Wallis spent alone in Paris. He examines Wallis’ relationship with the famous Suzanne Blum and reveals how Wallis was treated by the British Royal Family in her widowhood. There is humour at times but mostly this is a touching portrayal of the Duchess which is essential reading for any Wallis fan.

3. The Heart Has It’s Reasons by the Duchess of Windsor

Published: 1956

The memoirs of the Duchess of Windsor.

Available from: eBay, Abebooks, Goodreads

Format: Hardback

World of Wallis Rating: 10/10

Review: These are the memoirs of the Duchess of Windsor published in 1956 and which became an instant bestseller. Out of loyalty to Wallis I must give this a 10/10 rating but don’t expect anything too revealing or shocking. This is Wallis’ version of events told to an audience that had heard very few kind words about her thus far and it’s written with this in mind. It isn’t revisionist in the least, she confronts certain rumours head on and she’s bold in her story-telling. But anything too controversial is naturally omitted. It’s the ideal starting place and you’ll be totally charmed but it’s not a book you can rely upon to tell the whole story.

4. The Windsor Style by Suzy Menkes

Published: 1987

A dazzling private kingdom can be found behind the doors of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s Paris home–a world of precious treasures, sumptuous furnishings, elegant clothes, and exquisite dinner parties. This is the first book to look at the fashion of the Windsors in their luxurious post-war life. 122 full-color, 74 black-and-white photos.

Available from: eBay, Abebooks, GoodReads

Format: Hardback

World of Wallis Rating: 9/10

Review: This is not a biography of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, rather it was a follow up to the auction which took place in 1987; expect jewels! There are some inaccuracies but as a reference book, it has yet to be beaten. There are stunning photographs of the Duchess’ jewels and clothes, beautiful portraits of the couple and (for the time) rarely seen snaps from inside the Windsors’ residences in France. There’s also a handy list at the back of the book of the various items sold at the Sotheby’s auction in 1987 and how much they sold for. Very much recommended!

5. The Quest for Queen Mary by James Pope Hennessy (and Hugo Vickers)

Published: 2018

When James Pope-Hennessy began his work on Queen Mary’s official biography, it opened the door to meetings with royalty, court members and retainers around Europe. The series of candid observations, secrets and indiscretions contained in his notes were to be kept private for 50 years. Now published in full for the first time and edited by the highly admired royal biographer Hugo Vickers, this is a riveting, often hilarious portrait of the eccentric aristocracy of a bygone age.

Giving much greater insight into Queen Mary than the official version, and including sharply observed encounters with, among others, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the Duke of Gloucester, and a young Queen Elizabeth, The Quest for Queen Mary is set to be a classic of royal publishing.

Available from: Amazon Prime

Format: Hardback, Paperback, Kindle, Audible

World of Wallis Rating: 09/10

Review: Wow. This book will absolutely captivate you if you have an interest in royalty. Written by James Pope-Hennessy as a series of reports on his meetings with various figures from the courts of Europe and collated by Hugo Vickers, it’s a revealing portrait of the Duke of Windsor’s mother, Queen Mary. I give it 9/10 simply because it only has one or two chapters about the Windsors in it. This is for the serious royal watcher and if you’re a little unclear about the complex family trees of the Royal Houses of Europe it may seem a little confusing at times. It’s hilarious in places, touching in others and goes a long way to unravelling the complex Queen. I would absolutely recommend the Audible version – expertly dramatised and when Wallis eventually makes her appearance, you feel like a guest at the Mill!

6. The Michael Bloch Books

Publications: The Duke of Windsor’s War (1982), Operation Willi (1984), Wallis & Edward: The Intimate Correspondence of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (1986), The Reign and Abdication of Edward VIII (1990) and The Duchess of Windsor (1996)

Michael Bloch was an assistant to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s lawyer, Suzanne Blum, and as such, had an intimate and personal knowledge of the couple as well as access to many of their personal papers. His works range from Operation Willi which tells the story of Hitler’s secret plot to kidnap the Duke of Windsor to Wallis & Edward’s Intimate Correspondence which presents unedited letters exchanged by the couple from 1931 – 1937. The Duke of Windsor’s War focuses on David and Wallis’ time in the Bahamas during the Second World War and there are additional biographies of both the Duke and Duchess.

Available from: eBay, Abebooks, Goodreads

Format: Hardback

World of Wallis Rating: 8/10

Review: The works of Michael Bloch provide a mini Wallis library and it’s possible to chart the course of her life through Bloch’s books. His best works are those which focus on the Duke and indeed, with the exception of his biography devoted to the Duchess and the collection of David and Wallis’ letters, they can be a little Wallis-lite. However, what you get here is absolutely no flummery or window dressing. Documents and letters are printed verbatim, sometimes revealing sides to the Windsors that (without context) can be jarring. I’ve given the high rating for this collection of works because there really is so much Windsor material here but his biography of Wallis does feel a little dominated by the Duke.

7. The Duchess of Windsor by Lady Diana Mosley

Published: 1980

An intimate of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Diana Mosley was a frequent guest at their parties in Paris, or at ‘the Moulin’ in Gif-sur-Yvette, where they were neighbours. Written in her inimitable style, Diana Mosley paints a remarkable portrait of her friend that is also realistic with regards to her flaws. What was it about her that utterly captivated the heir to the throne and made him renounce it when he became King? It is this question which Diana Mosley seeks to answer.

Available from: eBay, Abebooks, Goodreads

Format: Hardback, Paperback, Kindle

World of Wallis Rating: 6/10

Review: Putting the author’s political views to one side, Lady Mosley is unique among the authors of Wallis biographies as she enjoyed a long friendship with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. This was written when the Duchess was still alive and Lady Mosley was still a frequent visitor, however the Duchess was ailing and gave no interviews to assist with Lady Mosley’s book. At times, Lady Mosley simply expects you to accept her version of events because “that’s exactly how it was”. She is still objective, she does accept the flaws both David and Wallis had but as you might expect, the story is told with kindness in the spirit of righting old wrongs. Unfortunately it’s littered with inaccuracies and at times, you get glimpses of the famous Diana Mosley and remember her own story which makes this a little uncomfortable to read in places.

This biography is now back in print under the title Memoirs of a Friend and is available at Waterstones.

8. Before Wallis: Edward VIII’s Other Women by Rachel Trethewey

Published: 2018

Wallis Simpson is known as the woman who stole the king’s heart and rocked the monarchy but she was not Edward VIII’s first or only love.

This book is about the women he adored before Wallis dominated his life. There was Rosemary Leveson-Gower, the girl he wanted to marry and who would have been the perfect match for a future king; and the Prince’s long-term mistress, Freda Dudley Ward, who exerted a pull almost equal to Wallis over her lover, but abided by the rules of the game and never expected to marry him. Then there was Thelma Furness, his twice-married American lover, who enjoyed a domestic life with him, but realised it could not last forever and demanded nothing more than to be his mistress and fatefully introduced him to Wallis.

In each love affair, Edward behaved like a cross between a little boy lost and a spoilt child craving affection, resorting to emotional blackmail to keep his lovers with him. Each of the three women in this book could have changed the course of history. By examining their lives and impact on the heir to the throne, we question whether he ever really wanted to be king.

Available from: Amazon Prime

Format: Hardback, Paperback, Kindle, Audible

World of Wallis Rating: 6/10

Review: This is an odd book to include on a Wallis reading list but it gives a lot of background to the Duke of Windsor’s romantic life before he met Wallis (hence the title!). Trethewey presents the story of David’s love affairs with three women: Rosemary Leveson-Gower, Freda Dudley-Ward and Thelma Furness. Unfortunately, I found that the pace of the book was a little slow in places before reaching a hurried finish. That’s not to say it isn’t a thoroughly enjoyable read, it absolutely is, but the chapters on Thelma are a little sparse and this is a shame given the importance of Thelma in Wallis’ story.

9. Untitled or The American Duchess by Anna Pasternak

Published: As ‘Untitled’, 2019. As ‘The American Duchess’, 2020.

His charisma and glamour ensured him the status of a rock star prince. Yet Edward gave up the British throne, the British Empire and his position as Emperor of India, to marry his true love, American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

So much gossip and innuendo has been levelled at Wallis Simpson that it has become nearly impossible to discern the real woman. Many have wondered why, when Edward could have had anyone he desired, he was smitten with this unusual American woman. As her friend Herman Rogers said to her in 1936 when news of her affair with Edward broke: ‘Much of what is being said concerns a woman who does not exist and never did exist.’

History is mostly perceived from the perspective of his-story. But what about her story? Anna Pasternak’s new book is the first ever to give Wallis a chance and a voice to show that she was a warm, loyal, intelligent woman adored by her friends, who was written off by cunning, influential Establishment men seeking to diminish her and destroy her reputation. As the author argues, far from being the villain of the abdication, she was the victim.

Anna Pasternak seeks to understand an unusual, deeply misunderstood woman, and the untenable situation she became embroiled in. Using testimony from their inner circle of friends, she presents a very different Wallis Simpson. With empathy, intimacy and thorough research, this book will make readers view her story as it has never been told before.

Available from: Amazon Prime

Format: Hardback, Paperback, Kindle, Audible

World of Wallis Rating: 5/10

Review: This is a hard one to recommend but I include it because it may be a matter of personal taste. The facts are all here and Anna Pasternak clearly admires the Duchess a great deal but I’m afraid I found this one to be a struggle. At times, this reads as a collection of Wikipedia articles linked together with the author’s own conjecture and there are a few inaccuracies along the way. But then at other times, there’s flashes of new information and genuinely interesting recollections from those who have not previously taken part in a Wallis biography before and who provide fascinating first hand accounts. Having said that, I read the 2019 version and have yet to finish the 2020 printing. Maybe the flow was better in the second run.

Whilst I would still recommend this book, I couldn’t stretch that recommendation to the Audible version. I’m afraid the narration is just too surreal with odd impressions of historical figures and mispronunciations which are too jarring to the ear. If you’re going to give it a go, stick with the paperback!

10. Mrs Simpson: Secret Lives of the Duchess of Windsor

Published: 1988 (Reprint in 2005)

Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor, was one of the most famous women in history, the American divorcée who captured the King of England, Edward VIII, and cost him his throne. Until Charles Higham’s 1.3 million-copy bestseller, much of her life was a glamorous mystery. Now, fifteen years later, major new documentary evidence, classified at the time, makes for a book far more sensational than the original bestseller. Drawing from long-suppressed archives in France, England, and the United States, Higham has uncovered the duchess’s passionate affair with a top-ranking political figure, the duke’s romantic involvement with a male equerry, the secret radio broadcasts the couple made to Hitler, and the blackmail plot in Paris that almost brought them–and the British royal family–to ruin. This updated new edition of The Duchess of Windsor is essential reading.

Avaliable from: eBay, Abebooks, Goodreads

Format: Hardback

World of Wallis Rating: 0/10

Review: This is a hastily written biography which ranges from the bizarre to the openly misogynistic. Every gutter press rumour is presented as fact with no evidence to substantiate any of the claims made. “Must have thought” is used to justify the author’s own low opinion of his subject and it really is a hatchet job of the worst kind. Higham was known for his fantastical biographies of Hollywood stars which claimed to reveal exclusive jaw-dropping scandals that could never actually be proven. For the most part, they were simply downright hurtful. It’s a weighty tome of inaccuracy and bias. I imagine the Queen Mother adored it but if you want a serious biography that isn’t mired in bitter gossip – AVOID.

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