The Prince’s Sin Of Omission
PETER FROST, a dedicated republican, shows regal indulgence by welcoming the heir to the throne’s timely warning about the rise of right-wing views, but had Charles been straight as a die?
I WAS glad to hear Charles Windsor, heir to the British throne, issuing a warning over the rise of populism and right-wing xenophobic opinions at the end of last year.
It was obviously a diplomatic attack the election of Donald Trump and the rising influence of Nigel Farage and various fascist and neonazi leaders all over the world.
Windsor told us that today’s situation was deeply disturbing with echoes of the dark days of the 1930s.
He went on to say: “My parents’ generation fought and died in a battle against intolerance, monstrous extremism and inhuman attempts to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe.”
He was right of course but somewhat selective in his analysis. He omitted a very important part of 1930s political history.
Almost to the day, 80 years before his Radio Four broadcast just before Christmas, one of Windor’s great uncles and predecessors as king abdicated.
He was Edward VIII and he was a fascist. Here is the story. Last summer a fragment of grainy film showed a seven-year-old Princess Elizabeth Windor and other members of the royal family practising their nazi salutes.
The woman who would become our queen was being encouraged by her uncle, then the Prince of Wales and the man who would briefly become King Edward VIII early in 1936 and abdicate by the end of that year.
At about the same time, a whole batch of historic black and white photographs came up for sale in a Welsh auction house; they showed the same man, the former king Edward VIII, by now the Duke of Windsor, on a trip to Germany in October 1937.
The pictures show the duke surrounded by beaming nazi bigwigs, proudly giving a Heil Hitler salute.
The photographs and the royal home movie pose one question, were Edward Windsor’s sympathies for Hitler even stronger than previously thought? Was he a nazi?
Let us take a closer look at the German origins and sympathies of our royal family. Until 1917, the family name of the royals was the very German Saxe-Coburg und Gotha. During World War I, the name was so unpopular that the family was forced to change it to the ultra-English sounding name of Windsor.
Despite the war and the change of name, the Germanic roots of the family ran deep. Edward Windsor’s mother, Queen Mary, was almost entirely German in language and culture, his father, George V, partially so.
Edward was born in 1894, and in his childhood his parents and older members of his family would talk to each other in German as soon as any English-speaking servants or visitors left the room.
Edward himself was totally fluent in German and regarded it as his Muttersprache — his mother tongue. Edward felt at home in Germany and with all things German.
He told his great friend Diana Mosley, the wife of the British Fascist leader Oswald Mosley, that “every drop of blood in my veins is German.”
Edward would often visit Germany, both immediately before and after World War I and throughout the ’20s and ’30s. He stayed with family members in Germany and they came to stay with him at royal palaces in Britain.
He was always careful to keep these visits secret. When Hitler and the nazis came to power in 1933, Edward was delighted. He told a senior Austrian diplomat that he saw the nazis as necessary for Germany. “Of course, it is the only thing to do, we will have to come to it, as we are in great danger from the communists.”
Edward loathed communism and hated what he judged was happening in Russia. His equerry Sir Dudley Forwood shared his reactionary views and spoke on his behalf. “We were none of us averse to Hitler politically. We felt that the Nazi regime was a more appropriate government than the Weimar Republic, which had been extremely socialist.”
Many nazi views sat easily on the then prince’s shoulders. He had an especially virulent dislike of the Jews. Edward told a Spanish diplomat why he thought the war had started. “He throws all the blame on the Jews and the Reds,” the diplomat reported in June 1940. He shared the views of Hitler and his minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, who insisted that the Jews were responsible for the war — and indeed most of the world’s ills.
So, early in 1936, when Edward became king, the nazis were delighted. They had been in power for three years and now, finally, Britain was to be ruled by a man who loved Germany and also had a sympathy for the nazis. “I am convinced his friendly disposition towards Germany will have some influence on the formation of British foreign policy,” observed the German ambassador to Britain.
In 1935 Hitler sent one of Edward’s German cousins, Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg und Gotha, an avowed nazi and storm trooper general, to London to act as an unofficial diplomat and to get close to the then Prince of Wales. He and Edward helped to bring about the signing of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement. This not only allowed Germany to increase the size of its navy, but — more crucially — was also regarded by Hitler as a vital precursor to a future alliance between the two countries.
However, as 1936 unfolded, things didn’t look to good for the new king. His long term affair with US divorcee Wallis Simpson shocked the Establishment. Both he and Simpson had had many adulterous affairs. Neither hid their nazi sympathies. Indeed Simpson combined the two by sharing her bed with nazi ambassador to London, SS Obergruppenfuhrer Joachim von Ribbentrop. Ribbentrop would be tried, convicted and hanged at Nuremberg for his role in the war and the Holocaust. Sleeping with both the king and the nazi ambassador must have generated some spectacular, if indiscreet, political pillow talk.
By the end of 1936, conservative Establishment and church pressure forced the King’s abdication.
In October 1937, just 10 months after he had relinquished his crown, the Duke of Windsor and Simpson visited Hitler. Edward told Hitler: “The Germans and the British races are one. They should always be one. They are both of Hun origin.”
He and the Duchess of Windsor visited Hitler at his mountain retreat above Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps. As they left, the nazi dictator raised his arm and shouted Heil Hitler! The duke and duchess enthusiastically returned the nazi dictator’s salute and greeting. The nazis were ecstatic at their propaganda victory. They clearly hoped that Edward would claim back his throne as king to establish an English form of fascism and alliance with Germany.
Quite how the nazis thought Edward would reclaim the crown is not clear. The only way it could have happened would have been following a successful German occupation of Britain.
If this had happened, Edward would certainly have taken the throne as a puppet king of a Britain firmly under the nazi jackboot. Simpson would have achieved her long-held ambition to become queen of England and no doubt the Windsor family, including Charles, would all have reverted to the family name Saxe-Coburg und Gotha.
First published on The Morning Star 20 January 2017