Book Review: “Before Wallis: Edward VIII’s Other Women” by Rachel Trethewey

Hello!

I did not expect to finish two books this month but I am thrilled to do so, because I’m not reading as much as I did at the start of the year, so I have been feeling discouraged about it lately. And if I am reading, I’m not going as fast either, like with this book, I began reading it during the last week of March and it was smooth sailing for a while but then once I distracted with other things, I kind of lost my mojo with it.

Something you may not know about me is that I have thought if I was alive around the time that Edward was alive, I’d probably be one of his ‘royal groupies’ honestly him and Prince Albert (King George VI) were so good looking that I often wonder what exactly happened with the recent generations! I swear I think the good looks stopped after The Queen and her sister Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon. Of course, this is just my opinion on the matter!


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Wallis Simpson was 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 made the perfect match for a future king; 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 knew she would never marry him. Then there was Thelma Furness, his twice-married American lover, who enjoyed a domestic life with him, but realized it could not last forever and demanded nothing more than to be his mistress.

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

taken from Goodreads.

I have always wondered about Edward VIII, and how he, himself, saw the monarchy in the early 1900’s. He was an odd duck as royals go, as he would rather wear polo clothes and smoke out in public than keeping the suit and tie, discreet traditions, He also had a habit with chasing women too. As you learn in this book, there were quite a few women who had his attention before he became infatuated with Wallis Simpson.

When you first start reading, the author Rachel explains that while you will learn about the three main women in Edward’s life before meeting Wallis, later you will learn more about their lives after each relationship fizzled out. The first lady is Lady Rosemary Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, as she acts as a nurse in a field hospital created by her own mother, Millicent, The Duchess of Sutherland around 1918. It was while taking care of wounded soldiers that she met the prince for the first time.

The more I was able to learn about Rosemary, the more I fell in love with her too. It is such a shame that the King and Queen refused their son’s wish to marry her because she was the ultimate woman for the king-to-be, but it also reminds you that despite being part of the upper class of nobility and well-liked throughout the royal family, even they had their standards. If it wasn’t for King Edward VII’s “secret” relationship to Rosemary’s half-aunt Daisy, Countess of Warwick (plus her blunt opinions of politics!) Rosemary would have been the perfect bride and Queen consort to the prince,

Once that relationship was over, Edward moved onto another well known lady of nobility: Freda Dudley Ward. She was the wife of William Dudley Ward, the Liberal member of Parliament (MP) and they had two daughters and you will get to know everyone, trust me. Edward’s relationship to Freda lasted for 10 years and is the bulk of the actual book.

This is where you start to see a noticeable shift personality wise with Edward, because Rachel includes the letters he wrote to the Queen, Rosemary and Freda. He leans on Freda on support not just for a sexual release. He was as invested with Freda as if they were married like a regular couple. Honestly, at first I really wasn’t a big fan of Freda, mainly because she was next in line, but as I continued reading, I ended up changing my mind. She was first and most importantly a mother in a era where the children where mostly left with nannies but she truly loved her daughters and they came before anything, including her lovers!

And then finally, we move to Thelma Furness, Viscountess Furness. My opinion of Thelma never went away, because she just seemed so self-centered compared to her counterparts. Thelma had a twin sister named Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, and Thelma is the aunt to Gloria Vanderbilt and great-aunt to Anderson Cooper! After figuring this out, I was pretty much done with learning more about Thelma’s personal life.

He did not want to be a prince on a pedestal, but rather to be treated like an ordinary man.

One thing that I definitely kept in the back of my mind was when Prince Charles was starting his relationship with Camilla, before he met Lady Diana, because Camilla was already married, The Queen Mother and Lord Louis Mountbatten thought that Charles would ruin the monarchy because it was like when Edward met Wallis, as she was already divorced once in the beginning and then of course become divorced again to keep the prince. They had arranged that Prince Charles meet and talk to his paternal great-uncle The Duke of Windsor. Obviously we don’t know what was said but whether or not Edward had the same thoughts about Camilla, Charles didn’t care and perused her anyways.

The thing is, I was thinking that the book itself reminded me of Prince Charles, when he was running around with all of these women in the his 20’s and 30’s, before settling down, but honestly he made think about the royal family’s current situation with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Edward was never happy with his public persona as the first son of the king, and you could see it on his face that he seemed bored and sad in a way, and I think he acted out with his many relationships to find some normalcy in his life. We don’t know what truly goes on within the royal court and households so I actually saw the Harry and Meghan exit as senior members in a new light.

If you are interested in learning about the British royal family, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and everything else that happened from 1918-1934, this is the book for you. It was a very interesting read but I only gave it three stars because it did become somewhat boring towards the end.

Have you read ‘Before Wallis’ by Rachel Trethewey yet? If you have, what did you get out of it the most? Did your opinion(s) about the previous and/or modern royals change at all?

One thought on “Book Review: “Before Wallis: Edward VIII’s Other Women” by Rachel Trethewey

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