Edward Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was born in Richmond, Surrey, on 23rd June, 1894. Edward was the great-grandson of Queen Victoria and his father was George V, who became king of the United Kingdom in 1910. As the king's eldest son, Edward therefore became heir to the throne.
His biographer, Colin Matthew, has pointed out: "The future king was given the forenames Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, the innovatory use of the four patron saints being intended to emphasize the representative character of the monarchy. Within the family he was always known as David.... David grew up in a middle-brow context—not deliberately hostile to culture, but also not sensitive to it. He was an intelligent child, with something of his father's prodigious memory and an innate, wide-ranging curiosity which his parents failed to harness. He was bullied by his nanny and, as the eldest child, was the first target of his father's often violently expressed wrath. He himself, in his later autobiographical volumes, stated that he felt unloved, and he never seems to have wished for children of his own."
Prince Edward (as he was officially known) was early noted for charm and good looks. In 1907 he was sent to the naval college at Osborne. His mother told the historian, Reginald Brett, that she found her son "very sensitive, and knowing much more of his prospects and responsibilities than she thought. He is treated, however, at Osborne precisely like any other boy, both by teachers and lads". However, Edward considered himself a victim of bullying during this period.
In 1909 he progressed to the Royal Naval College on HMS Britannia at Dartmouth. On his sixteenth birthday he was created Prince of Wales and was invested at Caernarfon Castle on 13th July 1911. The following year he went to Magdalen College. Prince Edward was offered tutorials by Thomas Herbert Warren, president of Magdalen. Edward was a poor student. Warren later commented "bookish he will never be" and after two years of study it was decided he should be given a commission in the British Army.
The outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Edward asked Lord Kitchener, Secretary of War, if he could serve in France. When Kitchener refused, Edward commented that it did not matter if he was killed as he had four brothers. Kitchener replied that he was more concerned about the future king being captured by the German Army and then being used as a pawn in future peace negotiations. On the insistence of King George V, Edward was restricted to serving in staff appointments. This also proved dangerous as on one occasion, a German shell hit his car and killed the driver, just after the prince had left it to inspect the troops.
The war created problems for the royal family because of its German background. Owing to strong anti-German feeling in Britain, it was decided to change the name of the family from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor. To stress his support for the British, George V and his sons made several visits to the Western Front.
After the war Edward continued to enjoy dangerous hobbies. He rode in steeplechases until he suffered a bad fall and his father forbade him to continue race-riding. His father also strongly disapproved of his son's decision to learn to fly. H has argued: "In the army the prince developed an enthusiasm for nightlife, nightclubs, and dancing, which the style of post-war London life encouraged. He soon became a leader of fashionable London society, a more eclectic body than before the war. In this context, after several affairs, his liaison with Mrs Winifred (Freda) Dudley Ward (1894–1983) began in the spring of 1918. She was the wife, with two small daughters, of Lord Esher's grandson, William Dudley Ward (1877–1946), a Liberal MP and chamberlain of the royal household, from whom she separated." His relationship with Freda Dudley Ward caused considerable embarrasment to the royal family. Frances Donaldson, who knew the couple, claimed that Prince Edward "was madly, passionately, abjectly in love with her".
George V kept his son busy by sending him on a series of royal tours. This included visits to Canada, the United States, the Caribbean, India, Australia and New Zealand. Edward drew large crowds and his obvious popularity made him increasingly vain. As one observer noted, he had "difficulty in understanding the symbolic nature of his position and tended to assume that the attention focused on him was a direct consequence of his own particular gifts."
His father excluded Edward from discussions on political issues and instead urged him to find a wife and start a family. Edward refused and instead preferred to have relationships with women that the king considered to be unsuitable. In 1931 Edward was having an affair with Lady Thelma Furness. On the 10th January, 1931, Furness invited Wallis Simpson and her husband, Ernest Simpson, to her country house at Melton Mowbray. Edward was fascinated by Wallis and it was not long before he was having an affair with her.
Colin Matthew has pointed out: "By 1934 the prince had cast aside both Lady Furness and Freda Dudley Ward (the latter cut off without, apparently, any personal farewell). The prince saw Mrs Simpson as his natural companion in life, both sexually and intellectually.... A man accustomed to get his way, when he knew what it was that he wanted, the prince of Wales seems to have thought from 1934 onwards that matters would turn out as he wished. Though he appears from an early stage to have wanted Wallis as his queen, he made no effort to test or prepare the ground, even with those whose support would be vital. Nor do those around him seem to have sounded him as to his intentions (and as his accession was clearly imminent they could not have been blamed if they had done so). Neither the prince's father nor mother seems to have raised with him either the affair or its likely result. Thus the prince of Wales's affair with Mrs Simpson, pursued with a passion evident to all who observed it, occurred in a political and constitutional limbo."
Wallis Simpson left her husband and went to live in an apartment in Bryanston Court. Also living in the building was Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe. The two women soon became close friends. This was unfortunate for Simpson because of a tip off from French Intelligence, MI6 was intercepting Princess Stephanie's correspondence and tracking her movements in and out of the country since early in 1928.
In December 1932 a number of European newspapers had carried allegations of espionage against Princess Stephanie. The French newspaper, La Liberté, claimed that she had been arrested as a spy while visiting Biarritz. It asked the question: "Is a sensational affair about to unfold?" Other newspapers took up the story and described her as a "political adventuress" and "the vamp of European politics". These stories were probably the result of leaks from the French intelligence services. However, she had not been arrested. According to a 2005 declassified document, the British secret service circulated a government report stating that files had been found in the princess' flat in Paris showing she had been commissioned by the German authorities to persuade Lord Rothermere to campaign in his newspapers for the return to Germany of territory and colonies ceded in the end of the First World War.
In November, 1933, Lord Rothermere gave Princess Stephanie the task of establishing personal contact with Adolf Hitler. Princess Stephanie later recalled: "Rothermere came from a family that had experienced the novel possibility of influencing international politics through newspapers and was determined to sound out Hitler." Stephanie went to Berlin and began a sexual relationship with Captain Fritz Wiedemann, Hitler's personal adjutant. Wiedemann reported back to Hitler that Stephanie was the mistress of Lord Rothermere. Hitler decided that she could be of future use to the government and gave Wiedemann 20,000 Reichsmarks as a maintenance allowance to ensure that she had her hotel, restaurant bills, telephone bills and taxi and travel fares paid. Wiedemann was also allowed to buy her expensive clothes and gifts.
The following month Wiedemann arranged for Princess Stephanie to have her first meeting with Hitler. According to Jim Wilson, the author of Nazi Princess: Hitler, Lord Rothermere and Princess Stephanie Von Hohenlohe (2011): "The Führer appears to have been highly impressed by her sophistication, her intelligence and her charms. At that first meeting she wore one of her most elegant outfits, calculating it would impress him. It seems to have done so, because Hitler greeted her with uncharacteristic warmth, kissing her on the hand. It was far from usual for Hitler to be so attentive to women, particularly women introduced to him for the first time. The princess was invited to take tea with him, and once seated beside him, according to her unpublished memoirs. Hitler scarcely took his piercing eyes off her."
Edward's relationship with Simpson created a great deal of scandal. So also did his political views. In 1934 he made comments suggesting he supported the British Union of Fascists. According to a Metropolitan Police Special Branch report he had met Oswald Mosley for the first time at the home of Lady Maud Cunard in January 1935.
Philip Ziegler has argued: "The precise nature of Mrs Simpson's appeal to the prince of Wales could only be understood by him; probably he hardly understood it himself. It is sufficient to say that by early 1934 the prince had become slavishly dependent on her and was to remain so until he died. The courtiers at first thought that this was just another of his recurrent infatuations, but throughout 1935 they became increasingly alarmed as her role became more prominent and impinged on the performance of his duties."
The government was also aware that Wallis Simpson was in fact involved in other sexual relationships. This included a married car mechanic and salesman called Guy Trundle and Edward Fitzgerald, Duke of Leinster. More importantly, they had evidence that Wallis Simpson was having a relationship with Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German Ambassador to Britain. The FBI definitely believed this was the case and one report suggested that he had sent a bouquet of seventeen red roses to Princess Stephanie's flat in Bryanston Court because each bloom represented an occasion they had slept together.
Chips Channon also believed the couple were having an affair. He recorded in his diary: "Much gossip about the Prince of Wales' alleged Nazi leanings; he is alleged to have been influenced by Emerald Cunard (who is rather eprise with Herr Ribbentrop) through Wallis Simpson." MI5 were also concerned by Simpson's relationship with Ribbentrop and was now keeping her under surveillance. Collin Brooks noted in his diary: "The suggestion has been made in many quarters that he could, if he wished, make himself the Dictator of the Empire."
Paul Foot has argued: "The Prince was proud of his German origins, spoke German fluently, and felt an emotional, racial and intellectual solidarity with the Nazi leaders... Such sympathies were of course common, at least for a while, in London society, but when others began to waver, the Prince of Wales remained steadfast. He asked the Germans to fix up a special dinner for him at the German Embassy, as a special mark of his solidarity with their government. The Germans, on instructions from Berlin, invited Mrs Simpson, who was then his paramour." Robert Bruce-Lockhart has reported the conversation that took place between Prince of Wales and the grandson of the former Kaiser, Prince Louis-Ferdinand: "The Prince of Wales was quite pro-Hitler and said it was no business of ours to interfere in Germany’s internal affairs either re Jews or anything else, and added that the dictators are very popular these days, and that we might want one in England before long."
George V died on 20th January, 1936. Edward now became king and his relationship with Wallis Simpson was now being reported in the foreign press. The government instructed the British press not to refer to the relationship. Wallis divorced Ernest Simpson in 1936. He told his friends that he believed the new king wished to marry his wife. The prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, urged the king to consider the constitutional problems of marrying a divorced woman.
Although the king received the political support from Winston Churchill and Lord Beaverbrook, he was aware that his decision to marry Wallis Simpson would be unpopular with the British public. Cosmo Gordon Lang, the Archbishop of Canterbury also made it clear he was strongly opposed to the king's relationship. Ribbentrop described him as "a kind of English national socialist".
King Edward VIII did receive support from Oswald Mosley. He attacked those criticised his relationship with Mrs. Simpson: "He who insults the British Crown thus insults the history and achievements of the British race... The King has been loyal and true to him." Mosley went on to state that the king deserved, after many years' faithful service as Prince of Wales, the right to live in private happiness with the woman he loved."
Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe then became involved in the controversy. According to Jim Wilson, the author of Nazi Princess: Hitler, Lord Rothermere and Princess Stephanie Von Hohenlohe (2011): "Princess Stephanie, still seeking to fulfil Hitler's wish, was the person who originally floated the concept of a morganatic marriage as a solution to the king's dilemma. She, like the diplomats in the German Embassy, was desperate to find a means of keeping Edward and Wallis in power in Buckingham Palace. The device of a morganatic marriage, she explained, would have allowed Edward to marry Mrs Simpson, but on the condition that she would merely be his consort and would not take the title Queen of England. It was very much in Hitler's interests that a way should be found out of the constitutional maze which threatened to force Edward off the throne."
Robert Vansittart, Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, had received information that Wallis Simpson was passing information to the German government, and conveyed his fears to Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. A FBI report at the time stated: "Certain would-be state secrets were passed on to Edward, and when it was found that Ribbentrop... actually received the same information, immediately Baldwin was forced to accept that the leakage had been located." Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden decided to restrict information shown to the King. The authors of Baldwin (1969) have pointed out: "Mrs. Simpson... was under close scrutiny by Sir Robert Vansittart and both she and the King would not have been pleased to realise that the Security Services were keeping a watching brief on her and some of her friends. The Red boxes sent down to Fort Belvedere were carefully screened by the Foreign Office to ensure that nothing highly secret should go astray. Behind the public facade, behind the King's popularity, the Government had awakened to a danger that had nothing to do with any question of marriage."
Walter Monckton later explained: "Before October 1936 I had been on terms of close friendship with King Edward, and, though I had seldom met her save with the King, I had known Mrs Simpson for some considerable time and liked her well. I was well aware of the divorce proceedings which led to the decree nisi pronounced by Mr Justice Hawke at Ipswich in October. But I did not, before November 1936, think that marriage between the King and Mrs Simpson was contemplated. The King told me that he had often wished to tell me, but refrained for my own sake lest I should be embarrassed. It would have been difficult for me since I always and honestly assumed in my conversations with him that such an idea (which was suggested in other quarters) was out of the question. Mrs Simpson had told me in the summer that she did not want to miss her chance of being free now that she had the chance, and the King constantly said how much he resented the fact that Mrs Simpson's friendship with him brought so much publicity upon her and interfered with her prospects of securing her freedom. I was convinced that it was the King who was really the party anxious for the divorce, and I suspected that he felt some jealousy that there should be a husband in the background."
The FBI continued to keep Wallis Simpson under surveillance and in one report to President Franklin D. Roosevelt he stated: "It has been ascertained that for some time the British Government has known that the Duchess of Windsor was exceedingly pro-German in her sympathies and connections, and there is a strong reason to believe that this is the reason why she was considered so obnoxious to the British Government that they refused to permit Edward to marry her and maintain the throne... Both she and the Duke of Windsor have been repeatedly warned by representatives of the British Government that in the interest of the morale of the British people, they should be exceedingly circumspect in their dealings with the representatives of the German Government."
Clement Attlee the leader of the Labour Party, was strongly opposed to Wallis Simpson becoming Queen. "As a Privy Councillor I attended the meeting in St. James's Palace of the Accession Council....I thought that King Edward looked very nervous and ill-at-ease. I remember Baldwin expressing to me his anxiety for the future and his doubts as to whether the new King would stay the course. I had met him on several occasions, when he had been most charming, and I was struck by his genuine solicitude for the unemployed... It was not until a late stage that I became aware of the position which had arisen with regard to Mrs. Simpson. Then I went to Baldwin and asked him for information. Later, as the crisis developed, he invited me to tell him what I thought would be the Labour attitude to the various proposals which were being made, in particular that of a morganatic marriage. The talk was confidential, so that I could not consult the Party or even my intimate colleagues. I had to give him what, in my judgment, would be the reactions of the Party."
On 20th October, 1936, Stanley Baldwin met King Edward VIII at the king's country house, Fort Belvedere. The King once again stated his intention to marry Wallis Simpson. Baldwin replied that if this happened he would be forced to resign as Prime Minister. Mrs Simpson's biographer, Philip Ziegler, has argued: Once Mrs Simpson realized that marriage to her would cost the king his throne, she tried to change his resolve. Anticipating much hostile publicity when the story broke in the United Kingdom, she retreated first to Fort Belvedere, and then to the south of France. From there, in a series of distraught telephone calls, she tried to persuade Edward not to abdicate, even if this meant giving her up. She accomplished nothing; this was the only subject on which she was unable to dominate her future husband."
In a debate on the constitutional crisis in the House of Commons, the Communist Party MP, William Gallacher, commented: "The King and Mrs Simpson do not live in a vacuum. Sinister processes are continually at work... The Prime Minister told us he was approached about a morganatic marriage... but he did not tell us who approached him.... It is obvious that forces were encouraging... what was going on... I want to draw your attention to the fact that Mrs Simpson has a social set, and every member of the cabinet knows that the social set of Mrs Simpson is closely identified with a certain foreign government and the ambassador of that foreign government."
On 10th December, 1936, the king signed a document that stated he he had renounced "the throne for myself and my descendants." The following day he made a radio broadcast where he told the nation that he had abdicated because he found he could not "discharge the duties of king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love." On the night of his abdication, 500 Blackshirts shouting support and giving the Fascist salute gathered outside Buckingham Palace chanting, "We Want Edward". The following day, Oswald Mosley demanded the question of the abdication be put to the British people in a referendum.
Unity Mitford, Hitler's friend and admirer who had just returned from Berlin, apparently said: "Hitler will be dreadfully upset about this. He wanted Edward to stay on the throne." In Nazi Germany, Hitler's express instructions, Joseph Goebbels ordered the media to make no mention of the constitutional crisis raging in Britain. Goebbels was also furious with the way that Edward had handled the matter. In his diary he wrote: "He (Edward) has made a complete fool of himself. What's more it was lacking in dignity and taste. It was not the way to do it. Especially if one is king."
Edward moved to Austria and stayed with friends until Wallis Simpson obtained her divorce from her former husband. On 3rd June, 1937, the couple were married at the Château de Candé in France, owned by Charles Eugene Bedaux, a man suspected of being a Nazi agent (he committed suicide after being arrested by the FBI in 1944). The new king, his younger brother, George VI, granted him the title, the Duke of Windsor. However, under pressure from the British government, the king refused to extend to the new duchess of Windsor the rank of "royal highness".
While living in France the Duchess of Windsor employed Armand Gregoire as her lawyer. French Intelligence described him as "one the most dangerous of Nazi spies" and showed that he was working as a lawyer for Joachim von Ribbentrop and Otto Abetz. (After the war the French authorities put Gregoire on trial, accused him of collaboration with Nazi Germany, and he was sentenced to to hard labour for life.)
Many senior officials became convinced that the Duke of Windsor saw himself as a potential leader of the fascist movement in Britain. In 1937 Sir Ronald Lindsay, British Ambassador to Washington, wrote: "The active supporters of the Duke of Windsor within England are those elements known to have inclinations towards Fascist dictatorships, and the recent tour of Germany by the Duke of Windsor and his ostentatious reception by Hitler and his regime can only be construed as a willingness on the part of the Duke of Windsor to lend himself to these tendencies."
In October 1937 the couple decided to visit Nazi Germany. The travel and all the costs of their stay in Germany were paid for from German government funds. Officially, the 12 day trip, was organized by Fritz Wiedemann and Rudolf Hess Later, Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe claimed that she played a major part in the planning and realisation of the visit. Martha Schad, the author of Hitler's Spy Princess (2004) has argued: "It was billed as a study trip to look at the country's social institutions. But behind this there was another agenda. After the humiliating treatment his wife had received from the British, the duke wanted to show her a country that would extend her a truly royal welcome. The men in power in Berlin expected that in the not too distant future the former king of England would return to the throne under their patronage."
The couple were the official guests of Robert Ley, the head of the German Labour Front. They also met Joseph Goebbels, Joachim von Ribbentrop and Hermann Goering. Goebbels recorded in his diary that he found the Duke of Windsor was a "nice, friendly young man, clearly equipped with sound common sense" and became "really fond of him". He added: "His wife is unassuming, but distinguished and elegant; though without any side, a real lady." On 22nd October, the Windsors visited Adolf Hitler in his mountain-top retreat, the Berghof.
The Duke of Windsor later recalled: "Hitler was then at the zenith of his power. His eyes were piercing and magnetic. I confess frankly that he took me in. I believed him when he said that he sought no war with England... I thought that the rest of us could by fence sitters while the Nazis and the Reds slogged it out." As the couple left the Berghof, Hitler gave them a formal Nazi salute, and the duke in turn extended his arm to salute the Führer."
The New York Times reported: "The Duke's decision to see for himself the Third Reich's industries and social institutions, and his gestures and remarks during the last two weeks, have demonstrated adequately that the abdication did rob Germany of a firm friend if not indeed a devoted admirer on the British throne... The Duke is reported to have become very critical of English politics as he sees them and is reported as declaring that the British Ministers of today and their possible successors are no match for the German and Italian dictators."
By 1938 British intelligence was becoming very concerned about the activities of Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe. A report said: "She is frequently summoned by the Führer who appreciates her intelligence and good advice. She is perhaps the only woman who can exercise any influence on him." They also reported that she seemed to be "actively recruiting these British aristocrats in order to promote Nazi sympathies." (PROKV2/1696). According to MI5 the list of people she had been associating with over the last few years included the Duke of Windsor, Wallis Simpson, Prince George, Duke of Kent, Ethel Snowden, Philip Henry Kerr (Lord Lothian), Geoffrey Dawson, Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster, Charles Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 7th Marquess of Londonderry, Ronald Nall-Cain, 2nd Baron Brocket, Lady Maud Cunard and Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild. In August 1938 French intelligence, the Deuxième Bureau, told MI6 that it was almost certain that Princess Stephanie was an important German agent.
When France was occupied by the German Army in 1940, Edward and his wife moved to Madrid. Winston Churchill was concerned that Edward would be captured by the Nazis and insisted that they move at once to Lisbon. When the former king initially refused, Churchill reminded him that if he disobeyed government instructions, as a senior British officer still under military authority, he would be subject to court martial.
Joachim von Ribbentrop sent emissaries to Lisbon and promised to return Edward to the British throne when Germany had defeated and occupied Britain. At Buckingham Palace a senior courtier, Alec Hardinge, made a note on an intelligence report: "Germans expect assistance from Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Latter desiring at any price to become Queen. Germans have been negotiating with her since June 27th."
While in Portugal the Federal Bureau of Investigation received information that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were being used by the Nazis to obtain secrets about the Allies. On 13th September 1940, an FBI officer sent a memo to J. Edgar Hoover that: "An agent has established conclusively that the Duchess of Windsor has recently been in touch with Joachim von Ribbentrop and was maintaining constant contact and communication with him. Because of their high official position, the duchess was obtaining a variety of information concerning the British and French official activities that she was passing on to the Germans."
Michael Bloch, the author of Operation Willi: The Plot to Kidnap the Duke of Windsor (1984) has suggested: "The Duke unwittingly encouraged Hitler's hopes and illusions concerning him in a remarkable degree; and his presence in Europe, while it lasted, appears to have had a tantalizing effect on Nazi policy. The consequences may possibly have been fateful. Throughout that July, Hitler hesitated to order the attack on Great Britain - Operation Sealion - thus giving the British a chance to regroup their forces and survive."
The British government also discovered that Adolf Hitler planned to make Edward the puppet king of the United Kingdom if the Germans won the Second World War. When he heard the news, Winston Churchill, the British prime minister, arranged for the Duke of Windsor to leave Europe and become the governor of the Bahamas. It has been argued by Philip Ziegler, the author of The Official Biography of King Edward VIII (1990): "There seems little doubt that he (Edward) did think Britain was likely to lose the war and that, in such a case, he believed he might have a role to play." However, Ziegler believes that he would have refused the throne under the Nazis, "the Duke's belief in the British meant he could not have allowed himself to rule by favour of the Germans over a sullen and resentful people".
Philip Ziegler has argued: "The duchess hated their five years in Nassau and made no secret of her views to those close to her, but on the whole she performed the duties of governor's lady conscientiously and well. She entertained stylishly and went through the rituals of opening bazaars and inspecting hospitals with unexpected grace. Her happiest weeks, however, were spent on shopping expeditions in the United States, and she was much criticized for irresponsible extravagance at a time when Britain was under assault."
Michael Bloch, the author of Secret File of the Duke of Windsor (1988) has argued that the Duke was naive. He thought, Bloch suggests, that the Nazis were "rough but reasonable men". Charles Higham, the author of Wallis: Secret Lives of the Duchess of Windsor (1988), disagrees: "The repeated absurdity of journalists that the couple’s commitment to Fascism and a negotiated peace in World War Two was based upon a transcendent foolishness stood exposed the moment one entered a conversation with the Windsors. Whatever one might think of their views, those views were not entered into lightly or from a position of blind ignorance."
In December 1940, the Duke of Windsor, gave Fulton Oursler an interview. This appeared in Liberty Magazine on 22nd March 1941. The Duke told Oursler that it would be tragic for the world if the Nazi dictator was overthrown; Hitler was the right man at the right time and the logical leader of the German people and called for a negotiated end to the war: "It cannot be another Versailles. Whatever the outcome a new order is going to come into the world... it will be buttressed by police power. When the peace comes this time there is going to be a new order of social justice - don't make any mistake about that." Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary: "The Duke of Windsor has given an interview to a magazine in the USA in which he pretty frankly disclaims all chance of a British victory."
According to Jim Wilson, the author of Nazi Princess: Hitler, Lord Rothermere and Princess Stefanie Von Hohenlohe (2011), the Duke of Windsor asked Oursler to take a message of President Franklin D. Roosevelt: "The American understood he was being asked to carry a message to the President, but he was unsure of the exact terms. As he was leaving the governor general's residence, the duke's aide-de-camp spelt it out. He instructed Oursler to tell the President that if he would make an offer for intervention for peace, before anyone in England could oppose it, the duke would instantly issue a statement supporting the move. It would start a revolution in England and, the duke hoped, lead to peace."
Oursler passed on the message to Roosevelt but he would have nothing to do with his treacherous scheme. Instead he instructed the FBI to send him any information they had on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. J. Edgar Hoover sent one FBI report to Roosevelt, that was dated 13th September 1940: "An agent has established conclusively that the Duchess of Windsor has recently been in touch with Joachim von Ribbentrop and was maintaining constant contact and communication with him. Because of their high official position the Duchess was obtaining a variety of information concerning the British and French official activities that she was passing on to the Germans." In May 1941 Hoover sent a message to President Roosevelt in which he said information had arrived at his office suggesting that the Duke of Windsor had entered into an agreement to the effect that if Germany was victorious, Hermann Goering would seek to overthrow Adolf Hitler would install the Duke as King. Hoover claimed that this information came from Allen McIntosh, a close friend of the Duke of Windsor.
Edward and Wallis remained in contact with Charles Eugene Bedaux until he was arrested in 1943 while in North Africa by the American authorities as a Nazi agent. He was taken to Miami on a charge of treason but committed suicide while being interrogated by the FBI in February 1944.
After the war the Duke and Duchess of Windsor settled in France. His biographer, Colin Matthew has argued: "From the duke's point of view his life was lived at its fullest during his years with the duchess. The love which had drawn him into that relationship showed, on his side, no sign of diminution. Preoccupied with seeing that the duchess received adequate recognition of her status by those who met her - he insisted that guests refer to his wife as her royal highness - the duke consequently and somewhat ironically found himself the champion of status and its rights. Indeed his position depended on his status (and former status as king) being taken seriously by his coterie, and he never intended that abdication would lead to the ordinary life of a commoner. He abdicated from the throne, not from the royal family. Though he retained the charm and good looks of his youth they began to have a frozen quality, as the ageing Windsors contrasted in the photographs with Princess Elizabeth and her young family. The modish social views of the 1920s turned to reactionary convention."
According to Philip Ziegler "Their life became a dreary - though to the duchess, presumably, satisfying - merry-go-round that featured principally Antibes, Paris, New York, and Palm Beach. The duchess entertained lavishly and was counted among the best dressed and most fashionable figures in international society. Some of her friends were raffish, a few even vicious, but it was the sterility of her life that was most remarkable. Though her husband resumed a somewhat cool relationship with his mother and siblings, the duchess was never received by the royal family and remained fiercely hostile to them."
Oswald Mosley and his wife took up residence in France, only a few miles from the Windsors' home and all four became close companions, dining together twice a week. As Charles Higham, the author of Mrs Simpson: Secret Lives of the Duchess of Windsor (1988): "They became very close to Sir Oswald and Lady Mosley, who lived at the Temple de la Gloire, only a few miles from the Mill... It was unwise for the Windsors to associate with the Mosleys at this particular juncture. The Mosleys not only were persona non grata in London but were not to be received by British diplomatic representatives in Europe. One would have thought that, in the wake of all they had been through, the Windsors would have wished to associate only with those who were apolitical, or who by no stretch of the imagination could recall the disastrous commitment to a vanquished and deceased Adolf Hitler and Mussolini. Instead, they chose to enjoy a public friendship with the man most clearly associated with Nazism in the minds of thinking Britons."
Diana Mosley later recalled: "The Windsors agreed with me, and the Duchess was certainly politically sophisticated and knew exactly what she was doing and saying, that World War I had been a total failure, that it was a disaster the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been broken up, that the Versailles Treaty was grossly unfair, and that Germany should never have been encircled in the i93os. If Hitler had been given a free hand to destroy Communism, and if he had been allowed to deport the Jews, if Britain and America had accepted them, there would have been no need for a holocaust. There was of course no room in Palestine for them. Hitler felt the Jews behaved abominably in Germany after World War I, and all he wanted to do was be rid of them. And one mustn't forget that anti-Semitism was endemic everywhere in Central Europe: the Poles hated them, the Czechs hated them, everyone did. Of course, my husband and the Windsors and I felt that we could not exonerate Hitler for being impatient and provoking World War II. With two egos like Churchill and Hitler, there was little chance for peace in the world. But still, if the right people had been in power in England, particularly Lloyd George, there could have been a negotiated peace."
It was claimed that she remain promiscuous and according to Jimmy Donahue, the grandson of the multimillionaire stores owner, Frank Winfield Woolworth, he had a four-year affair with her. According to Anna Sebba, the author of That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess Windsor (2011): "Much more shocking was Wallis's flirtation with the millionaire homosexual playboy Jimmy Donahue. The Windsors first met the outrageous Donahue, heir to the Woolworth fortune, in 1947, and Wallis, always restless and often bored, was intrigued by his salacious conversation and often sordid actions. The Windsors and Donahue became a well-known threesome for a while, even though many in society were scandalized by their friendship with such a character. Wallis may have initially responded to Donahue out of jealousy, seeing a mutual attraction between the two men, and then deliberately set about making the Duke jealous in turn by embarking on some sort of a relationship with Donahue herself which excluded the Duke. Many concluded that she had acted out of boredom."
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor both attempted to explain their actions in the 1930s. The Duke's book, A King's Story: The Memoirs of HRH the Duke of Windsor, appeared in 1951. His wife's book, The Heart has its Reasons, followed five years later.
A full, exhausting day. We had a luncheon party here, and the plot was to do a 'politesse' to Mrs Simpson. She is a jolly, plain, intelligent, quiet, unpretentious and unprepossessing little woman, but as I wrote to Paul of Yugoslavia today, she has already the air of a personage who walks into a room as though she almost expected to be curtsied to. At least, she wouldn't be too surprised. She has complete power over the Prince of Wales, who is trying to launch her socially.
We had cocktails at Mrs Simpson's little flat in Bryanston Court; there I found Emerald Cunard, David Margesson, the Prince of Wales and one or two others. The Prince was charm itself. He is boisterous, wrinkled and gay, and he made a great point of being amiable to Honor (Channon). His voice is more American than ever. (It doesn't matter, since all the Royal Family except the Duke of Kent have German voices.) He wore a short, black coat and soft collar, checked socks and a tie. London Society is now divided between the old gang, who support ——, whom the Prince now ignores, and Emerald Cunard, who is rallying to the new regime.
Before October 1936 I had been on terms of close friendship with King Edward, and, though I had seldom met her save with the King, I had known Mrs Simpson for some considerable time and liked her well. I was well aware of the divorce proceedings which led to the decree nisi pronounced by Mr Justice Hawke at Ipswich in October. But I did not, before November 1936, think that marriage between the King and Mrs Simpson was contemplated. The King told me that he had often wished to tell me, but refrained for my own sake lest I should be embarrassed. It would have been difficult for me since I always and honestly assumed in my conversations with him that such an idea (which was suggested in other quarters) was out of the question. Mrs Simpson had told me in the summer that she did not want to miss her chance of being free now that she had the chance, and the King constantly said how much he resented the fact that Mrs Simpson's friendship with him brought so much publicity upon her and interfered with her prospects of securing her freedom. I was convinced that it was the King who was really the party anxious for the divorce, and I suspected that he felt some jealousy that there should be a husband in the background.
No one will ever really understand the story of the King's life during the crisis who does not appreciate two factors: The first, which is superficially acknowledged by many of those who were closely concerned in the events of these days, was the intensity and depth of the King's devotion to Mrs Simpson. To him she was the perfect woman. She insisted that he should be at his best and do his best at all times, and he regarded her as his inspiration. It is a great mistake to assume that he was merely in love with her in the ordinary physical sense of the term. There was an intellectual companionship, and there is no doubt that his lonely nature found in her a spiritual comradeship. Many find any assertion of a religious side to the problem impossible to contemplate, but it was there. The King had the strongest standards which he set himself of right and wrong. They were often irritatingly unconventional. One sometimes felt that the God in whom he believed was a God who dealt him trumps all the time and put no inhibition on his main desires.
Much gossip about the Prince of Wales' alleged Nazi leanings; he is alleged to have been influenced by Emerald Cunard (who is rather eprise with Herr Ribbentrop) through Mrs Simpson. The Coopers are furious, being fanatically pro-French and anti-German. He has just made an extraordinary speech to the British Legion advocating friendship with Germany; it is only a gesture, but a gesture that may be taken seriously in Germany and elsewhere. If only the Chancelleries of Europe knew that his speech was the result of Emerald Cunard's intrigues, themselves inspired by Herr Ribbentrop's dimple!
As a Privy Councillor I attended the meeting in St. James's Palace of the Accession Council. There was a characteristically British incident on that occasion. Notice was given to us suggesting - but only suggesting - that the Royal Dukes should sign the roll first. I thought that King Edward looked very nervous and ill-at-ease. I remember Baldwin expressing to me his anxiety for the future and his doubts as to whether the new King would stay the course. I had met him on several occasions, when he had been most charming, and I was struck by his genuine solicitude for the unemployed. I do not think that I saw him more than once or twice during his short reign. I was not a reader of the American Press nor was I much interested in society gossip, so that it was not until a late stage that I became aware of the position which had arisen with regard to Mrs. Simpson. Then I went to Baldwin and asked him for information. Later, as the crisis developed, he invited me to tell him what I thought would be the Labour attitude to the various proposals which were being made, in particular that of a morganatic marriage.
The talk was confidential, so that I could not consult the Party or even my intimate colleagues. I had to give him what, in my judgment, would be the reactions of the Party. I said that while Labour people had no objection at all to an American becoming Queen, I was certain that they would not approve of Mrs. Simpson for that position and would object to a morganatic marriage. I told him that it was important not to think that London was typical of the country as a whole, and that opinion in the Commonwealth was likely to coincide with that of the provinces rather than of the metropolis. I found that I had correctly gauged the Party attitude. Despite the sympathy felt for the King and the affection which his visits to the depressed areas had created, the Party - with the exception of a few of the intelligentsia who can be trusted to take the wrong view on any subject - were in agreement with the views I had expressed.
I suppose that few Prime Ministers had a more difficult task than that which faced Baldwin and, in my view, the country owed him a debt of gratitude for the way in which he handled it. In the country there was much criticism of the way of life which had obtained in the Royal circle, and this found expression during the discussions in the Civil List Committee, on which I served. The Labour members suggested that there was room for simplification at Court and for changes in accordance with modern conceptions. I explained the views of the Party in a debate on the Committee's Report. It happened that I was dining the next evening at Buckingham Palace. This might have been embarrassing, but I found not only that what I had said met with no resentment, but a complete understanding of the point of view expressed.
The whole business of the Abdication was very unfortunate and undoubtedly affected for the time the prestige of the Monarchy, but in the event it was fortunate, for it enabled King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to raise it to a greater height than ever before and gave the country, in the testing time to come, the leadership it needed.
Wallis Simpson I first met at Emerald Cunard's in 1935... Our acquaintance drifted into genuine friendship, and I grew to admire and like her... She is a woman of charm, sense, balance and great wit, with dignity and taste. She has always been an excellent influence on the King, who has loved her openly and honestly. I really consider that she would have been an excellent Queen. She is never embarrassed, ill at ease, and could in her engaging drawl charm anyone... Her reserve and discretion are famous, and proved by the fact that no one knew of her impending divorce, also by the fact that she never confided in anyone her hopes of becoming Queen. I think that the idea grew, gradually. She was encouraged by the King to believe that he could marry her, and indeed there was nothing legal to prevent him doing so. Perhaps at first the idea was a joke, which blossomed into a plan... Not until too late did she realise the gravity of the position and then even she could do nothing with the King.
Now she is 'de-throned', almost an outcast, and her social ambitions - always very great - have crashed. But she will recover everything except the Throne ... I hope she will be happy. She has always shown me friendship, understanding, and even affection, and I have known her do a hundred kindnesses and never a mean act. There is nothing sordid or vulgar in her make-up, but she is modern certainly. She has a terrific personality and her presence grew as her importance increased: we are far from being done with her yet . . . She would prefer to be grand, dignified and respectable, but if thwarted she will make the best of whatever position life gives her.
The Battle for the Throne has begun. On Wednesday evening (I know all that follows to be true, though not six people in the Kingdom are so informed), Mr Baldwin spent one hour and forty minutes at Buckingham Palace with the King and gave him his ultimatum that the Government would resign, and that the press could no longer be restrained from attacking the King, if he did not abandon all idea of marrying Mrs Simpson. Mr Baldwin had hoped, and thought to frighten the Monarch, but found him obstinate, in love and rather more than a little mad; he refused point blank, and asked for time to consult his friends. 'Who are they?' Mr Baldwin demanded. The audience was not acrimonious, but polite, sad and even affectionate, I am told.
People are beginning to rat. They never really liked Mrs Simpson, always disapproved of the King and thought him obstinate and insane; already. Of course the most conspicuous rat of all is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Old Cosmo Cantuar, who, in a monstrous broadcast last night, poured scorn on the late King, and branded his social circle as people whose ways of life were alien to all that is best in the instincts and tradition of the English people. This is a terrible indictment and an unfair one. The King's circle, since Wallis, at least, has consisted of Ambassadors, Cabinet Ministers, the Coopers, the Edens, the Brownlows and many more whose personal reputations are quite unsullied.
It has been ascertained that for some time, the British government has known that the Duchess of Windsor was exceedingly pro-German in her sympathies and connections and there is strong reason to believe that this is the reason why she was considered so obnoxious to the British government that they refused to permit Edward to marry her and maintain the throne.
Both she and the Duke of Windsor have been repeatedly warned by representatives of the British government that in the interest of the morale of the British people, they should be exceedingly circumspect in their dealings with the representatives of the German government. The duke is in such state of intoxication most of the time that he is virtually non compos mentis. The duchess has repeatedly ignored these warnings.
An agent has established conclusively that the Duchess of Windsor has recently been in touch with Joachim von Ribbentrop and was maintaining constant contact and communication with him. Because of their high official position, the duchess was obtaining a variety of information concerning the British and French official activities that she was passing on to the Germans.
Information has been received at this Bureau from a source that is socially prominent and known to be in touch with some of the people involved, but for whom we cannot vouch, to the effect that Joseph P. Kennedy, the former Ambassador to England, and Ben Smith, the Wall Street operator, sometime in the past had a meeting with Goring in Vichy, France, and that thereafter Kennedy and Smith had donated a considerable amount of money to the German cause. They are both described as being very anti-British and pro-German.
This same source of information advised that it was reported that the Duke of Windsor entered into an agreement which in substance was to the effect that if Germany was victorious in the war, Hermann Goring through his control of the army would overthrow Hitler and would thereafter install the Duke of Windsor as the King of England. This information concerning the Windsors is said to have originated with Allen McIntosh, a personal friend of the Duke of Windsor, who made the arrangements for the entertainment of the Windsors when they were in Miami recently. It is further reported that it is the intention of the Windsors to visit in Newport, Rhode Island, and also in Canada during the coming summer.
The Windsors agreed with me, and the Duchess was certainly politically sophisticated and knew exactly what she was doing and saying, that World War I had been a total failure, that it was a disaster the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been broken up, that the Versailles Treaty was grossly unfair, and that Germany should never have been encircled in the i93os. If Hitler had been given a free hand to destroy Communism, and if he had been allowed to deport the Jews, if Britain and America had accepted them, there would have been no need for a holocaust. There was of course no room in Palestine for them. Hitler felt the Jews behaved abominably in Germany after World War I, and all he wanted to do was be rid of them. And one mustn't forget that anti-Semitism was endemic everywhere in Central Europe: the Poles hated them, the Czechs hated them, everyone did. Of course, my husband and the Windsors and I felt that we could not exonerate Hitler for being impatient and provoking World War II. With two egos like Churchill and Hitler, there was little chance for peace in the world. But still, if the right people had been in power in England, particularly Lloyd George, there could have been a negotiated peace.
Much more shocking was Wallis's flirtation with the millionaire homosexual playboy Jimmy Donahue. The Windsors first met the outrageous Donahue, heir to the Woolworth fortune, in 1947, and Wallis, always restless and often bored, was intrigued by his salacious conversation and often sordid actions. The Windsors and Donahue became a well-known threesome for a while, even though many in society were scandalized by their friendship with such a character. Wallis may have initially responded to Donahue out of jealousy, seeing a mutual attraction between the two men, and then deliberately set about making the Duke jealous in turn by embarking on some sort of a relationship with Donahue herself which excluded the Duke. Many concluded that she had acted out of boredom. Nicholas Haslam's view was that "Donahue had originally caught the eye of the Duke and a sisterly rivalry developed with Wallis ... having known Jimmy later and spent weekends at his country house Broadhollow (known as Boyhollow) on Long Island, I can't think he could ever have touched any woman let alone one as rigidly un-undressable as Wallis." But as Michael Bloch recognized: "There can be no doubt of the Duchess's preference for gay men: her favourite people included Cecil Beaton, Chips Channon, Somerset Maugham and indeed Coward himself ... many of her favourite moments were spent in the largely homosexual world of the great decorators and couturiers."
From their base in the Bahamas, the couple made frequent visits to the United States during the war. In April 1941, President Roosevelt ordered FBI agents to tail the Windsors discreetly when they visited Florida. But J Edgar Hoover was alarmed because bodyguards from another government department had been assigned to protect the couple. He warned that the bodyguards "would undoubtedly immediately detect the presence of any undercover agents, which might result in considerable embarrassment to all parties concerned".
Instead, the government arranged for the bodyguards to report back to the FBI on where the Windsors went and whom they met. An 18-page report was subsequently produced on the five-day trip.
On May 2, an FBI agent wrote to Hoover, saying that an English socialite had told an informant that he had definite proof that Herman Goering, Hitler's deputy, and the Duke of Windsor had reached a deal - "after Germany won the war, Goering, through control of the army, was going to overthrow Hitler and then he would install the duke as king of England."