Saturday, January 29, 2011

Great Britain's Nazi King?

My wife and I recently saw the new film "The King's Speech," which is one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. The acting was superb and the historical accuracy was fairly good (a few issues but nothing major) in my opinion. I have always enjoyed studying British history and took several courses on that topic in college. As such, the movie refreshed my interest in the nation's World War II-era history. It also increased my already immense respect for King George VI, his wife Queen Elizabeth, and the leadership they provided during the war.

At the same time, I was both alarmed and intrigued by how the King's brother, the former King Edward VIII (later known as the Duke of Windsor) was depicted in the film. Not that I thought the depiction was wrong - I thought the actor who portrayed him did a fine job. I was just shocked to see how the Duke conducted himself during his tenure as king. While I have ready plenty about the Duke of Windsor, seeing a visual representation of him on film allowed me to see him in a whole new light - and it was not a good one. While it was not covered in the film, the aspect of the Duke's life that intrigues me most was his supposed relationship with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany. In the late 1930s, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were considered to be pro-Nazi in British political circles and were the cause of great concern for Winston Churchill. Supposedly, the Duchess of Windsor (Wallis Simpson) kept in regular touch with Nazi authorities during the early stages of World War II when she and the Duke were living in France. It is no wonder that he was later appointed Governor of the Bahamas in order to get him and the Duchess as far away as possible from Europe.

Anyway, I did a major research paper on the Duke of Windsor and his supposed pro-Nazi sympathies about ten years ago when I was an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary. After reading some of the major biographies on him and consulting other secondary sources (I did not get into studying primary sources extensively until graduate school), my conclusion was that while he may have displayed incredibly bad judgment during this period - especially during his 1937 trip to Germany with his wife - and while he may have been charmed by all of the lavish attention provided to him by the Nazis, he was in actuality not a full-blown Nazi himself.

However, after reading some more about him and hearing about the contents of recently declassified FBI documents on the Duke and Duchess, I am no longer so sure. He appeared to be very impressed with Adolf Hitler as well as the Nazi Party, and consistently urged reconciliation with that regime during the war. It also appears that the British Government had to suppress the release of interviews he gave during the war (at least on one occasion), because he sounded so defeatist (concerning the British war effort) and complimentary of Nazi Germany. There is also proof that his wife was a keen admirer of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany as a whole.

I look forward to reading more about the Duke of Windsor in the months ahead and want to learn more about his alleged Pro-Nazi sympathies. However, there seem to be a lot more questions than answers when it comes to this topic. In the end, at least it is clear that his December 1936 abdication (while very difficult for the British people at the time) was a blessing in disguise for that nation, as it brought onto the throne the type of authentic, inspirational leaders they needed for the coming war - King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.


  1. Interesting inquiry. I also just saw The King's Speech and found it a wonderful movie of overcoming personal hardship. I also found Edward VIII peculiar. I wonder if he really loved his wife, or just didn't feel up to the task of being King of England, and used her as an excuse to neglect his duties. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that he had Nazi sympathies due to how much he seemed to be persuaded when power was involved.

  2. I have read that Edward indeed wanted to be king, but king on his terms and that brought him into direct conflict with Parliament. I thoroughly enjoyed The King's Speech as well. Interesting to note that in Hitler's list of most dangerous people, Queen Elizabeth (who became the Queen Mother) was listed as the most dangerous woman - maybe the shadow of Wallis there?


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