Heritage

Inside the Controversial Relationship Between Prince Edward and Adolf Hitler

Was Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor, really a Nazi sympathizer?
IMAGE Roto3'14/ WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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Much has been said about Edward VIII’s ties to Adolf Hitler—it’s a detail that has found its way into countless biographical pieces, often accompanied by a series of half-truths and unbacked speculation. But what is the story behind the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s alleged pro-Nazi sympathies?

Some will always see Edward VIII as a romantic. After all, he is the man who gave up his throne to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson. Those who follow world history, however, are quick to point out the ducal couple’s well-documented friendship with Hitler.

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According to royal historian Carolyn Harris, Edward VIII’s motives were mainly peaceful. After their marriage, the Duke was “eager to carve out a new role for himself and ensure that his wife was treated as a full member of the Royal Family even though she had not received the title of Her Royal Highness—an issue that was of great concern to the Duke,” says Harris.

When the German government invited the Duke and Duchess for a state visit, they jumped at the chance even though the British government would’ve preferred them away from public view.

In October 1937, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor visited Germany and met with Hitler at Berchtesgaden. There, the outcast couple was treated like royalty. Andrew Morton, Princess Diana’s official biographer shares that the Duke wanted “to show Wallis a good time and see exactly what it was like to enjoy a royal tour.” He continues, “In Germany, members of the aristocracy would bow and curtsy towards her, and she was treated with all the dignity and status that the duke always wanted.”

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The Duke and Duchess Of Windsor shakes hands with Nazi German leader Adolf Hitler

German media covered the visit extensively, with reports accompanied by images of the Duke giving full Nazi salutes. Following the meeting, Hitler reportedly stated that “[Simpson] would have made a good queen.” Simpson herself denied the utterance of the statement in personal letters to her husband Edward VIII, but the damage had already been done.

In the years during and after the Second World War, Edward VIII was described as a Nazi sympathizer while Simpson was often rumored to be a German agent and Nazi spy. In an effort to defuse rumors and keep the Windsors away, Winston Churchill sent Edward VIII to be the governor of the Bahamas.

The whole relationship was an embarrassment to Edward's brother, King George VI, and the facts surrounding it were kept out of the public's consciousness, buried on a remote German estate—the Marburg castle—only to be uncovered years later in what have come to be known as the Windsor and Marburg files.

During the final days of the war, U.S. Army Capt. David Silverberg spotted Nazi papers signed by Adolf Hitler’s right-hand man, Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. The almost 400 tons of Nazi Germany archives detailed the Duke’s friendship with Hitler, and a secret plot to reinstate him as a puppet leader. Cabinet files released earlier this year reveal Churchill’s attempt at destroying traces of the plot, with the former prime minister appealing to the French and U.S. government to keep the Windsor files private.

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The Duke with Nazi minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels

Morton details the royal’s Nazi-sympathizing views and the subsequent cover-up that took place in his book 17 Carnations: The Royals, the Nazi and the Biggest Cover-Up in History. Morton says Edward VIII wasn’t quite a Nazi, but the Duke leaned towards Hilter and the Germans. He remarks, “[The Duke] was certainly sympathetic... even after the war he thought Hitler was a good fellow and that he'd done a good job in Germany, and he was also anti-Semitic, before, during, and after the war.”

In his memoirs, A King's Story: The Memoirs of H.R.H. the Duke of Windsor K.G., the Duke shared his admiration for the Germans while quashing rumors of his support to the Nazi regime. He wrote, “[Hilter] struck me as a somewhat ridiculous figure, with his theatrical posturings and his bombastic pretensions.” A close friend of the royal, Lord Kinross wrote in Books and Bookmen that, in the ‘60s, Edward VIII made a private statement about his relationship with Hitler, “He indeed remarked to me, some twenty-five years later, ‘I never thought Hitler was such a bad chap.’”

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Paolo Chua
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