Who would have been the Nazi king?


Sarah Dowdy: And I'm Sarah Dowdy, and Katie and I talked about the glamorous jet setting life of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in another podcast. And we only briefly touched on what most people would consider the dark side of their life.

Katie Lambert: And a good symbol of the dark side of their life would be the picture of Adolf Hitler kissing the hand of the Duchess of Windsor.

Sarah Dowdy: Which certainly does suggest problems.

Katie Lambert: Right. And this all starts with a good example, their wedding, their much talked about wedding. Wallace and Edward were married at the Chateau de Conde in France, which was owned by a man, named Charles Bedaux. He was an eccentric millionaire known for his work with scientific management and also for an expedition he sponsored, called the Champagne Safari. But he wasn't as well known for his work for the Third Reich. He would later kill himself right before he was put on trial for treason. So from the very beginning, the Chateau of the Nazis is upon this couple.

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah. And to give a little context to why the once British king could feel sympathy towards the Nazis, Edward feels as much German as English. His great grandfather, Prince Albert, Victoria's husband, is of German ancestry, his mother, Queen Mary. And he's also an ancestor of King George I, who is from a German family. He even calls German his mother tongue.

Katie Lambert: But after World War I, the British monarchy wants to distance itself as much as possible from its German heritage, understandably.

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah.

Katie Lambert: King George V even changes their last name to Windsor from Saxe-Coburg Gotha. And Edward wants to reclaim this part of his German heritage, and he also wasn't allowed to serve in combat in World War I. And maybe that had a little something to do with his love for the Germans.

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah. You would certainly think that fighting an enemy in World War I would make you at least have some reservations against them in the second World War, but he's not allowed to fight because he's the crown prince. And he goes on sort of a publicity tour instead, which makes him very popular with his own people.

Katie Lambert: Right. But when he takes the throne, his sentiments are a bit at odds with the rest of the British government. Hitler, of course, is in power, and Edward is a fan of his and the British government was not, to put things simplistically. When Hitler says he's sending forces into Ryland, England says that it's opposed. The government makes that known, and Edward says both to his own government and to the German ambassador, which was a huge breach of protocol, "We're not opposed to this. If you try to stop Hitler, I will abdicate." So the threat of abdication actually came much earlier than his actual abdication.

Sarah Dowdy: Well, and it's so shocking here that he's stepping far beyond the bounds of his figurehead, sort of, position and actually threatening to take real action.

Katie Lambert: Oh, and grasping at power, yes. So he does abdicate to marry twice-divorced American woman, Wallace Simpson. But back to being a Nazi, Edward is pretty well informed, politically, and he has some real connections to the Nazi party and to people in power.

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah. At a party in Vienna in June 1937, the Duke tells an Italian diplomat that the US has cracked his country's intelligence code, so everybody is kinda thinking how does the Duke know this information?

Katie Lambert: Exactly. How does he even have it? Bedaux sets up for the couple a trip to Germany to meet Hitler in October 1937.Sarah Dowdy: It's only a few months after their marriage.

Katie Lambert: Right. And so, they dine with him and their - the photo of Hitler kissing her hand, and so, we're not just talking about two people who privately hold pro-fascist sympathies. We're talking about people who are making it obvious, and again, very at odds with their own government. The photos of the Duke in Berlin are used as Nazi propaganda. He even visits a training camp, which is reported of him seeing future Nazi leaders.

Sarah Dowdy: And the Windsor set, the people who they hang out with, aren't drawn from regular aristocracy folks. It's celebrities. They're charming. They're famous. And a lot of them are fascists, too.

Katie Lambert: Right. They hung out with other Nazi sympathizers, such as Oswald Mosley and his wife, Diana Mitford. These two were actually married in Joseph Gerbal's house. He and Hitler were their witnesses, and even more charming, Diana owned a diamond swastika necklace, just a special little detail about some of their friends.

Sarah Dowdy: And the Duke is frustrated at this point that his family is dithering so much about what his role will be, what - in what capacity will he serve his country? And it's a - it's a difficult question because what do you give to a king who abdicates? You obviously can't give him too much power. He's sacrificed it. But he is the son of a king, and he's someone who has been king. And he can't be completely sidelined.

Katie Lambert: And he wants power, and he wants a voice. He's advocating appeasement at this time, which was a very unpopular sentiment. And he records an announcement in March 1939 urging peace with the Germans, and the BBC says, "Absolutely not. We're not airing that."

Sarah Dowdy: So Britain declares war September 1939, and the Duke is stationed in France as a British liaison. But he's also communicating with the Nazis.

Katie Lambert: The German minister mentions in a letter that he has a direct line of contact to the Duke, and in May 1940, the Duke gets helpful information to Hitler who's in Belgium and trying to invade France. And this is when the red flags start popping up for people like Winston Churchill.

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah. The Duke is also the one who tells the Germans that the Allies have their plan for invading France. Consequently, the Nazis change their plan and France is lost. So there is an issue, though. The Duke and Duchess are in France when it falls, and Churchill is terrified that the Nazis will kidnap them.

Katie Lambert: Which is smart because that was actually the plan. The Nazis wanted to kidnap Edward, and they figured when Hitler had conquered Great Britain he could install Edward as the puppet king. And then, of course, Wallace could be queen, which was also her goal. And Joseph Gerbal said about the Duke, "It's a shame he is no longer king. With him we would have entered into an alliance," and I'm going to say that if Gerbals is your biggest fan you might wanna rethink what you're doing.

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah. The Duchess, meanwhile, is hanging out with Von Ribbentrope, or Trop - we're not entirely sure how to say that one - who is the Nazi foreign minister. And lots of people thought that he was her lover. He supposedly sent her 17 carnations every day to represent the number of times they'd slept together.

Katie Lambert: And the British government is aware by this point that the Duchess is having dealings with Ribbentrope, and they keep moving them all around Europe to try to keep them away from him. At one point, they end up moving them to Spain, but there are too many Nazi sympathizers there. And it doesn't stop the Duchess from corresponding with him, so they move them to Portugal. But that doesn't help either. She still manages to worm her way in every single time. And the government is scared that the Duke or the Duchess is going to say something to the press about their Nazi sympathies. They want the two of them where they can do no harm. The idea is to neutralize their influence.

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah. Shut them down, basically. But they're having a good time hanging out with all these German agents. It's all very glamorous for them, and things do get more heated. Edward is giving statements to the press that are very defeatist and kind of pro-Nazi. And Churchill orders him to come home or be court martialed, and Edward responds that he's not coming back to England until his wife is treated like royalty, which gets back to an issue we discussed in our earlier podcast that even though she was named the Duchess of Windsor she didn't have the title of Royal Highness.

Katie Lambert: And this is a big sore point for the two of them, so while they're in Portugal in July 1940, the German ambassador in Lisbon passes a message on to Berlin. The Duke believes with certainty that continued heavy bombing would make England ready for peace. So at this point the Duke is advocating bombing his own people, which, well -

Sarah Dowdy: Is pretty shocking.

Katie Lambert: Yes.

Sarah Dowdy: And he also tells a Spanish royal that England's government is going to collapse and that a new government will take over and make peace with Germany. And somehow, his brother, George, will abdicate and the Duke will get to rule. So it's sounding pretty delusional.

Katie Lambert: And Winston Churchill knows the Duke is bad, bad news, and he's finally had enough right about at this point.

Sarah Dowdy: Which is interesting, too, because Churchill was the Duke's major supporter when he was a king considering abdication.

Katie Lambert: Well, and then he didn't know about his - his sympathies. It's not until the war he's seen Edwards hidden colors.

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah.

Katie Lambert: So instead, the Duke and Duchess are sent to the Bahamas in August 1940 where the Duke will be governor. And the two of them hate this. They absolutely hate it. They think of the Bahamas as their Elba.

Sarah Dowdy: Which is really self-aggrandizing, isn't it?

Katie Lambert: Oh, yeah. We're just like Napoleon. And even there, they're both still scheming. Edward's trying to hang out on the yacht of Axel Vinnegrin, who is the best friend of Herman Goring, and the British government says, "Are you kidding? No. That's just not happening."

Sarah Dowdy: And in December 1940, the Duke also gave an interview with Fulton Oursler, who was an American journalist. And in it, he said that Hitler was a great man and the right and logical leader of Germany. And he also wanted Roosevelt to act as some sort of mediator, which obviously, Roosevelt - I mean, no way. That's not happening.

Katie Lambert: In 1941, even, Roosevelt put them under FBI surveillance when they were visiting Miami. And supposedly, she was going to visit a dentist, but she did all sorts of sketchy things like this. She was sending all of her dry cleaning to New York. Why would you send your dry cleaning to New York if you lived in the Bahamas, unless you were passing secret messages along? So the FBI report has some shocking things to reveal, and the big bomb was that it was the Duchess' politics that made it impossible for Edward to marry her and keep the throne. It had nothing to do with her divorces, which had been the official line all along. And so, really, Wallace Simpson may have saved us all from the Nazi king.

Sarah Dowdy: So yeah, that's obviously the big shocker from the FBI report, but it also mentioned things like the Duke was drunk a lot of the time. And the Duchess told people that he was impotent and she was the only person who could actually satisfy him, so very personal details for an FBI report and pretty - pretty surprising.

Katie Lambert: Well, and it was a huge deal when these records came out because the monarchy general had largely denied any allegations of Nazi sympathies, as had the official biographer of Edward. So these revelations were even more shocking.

Sarah Dowdy: Well, it makes you wonder how much people knew at the time. Obviously, most people didn't realize the extent of this couple's sympathies with the Nazis, but -

Katie Lambert: What did they know?

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah. What did they know? The Duchess in her memoirs actually paints them as victims in all this and says that they were tricked into going to Germany because Hitler and Edward had a mutual interest in public housing projects. And once there, you know, they couldn't be rude. They're such high society people.

Katie Lambert: Oh, you can't turn down an invitation to dinner. But even until the end of the war, Edward is still quoted as saying things like, "After the war is over and Hitler has crushed the Americans, we'll take over. The British don't want me as king, but I'll be back as their leader." Well, guess what, Edward? No, that never happened.

Sarah Dowdy: So the question remains would Edward had been a quisling king if he had remained in power?

Katie Lambert: Which is our new favorite phrase, I think.

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah. It's from a Norwegian politician who helped the Nazis conquer his own country, and it means a traitor or collaborator. And it's a - it's a scary thought, kind of, to imagine this pro-Nazi sympathizer remaining king of England.

Katie Lambert: Well, and it couldn't help but remind me of when Prince Harry got in so much trouble for wearing that Nazi outfit on Halloween.

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah.

Katie Lambert: Learn some Windsor history, Harry.

Sarah Dowdy: Well, and - and you're also forced to think of the comparison of the man who actually is king, Edward's younger brother and his wife, Elizabeth, who are so well-known for their war efforts and keeping the country together and boosting morale by staying in London during the blitz.

Katie Lambert: Right. They were in Windsor castle in Buckingham Palace the whole time, even though they were told to flee to Canada, so.

Sarah Dowdy: They - they were actually almost killed in - in Buckingham Palace.

Katie Lambert: It's quite a contrast and something to think about.

Sarah Dowdy: Well, that about wraps it up for the Windsors, but if you wanna learn more about fascism, we actually have a really good article, How Fascism Works. You can check it out on our homepage at www.howstuffworks.com.

Katie Lambert: And that brings us to listener mail. We have two comments today. One is from Alex, who listened to our Ada Lovelace podcast on the Enchantress of Numbers, and said that NPR had done a story recently about the difference engine and you can go see some pictures if you would like to go to their website and search for it. And we also got an email from Damian, and when Sarah and I had done the Lord Byron podcast, Sarah mentioned that she'd heard in some of her classes that he had eating troubles?

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah, that he basically couldn't control his weight without severe dieting. And he would go through sort of binge and purge cycles to - to slim down and then blow up again.

Katie Lambert: Well, we have confirmation now from Damian's wife, who is a romantics professor that Byron did, indeed, binge and purge and had a hard time controlling his weight.

Sarah Dowdy: Well, thanks to Alex and Damian. If you have any questions for us or answers to our questions, go ahead and email us at historypodcast@howstuffworks.com.

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