The story of the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936 has always been portrayed as a man who gave up the throne to marry the woman he loved. It was often thought that he was a victim of the British Establishment who would never favour in the 1930s a Royal marrying an American divorcee.
Now a new book by historian Andrew Lownie examines what happened after the abdication – and it is not a pretty picture. His meticulously researched account reveals a pathetically weak character falling desperately in love with Wallis Simpson who never really loved him but felt all her life duty bound to stay with the man who gave up the throne.
In this book the Duke of Windsor emerges as a tax avoider, a possible accessory to a murder, a golf bore, barely capable of reading a book and living a lavish tax free lifestyle, often at other people’s expense, in expensive homes in Paris and the French Riveria.
They truly emerge as a ghastly couple, who treated their loyal staff badly, strained relations with their friends and spent their lives in a fantasy world where they pretended they were still a King and Queen with all the trimmings and trappings. It is no wonder the Royal Family wanted little to do with them.
Support for the Nazis
But the most damaging behaviour revealed in this book is their active support for Nazism, including later the holocaust and encouraging the Isolationists in the United States not to become involved in the war.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor went on a tour of pre war Germany in 1937, had a close relationship with Ribbentrop and had tea with Hitler in Berchtesgaden. After the war. there were attempts to conceal embarrassing German papers which showed the connections between them and the Nazis. MI5 had a dossier on the couple which was destroyed after the war.
And strangely the one paper from the captured papers that is missing is the Duke’s conversation with Hitler in 1937. What is known that the Nazis thought the former King was a key person to get the United Kingdom to sue for peace after Dunkirk and he had been sounded out whether he would return to throne to head a Nazi state after peace negotiations. Such concerns led to him being whisked away to Bermuda and then made governor of the Bahamas for the rest of the war. He would have much preferred a role in the United Kingdom or the United States but turned them down the moment it was mentioned he would have to pay tax.
Even in the Bahamas he got involved with pretty despicable company, dodgy business people linked to money laundering and is thought to have been involved in the framing of a man for the murder of wealthy businessman, Sir Harry Oakes, whose fortune was hidden in a bank used as a stash house for Nazi war loot. It is even suggested he might have illicitly benefitted from Sir Harry’s fortune after he was murdered.
Their secret affairs
There is virtually nothing redeemable about the pair in this book Wallis had a long standing affair with a flamboyant gay dancer and socialite Jimmy Donahue. The Duke was bisexual and one his lovers was the Walter Chrysler, Junior, son of the founder of the Chrysler Corporation. Together it is said they organised a party for1000 sailors aboard a Navy ship in Florida with 200 hookers. An Office of Naval Intelligence investigation into Chrysler has disappeared.
Andrew Lownie has chronicled a tragic tale of the idle rich who have nothing useful to do with their lives. It shows that money alone when you have no other purpose in life does not make you happy. But if he had succeeded in getting a negotiated peace with Germany he would have had a role and the UK and the British Empire would have been turned into a Fascist state. The country is lucky he failed.
Traitor King: The Scandalous Exile of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor by Andrew Lownie £25
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