Did Edward VIII admire Adolf Hitler?

Author Andrew Morton
Author Andrew Morton

Most conspiracy theories turn out to be just that.

They might be born out of genuine despair and disbelief, as with the Kennedy assassinations, or rooted in more fanciful ideas, such as the view that the Moon landings were just an elaborate hoax.

More often than not, though, they turn out to be wrong. But sometimes public suspicions do at least have a whiff of credibility.

Dewsbury-born writer Andrew Morton, who attended Morley Grammar School, turns his attention to King Edward VIII in his latest book, 17 Carnations – The Windsors, The Nazis and The Cover-Up.

The story of Edward giving up the throne for Wallis Simpson, the woman he loved, is famous, but what is less well known is his association with the Nazi regime before, and even during, the Second World War.

It’s well documented that in October 1937, Edward and his wife – by now the Duke and Duchess of Windsor – visited Nazi Germany.

But in 17 Carnations, Morton highlights the extent to which Edward and Wallis corresponded with the German leadership during the 1930s, chronicling the couple’s bizarre entanglement with the Nazi elite.

He also reveals that Joachim von Ribbentrop, who became Hitler’s foreign minister, apparently had an affair with Simpson and sent her 17 carnations – said to represent the number of nights they spent together.

“For once conspiracy theorists have got something to beef about. It’s not like Diana, or JFK, which were hokum, this was a conspiracy,” he says, speaking down the line from New York.

He says the relationship between the duke and Hitler was an interesting one.

“Hitler tried to marry him off to a German princess and Edward visited the country after his abdication.”

Morton says the duke also wanted to avoid another war.

“Edward wasn’t isolated in his thinking, many people in Britain in the upper classes turned a blind eye to what was going on in Germany.”

Morton draws on FBI documents, material from the German and British Royal Archives, as well as the personal letters of Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and the Windsors themselves.

According to Morton, at the end of the Second World War, Anthony Blunt – later exposed as a Soviet spy – was sent on a secret mission to a German castle to recover important royal letters.

“What I discovered was that actually the documents relating to the duke were buried in a canister.

“George VI tasked courtiers to travel to Germany and to get hold of any incriminating letters. What you have is the Royal family moving into top gear to find all the skeletons so they can put them in the deepest cupboard in Windsor Castle.”

When the canister was unearthed the Allies thought they had struck gold.

However, amid the telling details relating to Hitler and other political leaders was correspondence with the duke.

“The British realised this was deeply embarrassing to the Royal Family. This was the summer of 1945 and the full horrors of the Third Reich were being made clear on a daily basis.”

Morton claims the British establishment wanted to keep a lid on the story. “It would have ruined his [Edward’s] reputation and there would have been a big backlash against the monarchy.”

He says it required considerable effort to keep this information out of the Press while he was still alive.

“Attlee, Bevan and subsequently Churchill invested a lot of political and diplomatic capital into preventing its publication.

“Why would they have gone to such lengths unless it was due to a fear of what it might mean for the monarchy?”

Since Edward’s death in May 1972 stories and comments he reportedly made about Hitler have leaked out.

How much of it is true is perhaps difficult to say. But Morton believes there are important lessons that need to be learned by those in power.

“The fact that governments have information they keep from the public means this is still highly relevant,” he says. “Transparency is the best policy because rumours and hearsay can be just as toxic as the truth.”

• 17 Carnations, published by Michael O’Mara Books, is out now priced £20.