Source: The Guardian, March 21, 2015
Andrew Morton, the author of Diana: Her True Story and unauthorized biographies of Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie and Monica Lewinsky, is no stranger to tackling controversial stories about the British royal family. “It’s a change for me from doing celebrity books and to go back in history and do a bit of history,” Morton says. “There’s a lot to get your teeth into.”
The book took three years to write, with four researchers working on various aspects of the story and visiting archives in Moscow, Germany, America and Britain, drawing on a variety of documents from the FBI, royal archives and personal correspondence.
And what a story it tells. The Windsor file itself is made up of German diplomatic documents and reports from ambassadors who spent time with the Windsors that painted, he writes, “an astonishing portrait of a man who was disaffected with his position, disloyal to his family and unpatriotic towards his country. Such was his disaffection that his lifelong friend and staunch supporter, war leader Winston Churchill, had threatened him with court martial if he failed to obey orders and take up his post as the wartime governor of the Bahamas.”
The book starts with a look at the Prince of Wales, the man who would go on to become Edward VIII before abdicating for a twice-divorced American woman named Wallis Simpson. We learn of his many affairs, of the charisma “that was international” and of the bitter hatred the palace felt toward his future wife.
“She was seen as evil incarnate,” Morton says. “She was seen by King George V’s private secretary as a witch or a vampire. And Queen Mary saw an early psychologist to see if he was being daily hypnotized by Wallis Simpson.”
Morton also includes in the book some damning pictures: of the Duke inspecting a Nazi guard, meeting a smiling Hitler and chatting animatedly with Joseph Goebbels. Others taken by friends of the Duke and Duchess in more intimate moments are seen here for the first time.
“I got some pictures from the family of Herman Rogers (the Windsors’ close friend). The family live in Toronto actually, so I’ve got exclusive new pictures which have never before been seen,” says Morton.
After Edward’s abdication, he and Simpson were exiled, having homes first in France, then Spain and Portugal. From there, they took up the Bahamian post that saw them through most of the war.
The Nazis, meantime, were working on Operation Willi, a plan that included kidnapping the Duke, keeping him in Nazi-controlled Spain then, when Britain was finally defeated, they’d prop him up and put him on the British throne as a puppet king to keep the masses happy by keeping the monarchy in place.
Serious questions were also being raised about the Duke’s fealty to his homeland, including whether the Duke knew about this plan. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s behaviour while holed up in Portugal and Spain was confusing, to say the least, says Morton.
“His table talk was defeatist, he thought only heavy bombing could defeat Britain and, at the same time, the Duke was in touch with the Nazis via the Spanish.”
Recounted in the book are particularly damning anecdotes about the couple’s behaviour. One recounts how Wallis enlisted the American minister in Lisbon and the consul in Nice to fetch her favourite Nile-green bathing suit that she’d left in their rented house in La Croe – this at a time when that area of the French coast was occupied by the Nazis.
Not all the stories were about Simpson. One recounts how the Duke of Windsor insisted on the release of two of his manservants who were serving in the army because he couldn’t do without them. After pushback, he settled for just one.
Another anecdote alluded to in the title of the book, 17 Carnations, was a story making the rounds about Wallis and the German foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop. The story asserted that the number of blooms in the bouquet referred to the number of times Simpson had sex with Ribbentrop. The implication, of course, is that she was sharing secrets with her lover, acting as a de facto spy.
“I think that was yet another myth,” Morton asserts, “but one that was believed and that’s the whole point about this book: that myth became reality.”
The interplay of characters was fascinating.
“With Hitler, here was a man who wanted to rule the world and with Edward, here’s a man who gave up his empire for a woman who, by his own admission, he hadn’t even slept with,” Morton says.
The royal family’s connection with the Nazis has never been a secret; the extent to which it continued into the war and the extent to which Edward felt that, had he remained king, he could have affected a negotiated peace is interesting.
“It’s not like the Prince of Wales is unique in believing (in a negotiated peace),” Morton says. “His brother George VI and his other brother, the Duke of Kent, were also involved in a negotiated peace in a freelance effort,” as were Lord Halifax and others, Morton says. On the American side, even Roosevelt knew about it.
The Duke might have made some ill thought out decisions, but was it treason?
“Interpreting the Duke of Windsor’s motive is murky,” says Morton, noting that the reports in the Windsor file did come through the German ambassador. “But what is clear is that there was a coverup by the British government, aided by elements of the American government, to…destroy these documents, which would have affected the way that history was interpreted.”
In the end, after a 12-year fight, the documents were published.
“Because the British and the Americans won, they don’t want to talk about the fact that, in 1940, there was very strong pressure, both inside and outside parliament for a negotiated settlement,” Morton says.
The papers were finally published, Morton continues, because an American academic warned against destroying them “and this eventually became the American view.” The British, he says, wanted to “censor, censor, censor, destroy, burn obliterate, because they were concerned…they could affect the standing of the British monarchy.”
Are there any lessons for the modern royals? William and Kate, Morton asserts, are the future of the monarchy in Britain. “They will be stewards for the royal family for the next 50 years or so.”
Lessons for them might be to maintain solidarity but also to “not to throw out anyone.”
There are, perhaps, more parallels in the story for Prince Charles. Morton figures that if Edward had played his cards a little better, he could have ended up having it all.
“If the Duke of Windsor had any political nouse (smarts), which he didn’t, he would have followed the advice of Churchill, (Lord) Beaverbrook and others and he would have held his hand, played the long game, been quiet, been crowned and it would have had to be a very, very strong prime minister to say, once he had been crowned king, ‘I’m sorry, but you can’t marry Simpson.’”
He should have done, Morton says, “exactly what Prince Charles has done” with Camilla: introduced her slowly and quietly. “She’s now part of the furniture, as it were.”
And the Duke and Duchess of Windsor part of a history that left their reputations in tatters.