Review: The Duchess: A Novel of Wallis Simpson by Wendy Holden

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Last Updated on March 30, 2023 by Mary Elle

The Duchess: A Novel of Wallis Simpson by Wendy Holden is one of the most surprising historical fiction “reads” that I’ve had in a long time. And I must admit, I almost overlooked this book. For some reason, it kept getting pushed to the bottom of a pile of books that I thought I wanted to read, and it almost got removed from that pile completely just due to lack of time for reading everything I wanted to read during the month of December.

I’m so grateful that, in the end, I didn’t overlook this book.

Because it wasn’t what I expected it to be!

This book review will give you a short synopsis of “The Duchess” along with my honest thoughts on whether this is a worthwhile read or not.

the duchess

The Duchess is the latest book written by author Wendy Holden, a British author who lives in the north of England in a stone house that’s shaped like a mini-castle. No wonder she writes amazing novels featuring well-known historical figures that just might have lived in a real castle.

The Duchess is her second historical fiction novel. The first was The Royal Governess, and she also writes some fun contemporary fiction. You can see all her books here on the Amazon Wendy Holden author page.

Synopsis of The Duchess

Their love was so strong, that a king gave up his throne and his country to be by the side of the woman he loved.

The year is 1928. A middle-aged American woman from Baltimore named Wallis comes to London with her stuffy, boring husband Ernest Simpson but with no money, no glamour, no beauty, and no connections. This middle-aged woman with next to nothing does have one thing though – a huge desire to follow the glamorous set and become part of their social scene. But honestly, it’s just so far out of her reach. Until it’s not.

Wallis is unexpectedly invited to a house party where she meets the Prince of Wales, who views Wallis like a “breath of fresh air” compared to the stodginess of his royal family and life.

Suddenly, Wallis is plunged into a lifestyle she could only dream about previously. Unimagined privilege, luxury, and wealth. What more could a woman want or ask for? Surely, this is all temporary. Because certainly the prince will one day be king and must do his duty by the monarchy and marry a suitable bride.

Will Wallis be prepared to give up her prince when the time comes? Or is she simply biding her time until she can once again be the mistress of her own life instead of being attached in some way to a most public figure and having little control over her own destiny?

The Duchess – What I Liked

OK, this will probably be a rather long list.

First, the book is set in two different time periods. That’s one of my favorite features in historical fiction in general. The story is told in part from the viewpoint of the Duchess of Windsor when she returns to London in 1972 for the Duke of Windsor’s funeral. And the story is also told from her viewpoint as her life is happening, starting in 1928.

I personally didn’t know that much about the infamous woman who became the Duchess of Windsor before I read this book. My knowledge sort of began and ended with the basic story of the abdication of the king which many people know, along with the somewhat common perception that Wallis Simpson was an overly ambitious and ruthless gold digger who schemed her way into the life of the prince and thought that she would one day be queen alongside her king.

I was completely prepared to dislike Wallis when I started the book. In fact, I expected it. But, that somehow did not happen for me. I started out almost immediately feeling a bit sorry for Wallis and the author made me sort of feel some of the pain and discomfort she had to go through emotionally.

I was certainly unprepared for how the book made me feel.

As it progressed, there were many other characters, of course, some of which I liked and some of which I didn’t, but I honestly couldn’t put the book down. I felt like I had to keep turning the pages to see what would happen next.

This book, in my opinion, sheds a slightly different light on Wallis Simpson and her relationship with the Prince of Wales, then King Edward VIII, and finally the Duke of Windsor.

I’ve mentioned often in different book reviews that one of the first signs of a great book (for me) is one that makes me want to Google different things in the book to see if they were real. This book not only made me Google some facts while I was reading it, but for the very first time, a book actually inspires me to read the research books that the author used while researching this book. I find this story enormously interesting and would like to get an even better sense of the “real” Wallis through some of the historical research materials that were used by the author.

The Duchess – What I Didn’t Like

What didn’t I like? There wasn’t anything! I loved every aspect of this book from start to finish.

The Duchess – Read, ReRead or Reject?

And now, for my 3 Rs of book reviews. Should you Read, ReRead or Reject The Duchess? What is my honest opinion about this book?


This book was an amazing surprise to me.

You can check out The Duchess: A Novel of Wallis Simpson here on Wendy Holden’s Amazon author page, along with her other novels.

I was so impressed by this book that I’ll be diving into The Royal Governess very soon. And rumor has it that Wendy is working on the next historical fiction novel now. I can’t wait!

For some additional book suggestions in this genre, just head on over and explore more historical fiction now.

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