A cache of newly declassified files released by the National Archives at Kew show that Churchill tried to block the publication of papers on former King Edward VIII’s pro-Nazi views and willingness to deal with Adolf Hitler to win back his throne.
The dossier was compiled by the Nazi intelligence agencies, documenting the activities of the Duke and his wife, Wallis Simpson, during World War II.
King Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 as he sought to marry Simpson, an American divorcee, causing a constitutional crisis. He left Britain to tour Nazi Germany later that year.
During the war, the couple first lived in France before it was occupied by the Nazis in 1940 and then moved to Spain and Portugal.
Hitler, who saw Edward as an ideal pick for the head of a puppet government in the UK, ordered a close surveillance of the royal couple.
Nazi intelligence officers and sympathizers of Hitler’s regime watched the former king and his wife, recording their movements, comments and even gestures, compiling an extensive dossier.
According to their files, the Duke of Windsor was angry that he was forced to abdicate and thought that his younger brother and successor, King George VI, was “utterly stupid,” the queen an intriguer and Churchill a warmonger.
He was also convinced that only a prolonged bombing of British cities would force the UK government to negotiation table and end the war.
German diplomatic cables reveal that the duke was “the only Englishman with whom Hitler would negotiate any peace terms, the logical director of England’s destiny after the war.”
The Nazi spy agencies even devised an elaborate plot, Operation Willi, trying to convince Edward to wait in Franco’s Spain for the Germans to invade Britain and then re-assume his throne.
However, Churchill reportedly threatened the former king with court-martial unless he returned to British soil, and the duke spent the rest of the war as the governor of the Bahamas.
Following the end of the Second World War, the Nazi dossier fell into the hand of Allies. Churchill proposed burning it to prevent damage to the image of the British monarchy.
When this proved impossible, Churchill sought to delay the publication of the papers for up to 20 years.
For this purpose, he wrote to US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, appealing to the latter’s sense of “justice and chivalry.”
“If they were to be included in an official publication they might leave the impression that the Duke was in close touch with German agents and was listening to suggestions that were disloyal,” Churchill wrote.
Casual greeting or Nazi salute? Prince Edward’s tour of Hitler’s Germany in pictures
Following the release of a home video of Queen Elizabeth II and her royal siblings performing a Nazi salute, photos have emerged of King Edward VIII on a tour of Germany in the 1930s, where he met Adolf Hitler and other senior Nazis.
The photos, from the Morgane Evans Antique Auction, show the monarch arriving at official meetings and giving an ambiguous wave to the crowds, prompting questions about Edward’s feelings toward the Nazi regime.
The home video of the young Elizabeth sparked controversy when it was revealed by the Sun on July 18. Critics were quick to question the links between the British royal family and the Nazi regime.
German historian and author of Go-Betweens for Hitler, Karina Urbach wrote that the video showed a dark link between the aristocracy and Nazi Germany.
“Edward VIII was particularly attracted to the Nazis because of their social ideas,” she said. The support was mutual, she added, as Hitler himself was an Anglophile who used a relative of the royals to gain access to British society.
Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and grandson of Queen Victoria, was a close acquaintance of Hitler, Urbach said.
“Carl Edward’s British network was very useful for Hitler.”
“Hitler was an Anglophile, and his dream [during the early 1930s] was to have an alliance with Britain,” she explained.
“Hitler needed people who had access to the elite in Britain. Carl Edward was therefore ideal. He was born in Britain, and he was related to Queen Mary [the present Queen’s grandmother], who was very pro-German. She invited Carl Edward several times to England and had a correspondence with him that has mysteriously vanished,” she said.
Urbach believes that historians are hindering further research into the subject.
“The Royal Archives in Britain are hindering research on this subject,” she said, adding that letters from royals to Nazi Germany are currently being hidden from the public.
Edward VIII was the center of British media attention during his reign. In 1937, he met Adolf Hitler with his new wife, American socialite Wallis Simpson, whom he had married after abdicating from the British throne.
After the meeting he was accused of feeding government secrets to foreign governments, and of being an ally of Hitler.
Nazi king? Fascist sympathizer Edward VIII wanted Britain bombed, historian claims
The research, carried out by UK-based German historian Karina Urbach, delved into the historical archives of 30 nations, including Germany, Spain and Russia, revealing the fascist sympathies of many European aristocrats.
Writing for The Conversation website ahead of the release of her new book, Go-Betweens for Hitler, Urbach said Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne in 1936 and became the Duke of Windsor, “has always been known for his pro-Nazi sympathies.”
She added: “However, the extent of his betrayal could never be fully verified due to the secrecy of the Royal Archives.”
“The Royal Archives have always ensured that letters from German relatives of the royal family in the run up to World War II remain closed.
“Naturally, such censorship has led to endless conspiracy theories.”
However, over nearly a decade of painstaking research in European archives, Urbach turned up vital evidence into the secret political lives of pro-fascist aristocrats.
“I have accumulated damning evidence by sifting through 30 archives all over the world that are open,” Urbach wrote.
“Intelligence reports and German, Spanish and Russian documents show members of the British royal family were indeed far closer to Nazi Germany than has previously been recognized.”
A key portion of the research deals with the relationship between the Duke of Windsor and a trusted German relative, Charles Edward Duke of Coburg – a bitterly anti-Semitic minor German aristocrat who acted as a messenger, it is claimed, between privileged fascists around Europe.
Meetings between Coburg and British royals are even listed in the Court Circular, a record of the British monarchy’s meetings and appointments.
Further evidence was found in the Spanish archives.
“In June 1940 Don Javier Bermejillo, a Spanish diplomat and old friend of Windsor – he had known him since the 1920s – reported a conversation he had had with the Duke to his superiors,” Urbach said.
The diplomat says he had heard the embittered duke blame “the Jews, the Reds and the Foreign Office” for the approaching war, long before it began.
Windsor wanted to put politicians, including Anthony Eden, “up against a wall,” Urbach claims.
Perhaps most troublingly, the records hint at a possible correlation between the Duke’s fascist leanings and the start of the German bombing campaign against Britain.
“In another conversation on June 25, 1940,” Urbach writes, “Bermejillo reported that Windsor stressed if one bombed England effectively this could bring peace.
“Bermejillo concluded that the Duke of Windsor seemed very much to hope that this would occur: ‘He wants peace at any price.’”
The report found its way into the hands of Spain’s own fascist dictator, General Franco, according to Urbach. It was “then passed on to the Germans.”
“The bombing of Britain started on 10 July,” she added.