Duke of Windsor, Traitor King

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor with Adolf Hitler

Craig Brown once noted of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor: “Books have been written proving conclusively that they were a good thing and that they were a bad thing; that she loved him, but he didn’t love her; that he loved her, but she didn’t love him; that they loved one another and that they both hated one another.”

Thirty-five years after her death and almost 50 years after his, both fiction and non-fiction books, documentaries, musicals and films continue to appear and to adopt very different points of view towards the couple. Some still argue that this was one of the great love affairs of the twentieth century, others that Wallis felt trapped in a marriage she had never wanted.

“The Duchess rather baffled me,” remembered her wartime PR spokesman, Rene MacColl. “What causes one human being to fall madly in love with another is occasionally clear to third persons. More often it remains a mystery to the onlooker. So far as I was concerned, it was emphatically a mystery in this case.”

What was not in doubt was the Duke’s obsession with Wallis. In 1936 he had threatened to commit suicide if she did not marry him, and to his death in 1972 he remained devoted. “To him she was the perfect woman,” said his friend, Lord Birkenhead. Churchill, one of the Duke’s greatest supporters during the abdication crisis, believed he “found in her qualities as necessary to his happiness as the air he breathed.”

The evidence for her affection for him is less apparent. She enjoyed the status and social contact that her relationship with him brought but it is doubtful she ever was in love with him or fully considered the implications of the relationship. As far back as the cruise on the Nahlin in August 1936, Diana Cooper had noticed that Wallis did not want to be left alone with the King. She wrote in her diary: “The truth is she’s bored stiff with him, and her picking on him and her coldness towards him, far from policy, are irritation and boredom.”

“The Duchess was a complicated person, cold, mean-spirited, a bully and a sadist,” observed Dr Gaea Leinhardt, stepdaughter of Wallis’ ghost writer, Cleveland Amory. “My parents found the Duke not very bright, a wimp, and basically a very sad man. He had made an appalling choice and knew that he had taken the wrong path and now had to live with the consequences. They found him pathetic.”

Yet in some ways, it was Wallis’ very dominant manner that most appealed to the Duke. Mona Eldridge, who met the Windsors on numerous occasions while working for the Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, later wrote: “People on her staff told me how she would reprimand the Duke like a harsh mother with a naughty child, not infrequently reducing him to tears. Paradoxically, this only caused him to cling more tightly to her.”

“He was like a child in her hands,” Lady Alexandra Metcalfe told Cleveland Amory. Their friend Kenneth de Courcy added: “He never had any real mothering, she never had any children… both needed each other.” So much for the legend of the great love affair.

But a darker shadow hangs over their reputation. The conventional line is that the Duke, like the rest of his family and many politicians, financiers and aristocrats before September 1939, was determined that the carnage of the World War I must be avoided at all costs and that some form of accommodation with Hitler was possible, to allow the German leader to focus on the real threat to the British Empire – communism.

It argues that in the summer of 1940, the couple became unwitting pawns in a Nazi plan to persuade the Duke to take on the role of a British Pétain. German and Spanish officials then exaggerated what was happening to suit their own agenda and please their superiors. The Windsors were naïve and foolish and at worst used German approaches to leverage their own interests.

It is best summed up by the Duke’s authorised biographer, Philip Ziegler:

“He had been indiscreet and extravagant enough in what he said to give the Germans some grounds for believing that he might be ready to play an active part in securing such a peace and returning to the throne after it had been negotiated. That is bad enough. What they do not show, and cannot show since no evidence exists, is that the Duke would ever have contemplated accepting such an invitation if it had been issued.”

The argument of my new book Traitor King: The Scandalous Exile of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor is that the Windsors actively engaged with the German intrigues. It is perfectly clear that in the summer of 1940 the Duke, who reported none of his communications with the various Spanish emissaries to the British authorities, knew that he was dealing with the Germans and not the Spanish (how else would his maid have been able to travel to Paris to collect belongings from the Windsor home then under Nazi occupation?) and that his various attempts at delaying departure to the Bahamas had more to do with the international situation and various German peace overtures than his domestic affairs.

The argument of my new book Traitor King: The Scandalous Exile of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor is that the Windsors actively engaged with the German intrigues. It is perfectly clear that in the summer of 1940 the Duke, who reported none of his communications with the various Spanish emissaries to the British authorities, knew that he was dealing with the Germans and not the Spanish (how else would his maid have been able to travel to Paris to collect belongings from the Windsor home then under Nazi occupation?) and that his various attempts at delaying departure to the Bahamas had more to do with the international situation and various German peace overtures than his domestic affairs.

According to the Portuguese Secret Service surveillance records, the Duke, who asked for his police protection to be removed at one point, was “an active player in the plot – using his car to ferry the conspirators around, allowing them to meet at his house, engaging in a constant shuttle between the German, Spanish and British embassies in Lisbon.”

On 15 August 1940, en route to taking up the governorship of the Bahamas, the Duke used code to contact a German agent, Ricardo Espirito Santo Silva, agreeing to return to Europe should the Germans successfully invade Britain

On 15 August 1940, en route to taking up the governorship of the Bahamas, the Duke used code to contact a German agent, Ricardo Espirito Santo Silva, agreeing to return to Europe should the Germans successfully invade Britain. This is confirmed in the diaries of the MI5 officer Guy Liddell and the correspondence of the King’s private secretary, Alan Lascelles. As such this was communicating with the enemy during war. Lord Haw-Haw and others were executed for less.

This might all have remained secret, but in the spring of 1945 the files of the German Foreign Ministry, supposedly destroyed, were recovered by American troops. Subsequently called The Marburg or Windsor files, they revealed dozens of telegrams between the Nazis and the Duke of Windsor from 1935 to 1945, showing him to have been flattered by the German approaches and willing to take on the role of King in the event of a German military victory. Over the next dozen years there were frantic high-level attempts by British prime ministers, including Churchill, to persuade the Americans to destroy or at least never make public the contents of the files.

MI5 had opened their own file on the couple, an unprecedented occurrence for a member of the royal family, even before the abdication, and their protection officers had long reported on their contacts and activities. The FBI and French secret service also had them under surveillance.

It is clear from my research that the real story of the Duke of Windsor is not that he abdicated the throne but that he was “The Traitor King”. That is where his reputation should now rest.

Andrew Lownie is the author of the Sunday Times best seller, “The Mountbattens: Their Lives and Loves”. His latest book is “Traitor King: The Scandalous Exile of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor” (Bonnier, £25)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed

Related Posts

Menu