The cover of Prince Harry’s memoir was released last week, in mounting anticipation of the day it hits the shelves next January. Since their wedding in May 2018, Harry and Meghan have proven to be distracting – to say the least – for the Royal Family. Their staunch desire to center everything around their desires, feelings and intentions goes against the grain of an institution based on selflessness and duty.
Even though the revelations contained in his book will probably rock and ruffle Buckingham Palace, Prince Harry’s fifth position in the line of succession to the throne render his tribulations much less catastrophic than those posed by his late grandmother’s uncle, King Edward VIII. On December 10, 1936, this Monarch deposed the scepter and the orb for the sake of marrying the Queen of his heart, the American-born divorcee Wallis Simpson.
His brother, George VI, was left to pick up the pieces. He was neither supposed nor prepared to accede the throne. The reputation of the institution was severely tarnished, but the history of the world can be grateful that George Windsor was tasked with this mission because his brother David (Edward VIII)’s presence on the throne would have proved catastrophic in the period leading to and during World War II.
Traitor King: The Scandalous Exile of the Duke & Duchess of Windsor (Pegasus Books) is a recent book that reads like a spy novel. Its bestselling author, James Lownie, details the treacherous mindset and actions of a man who had no purpose, no loyalty and who received no real love from the woman he abandoned everything for.
The Duke of Windsor – as he was known after the abdication – wandered without purpose through Europe, under the worried eyes of London spies, with tons of luggage and a firm intention of always passing the bill to charitable souls or interested parties, notably those who sought to take advantage of his racist views and rabid antisemitism.
At one point, Spanish dictator’s foreign minister, Colonel Juan Beigbeder, sent a report of a conversation he had with the former King to his boss in Madrid: “He throws all the blame on the Jews and the Reds and Eden with his people in the Foreign Office and other politicians, all of whom he would have liked to put up against a wall … if (the Germans) bombed England effectively this could bring peace.”
On another occasion, the author quotes Dr Gaea Leinhardt whose parents shared a meal with the infamous couple. “”My parents were horrified by their dinner table talk, where they made it perfectly clear that the world would have been a better place if Jews were exterminated […].””
The Duke of Windsor was a man of many pleasures but very few convictions. Being an affirmed pro-Nazi was one of those. In October 1937, he visited Germany along with his wife. Wallis and David even had tea with Adolf Hitler at Berchtesgaden. “His entire journey and expenses were paid by the German Labour Front”, explains the author.
Around the time he was sent to the Bahamas to become Governor of the Island and reduce the damage he could inflict to the Allied cause, the “[…] the Duke had […] applied for a code to keep in touch with the Germans.” If ever his services were required, he was ready to sail back and help the Nazis. His return to the throne with his wife as Queen would have been the reward.
“[…] He is capable of much harm as is now clear”, said Sir David Montagu Douglas Scott, an under-secretary at the Foreign Office. Reading the book, one can easily imagine that the former King could have been very problematic, had he been given the chance. That probably explains why he was never allowed again to call the UK home.
Ironically, his indolence was probably his greatest contribution to the Allied victory. “The problem was that the Duke wanted status not a job, to be recognised rather than to contribute”, observes shrewdly Andrew Lownie. Another man would and could have been more involved and resourceful in his quest to advance his agenda. The Duke of Windsor just waited for the fruit to be ripe, not recognizing that it was already rotten.
“After I am dead the boy will ruin himself in 12 months”, King George V is said to have declared to his Private Secretary about his son David, whom he did not want to succeed him. The Monarch was prescient, and the Monarchy was to be thrown into one of the most precarious periods of its history when he died. “The country was lucky that in the crisis which Edward VIII generated, George VI and his daughter Elizabeth rose to the challenge”, writes the author at the very end of the book.
Traitor King is an excellent exposé about a reign that was fortunately cut short because of sexual infatuation and blind love for a woman who “resented the fact that [he] had lost his throne” and did not love him. It is also a testimony to the vital role the British Monarchy played in the fight against tyranny. It has always been as solid as the characters that embody it and the values they cherish. The contrast between Edward VIII and his successors couldn’t be starker. The first one lived for himself, while George VI and Elizabeth II devoted their existence to an unshakable and inspiring sense of duty.
An essential read, as the Monarchy starts a new chapter in its enduring history.
Andrew Lownie, Traitor King: The Scandalous Exile of the Duke & Duchess of Windsor, New York, Pegasus Books, 2022, 432 pages.
I would like to express all my gratitude to Adria Iwasutiak, Vice President and Director of Publicity at Simon & Schuster Canada for her generous patience and for providing me with a copy of this book and to Jessica Case of Pegasus Books for her continued collaboration with this blog.