Behind the Royal door: Edward VIII (part three)

21 July 2014 - 04:30pm
Edited by Chloe Howard - Spotted an Error?


The final part of Edward VIII’s Behind the Royal door covers his involvement in the Second World War up to his death. Find Parts One and Two of his life by clicking the respective links.

In 1937, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor visited Adolf Hitler at his retreat in the Bavarian countryside, and during the visit they gave Hitler full Nazi salutes. The German media lapped the visit up. Edward favoured appeasement over war with Germany from his experiences of the First World War. Hitler considered Edward’s abdication a ‘severe loss’ to Germany, who he thought would have helped improve relations between the countries, had he still been on the throne.

#79036770 / gettyimages

The Duke and Duchess had settled in France, but on the outbreak of the war in September 1939 they were brought back to Britain by Louis Mountbatten. Edward was an honorary field marshal, but was made a major-general attached to the British Military Mission in France.

The German Minister for the Dutch claimed Edward had leaked war plans from the Allies that pertained the the defence of Belgium, and there has always been speculation as to where his loyalties lay. An interview with Edward’s defeatist thoughts was widely released and he was described as ‘pro-Nazi’, which, after the war, Edward denied in his memoirs but stated that he admired the Germans. He wrote:

“[the] Führer struck me as a somewhat ridiculous figure, with his theatrical posturings and his bombastic pretensions.” 

In the 1960s, however, he said privately to friend Lord Kinross: “I never thought Hitler was such a bad chap”, negating the claims in his memoirs. A reporter in the 1950s also claimed that Edward blamed Anthony Eden, foreign Secretary during the war, for helping to “bring on the war … and of course Roosevelt and the Jews”.

As the German Army invaded the north of France a year later, Edward and Wallis relocated to Spain, and then Portugal. Edward refused to support the German’s war effort, despite their requests, and so plans were made to kidnap him, although nothing came of this.

Winston Churchill threatened The Duke with a court-martial hearing if Edward did not return to Britain, probably due to the interview and its potential effect on morale on the Home Front. Edward and Wallis were put aboard a ship to the Bahamas, where it was thought they could do little to affect the war effort at home and abroad. Edward was made Governor of the Bahamas, which he did not enjoy, referring to the islands as a ‘third-class British Colony’. However, he did win praise for his work to lessen poverty on the islands and he resolved the civil unrest over low wages well, too. The Duke resigned this position in 1945.



Edward asked the Germans to place guards at his Paris and Riviera homes, which they did, again creating questions surrounding his loyalties. The Allies became sufficiently disturbed by the relationship of Edward and Wallis with the Germans, so much so that President Roosevelt ordered surveillance of the Duke and Duchess when they visited Florida in 1941. The FBI were informed that The Duchess had slept with the German Ambassador von Ribbentrop in 1936, and was continuing to leak secrets to the enemy through this connection.

For the rest of their lives, Wallis and Edward lived in France, living off Edward’s allowance, government favours and illegal currency trade. The couple had a house given to them by the city of Paris for a small rental fee, and The Duke wrote two books – A King’s Story and A Family Album, the latter not well known – which bolstered their income. Edward was exempted from income tax and was able to buy goods duty-free thanks to the British Embassy and Military Commissary. The couple kept pugs, whom they were very fond of.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor became something of celebrities, as part of the ‘cafe society’ of New York, London and Paris, and were invited to the White House in in 1970 by President Nixon.

In 1965, Edward and Wallis returned to London, having attended George VI’s funeral in 1952. They were visited by Queen Elizabeth II, the then Duchess of Kent and Princess Royal, but Queen Mary remained angry at Edward, refusing to ever receive The Duchess formally. Edward did, however, occasionally meet with his mother and brother in private.

The last Royal occasion Edward attended was the funeral of Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent in 1968. Despite receiving an invitation to Prince Charles’s investiture as Prince of Wales, Edward declined, saying Charles would not want his ‘aged great-uncle’ at the ceremony.

Like his brother, Edward had smoked from an early age and this led to throat cancer in 1971 and he began treatment. In 1964 he had an aneurysm removed from his aorta in Houston, Texas, and a detached retina was corrected the year later. 1972 saw The Duchess attend a photocall with the Royal Family alone on their State Visit to France.

Edward died on 28th May 1972 at his home in Paris, at almost 78 years old. His body was repatriated to Britain and lay in state at St George’s Chapel, Windsor. The funeral was held in the same chapel on 5th June with the attendance of The Queen, The Royal Family, and The Duchess of Windsor, who stayed at Buckingham Palace for the visit. He was buried at Frogmore, the Royal burial ground, behind the Royal Mausoleum of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The Queen had allowed The Duke and Duchess to be buried here, after an agreement in 1965; prior to this, they had a plot in Baltimore, where Wallis’s father was buried.

Wax figures of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were held at the Royal London Wax Museum in Victoria, Canada, until the museum closed in 2010, such was their appeal and historic interest. I leave you with a quote from The Duke on his abdication:

I do not have any regrets about not having gone on being King. I would like to have but I was going to do it under my own conditions.


Pictures: Boston Public Library

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