Wallis Simpson, Edward of Windsor, Adolf Hitler (fourth, fifth and sixth from left).
17 Carnations: The Windsors, The Nazis & The Cover-Up
By Andrew Morton
Michael O’Mara Books, 2015,
The Sun created a storm in July when it published images from a 1933 home movie showing the queen's mother and then-Prince Edward — soon-to-be (short-lived) king of England — encouraging the seven-year-old future Queen Elizabeth II to proudly perform a Nazi salute.
Edward's Nazi sympathies are widely known, but the image – although dismissed as simply depicting the naivety of children – put the issue of the Nazi-sympathising royal front and centre. Andrew Morton's new book, 17 Carnations: The Windsors, The Nazis & The Cover-Up, delves into the issue and the British establishment's attempt to bury the truth.
Edward's 1936 abdication had it all for royal soap opera addicts. The King of England Edward VIII gave up the crown so he could marry Wallis Simpson, who, as an American divorcee most certainly was not “PLU — People Like Us” and would never have been accepted as queen.
The real story, however, lay elsewhere, in Edward’s ardour for Adolf Hitler at a time when Nazism shifted from being a valued defence against the “Red Menace” to posing a threat to the British empire.
Edward was a “miserable prince”, depressed by, as the party-boy complained, having to “hit up with a lot of old-fashioned and boring people and conventions”.
Sure, the privileges of royalty were nice — Edward would rise “not much before eleven”, before an afternoon of golf, fox-hunting or polo followed by cocktails in the evening and then the night life until the early hours. But the dull “princing” duties and the limited pool of royal mating partners were hard to bear.
When the untitled Simpson came into view from Baltimore, Edward was infatuated. Also excited was Hitler — who took a political interest in the pro-Nazi love-birds.
Hitler had earlier tried to broker a marriage between German royalty and the English prince. He now set Joachim von Ribbentrop, his foreign affairs point-man, to the cynical ploy of engaging in a carnation-strewn, clandestine affair with Simpson to gain access to the new king.
Edward was receptive to Nazi cultivation. He was a man of staggering wealth who thought, like most of the aristocracy, that Britain’s very own Blackshirts were “a good thing” for sorting out trade unions and communists.
His anti-Semitism, hatred of Indian and Irish nationalists, dislike of “those bloody suffragettes” and his “lifetime loathing of the Bolsheviks” due to the execution of his godfather Tsar Nicholas II also made this right-wing extremist into a potential Nazi recruit.
Hitler’s hopes were rewarded when the newly-crowned king leaned on the British government to not respond to the Nazis’ early expansionism in Europe.
Hitler was aghast when Edward abdicated 11 months after being crowned, but Plan B was to get the now-demoted Duke to be a celebrity voice for “peace” — on Nazi terms — and ultimately to be installed as the Nazis’ puppet King of England.
In 1940, to keep Edward away from Nazi temptation, the British government ordered him from semi-banishment in Nazi-threatened France to the Bahamas as governor in 1940. From there, he continued to entertain Hitler’s plans, telling an interviewer — and undercover FBI agent — that “it would be a tragic thing for the world if Hitler were to be overthrown” by revolution in Germany.
Crisis, however, loomed for the monarchy when Edward’s Nazi-friendly past threatened to publicly emerge after the war. The Allies had agreed to a joint US, British and French history of Nazi foreign policy as a re-education tool for the German population — based on seized German Foreign Office archives.
These documents, however, contained Edward’s compromising comments on Nazism, causing Buckingham Palace and Whitehall to attempt to suppress “the Windsor file”. The aim was to cover up the existence of a treacherous rat-in-waiting, and his like-minded circle, at the heart of the monarchy — the “beating heart of the nation” as they liked to see it.
The US and French editors, as professional historians, bridled at the political interference and threatened resignation. Their would-be censors eventually agreed this would be a bad look for academic freedom in the victorious capitalist democracies and, after re-jigging the publication schedule to keep the offending file away from public eyes until 1957, opted for public relations massaging on its release.
Edward, said the British foreign office via a compliant establishment media, was an “innocent party caught in a web of Nazi intrigue, a royal dupe rather than a traitor king”.
Morton, alas, joins this rehabilitation chorus – Edward “made mistakes, said things he shouldn’t and met people he should have shunned” but “he was a nuisance not a traitor”.
Morton ends up soft-soaping Edward. For example, he ignores Edward’s fascist propensity for street violence when he volunteered as a strike-breaking “special constable” in the 1926 general strike.
Despite declaring an antipathy to royal history-writing “on bended knee”, Morton’s book is intrinsically deferential to — and fascinated by — the cult of monarchy, including its very English king who was knee-deep in fascist mud of his own making.