As everyone always says, The Crown does not represent a perfectly accurate history of the British royal family. If anything, showrunner/writer/producer Peter Morgan tends to soft-pedal some of the creepiest and most unsettling stuff. There has been a lot of talk about the way Prince Charles and Camilla are portrayed, but as I’ve said before, their actual history is a million times worse than we see on The Crown. So it is with the Duke of Windsor, aka Prince David, aka the brief reign of King Edward VIII. The Crown shows the post-abdication David (as he was known to his family) as some kind of informal advisor to the crown in the early years of QEII’s reign. While that may have been the case, it’s worth noting that the Queen Mum never got along with David, and in the last decades of his life, David had barely anything to do with the Windsors and vice versa.
The Queen Mum kept her distance from David because she knew exactly who David was and how compromised he was, because King George VI had been fully briefed on all of David’s plans during the war. King George VI knew that if the Nazis broke the British spirit during the Battle of Britain and successfully invaded Britain, Hitler would install David as some kind of Vichy Monarch, a Nazi-adjacent king. While those plans were not widely known among the British people, trust that British intelligence and the British government knew of those plans. There’s been some questions about what David knew about it though, and whether he genuinely cosigned the Nazi plot. That’s what a new documentary is about.
Long-standing rumors that Edward VIII aided the Nazis after being forced to abdicate have been given new credence by evidence that he passed critical information to the Germans and urged them to continue “severe bombing” of the country, paving the way for him to return as head of a puppet government.
Edward, who was photographed meeting Hitler in 1937 with his wife, wrote four reports on the lamentable state of the French army in 1940, having been invited to inspect the troops by the French government, who assumed he was loyal to the allied cause. Edward was living in exile in France with Wallis, but still held military rank, acted as a liaison officer and had not been completely cut off by the family.
However after his reports, which detailed low morale and weak leadership, were ignored by the British, he passed them to a friend who was a Nazi informant. A new documentary Edward VIII: Britain’s Traitor King, based on a book of the same name by historian Andrew Lownie, says that Germany then used the information from Edward’s reports to inform their invasion of France in 1940.
The documentary also brings fresh nuance to Edward’s planned role in a potential British puppet government after any German victory. It is a matter of historical record that the Nazis considered such a plan, which was codenamed Operation Willi. However there has long been doubt over whether Edward knew about and endorsed Operation Willi.
The new documentary suggests that Edward was actively interested in the plan and reveals that after Edward was forced to leave Portugal for the Bahamas (where he was appointed governor) by Churchill, he sent a message to his friend Ricardo Espirito Santo, a wealthy banker who was a Nazi informant. The coded telegram said that he was willing to come back to Europe, which is interpreted as meaning he was willing to assume the British throne.
According to another diplomatic cable, Edward told Spanish agents: “Continued severe bombing would make England ready for peace,” and that he was being kept away from England to prevent him working with “English friends of peace.”
Yes, I think David knew Hitler’s plans and he knew all about Operation Willi and he was all for it. I’ve always thought that? I mean, David and Wallis truly went to Berlin and met Hitler in person. Do you think they only talked about the weather? Of course they schemed. Sidenote: David, like every member of the Windsor clan at that time, spoke fluent German. As for David likely submitting reports on Allied military readiness, I believe that too. In recent years, people have tried to do this bizarre historical revisionism when it comes to Edward VIII and I don’t get it at all. He and Wallis were both Nazi sympathizers, if not outright Nazis.
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.