Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson: love, abdication and the Nazis

Edward VIII’s abdication of the throne for American divorcee Wallis Simpson, is one of the most well-known stories of love and sacrifice in modern British history – even, according to this list, one of the best love stories of all time. However, were the pair as in love as is popularly believed? And what exactly was the couple’s relationship with the Nazi party? 

Edward VIII fell in love with Simpson in the early 1930s, their relationship developing into an increasingly difficult constitutional crisis as Edward’s intentions to marry emerged in 1936. The relationship was met with opposition from the Church, the government, and advisors of the King. In 1936, Edward decided to choose Simpson over the Crown when he signed the instrument of abdication on the 10th of December, stating on radio broadcast, ‘I have found it impossible to carry on the heavy burden of responsibility…without the help and support of the woman I love.’ The pair were essentially exiled to Europe and given the titles of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor after the abdication.

However, some historians have disputed that the pair were ever truly in love at all – Andrew Lownie, author of ‘Traitor King’ has even stated that the duke was ‘emotionally stunted’ with ‘undying dog-like devotion to his spouse…in an essentially a sado-masochistic partnership.’ Lownie doesn’t believe that Simpson ‘ever loved’ Edward. This notion of a one-sided love is supported by the rumour which circulated at the time: Simpson allegedly had had an affair with Joachim von Ribbentrop in 1936, the German foreign minister. An informant working for the FBI reported in 1941 that there was no doubt ‘that the Duchess of Windsor had had an affair with Ribbentrop.’ This was not the only connection between the couple and the Nazi party. 

The couple’s visit to Germany in 1937, by which time the Nazi regime had been fully established, is the arguably the most well-known indication of the duke and duchess’ Nazi sympathies. The photos of the visit show the couple meeting with the Furher and other senior members of the Nazi party. Additionally, a thank-you letter from Edward to Hitler exists, in which the duke states that the trip through Germany ‘made a great impression on us’ and thanks Hitler for a ‘wonderful time’. Considering the trip involved (according to Andrew Lownie) a viewing of a concentration camp, and meeting with the SS, this letter betrays damning evidence of the duke and duchess’ pro-Nazi sentiments.

Moreover, up until the very eve of war, there is evidence to suggest that the duke was firmly opposed to a war with Germany. In a surviving recording – found in the BBC archives and never aired – the duke states that ‘the supreme importance of averting war will, I feel confident, impel all those in power to renew their endeavours to bring about a peaceful settlement’. The recording was made in May 1939, three months before the outbreak of war. The recording is labelled as ‘Not to be broadcast.’ 

In 1940, Churchill sent the couple to the Bahamas for the duke to take up the role of governor there. Memos dating from this time, highlight the concerns of the FBI surrounding the couples’ activities in the US. One such memo states that the ‘British government has known that the Duchess of Windsor was exceedingly pro-German in her sympathies and connections.’ and that the British government had issued numerous warnings to the pair to be ‘exceedingly circumspect in their dealings with representatives of the German government.’  In September 1940, an informant established ‘conclusively that the Duchess of Windsor…was making constant contact and communication with Joachim von Ribbentrop.’

At the end of the war, the Marburg files – or the Windsor files – were discovered by the United States and appeared to detail correspondence between the duke and the Nazi government. It is explored in the Crown episode, ‘”Vergangenheit”. The files alluded to German plans to reinstate Edward as king after the war. One telegram, sent by a Nazi operative in 1940 , claimed that the duke was ‘a firm supporter of peaceful compromise with Germany’ and that he [the duke] believed a continuation of ‘heavy bombing will make England ready for peace.’ These files, however, were not released to the public until 1957, although Churchill had wished to delay their publication for as long as possible – by ‘at least ten or twenty years’ he appealed to Eisenhower. When they were eventually published, the duke denied the telegrams as ‘complete fabrications.’ It is difficult to ascertain as to the full extent of the duke’s knowledge of these plans, but it should also be considered why Churchill so badly wished to ‘destroy all traces’ of the plans – had such relations between the Germans and the duke been completely fictitious.

Happy Valentine’s day

Image: Noah Wulf, Wikimedia commons 

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