Few weeks ago, I reviewed Andrew Lownie’s enthralling and fascinating book Traitor King: The Scandalous Exile of the Duke & Duchess of Windsor. The author – a disillusioned monarchist who believes in institution but feels let down by some members of it – generously accepted to answer a few questions for this blog. Below is the content of our discussion.
Mr. Lownie, while researching Traitor King, did you make any findings that surprised you?
Lots not least the extent of the Windsors’ dealings with the Nazis which can be found in documents, the knowledge that the Royal Family and Government had of their activities and the rather bizarre relationship the couple had and their bisexuality. Also, the degree of the attempted British cover up of his treachery.
Understandably, Winston Churchill is a frequent guest in the book. I might be wrong, but I didn’t get the sense that he became a tooth-and-nail opponent of the Duke of Windsor during the war. How would you describe the evolution of the relationship between the two men?
Churchill had been one of the Duke’s strongest supporters during the Abdication, mainly because of his romantic notion of the monarchy, but the scales fell when he saw the Duke’s duplicity over the financial settlement in 1937 and the disloyalty shown during the war when Churchill had to threaten him with court martial. The relationship then became more pragmatic with Churchill trying to find him a job after the war and suppressing the embarrassing captured German documents, but he refused to join a cruise when he learnt the Windsors would be present.
Were other Nazi sympathizers within or around the Royal family apart from the Windsor?
The Royal Family had shared the same appeasement sympathies as most of the Establishment before the Second World War but by 1939 they realized that Hitler had to be stood up to. Only the Duke & Duchess of Windsor felt there could be an accommodation with Hitler. However, the Duke was close to two German relations who were senior Nazi officials, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Philipp, Prince of Hesse.
Prince Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg (1884-1954) was born in Surrey to Prince Leopold (Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s eighth son). Both the Queen and Prince Philip were the great-great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria. Prince Philipp of Hesse (1896-1980) was a great-grandson of Queen Victoria and Prince Philip was named after him.
Wallis provided the opportunity to ensure he never inherited the throne.
The Duke of Windsor renounced the throne for the love of a woman who didn’t reciprocate the feeling, which is quite tragic. Would you say he only did that to compensate for psychological deficits?
The Duke was obsessed with Wallis and threatened to kill himself if she didn’t marry him. Though others found her unattractive and brittle, she was the perfect woman to him. She felt trapped in a marriage she had never wanted with a man for whom she had little respect but the more awful she was to him – cuckolding him in public – the more devoted he became. He was a psychologically flawed man and the British authorities realized that before he became king. Wallis provided the opportunity to ensure he never inherited the throne.
There are lots of parallels between the Harry and Edward VIII.
What parallel can we draw between the situation of the Duke of Windsor and the Duke of Sussex?
Lots of parallels. A popular prince who marries an American divorcee who cuts him off from his family and friends and takes him into exile in pursuit of private pleasure over public duty. The same gripes about finances, security, bad parenting, sibling fall outs, exploitation of the royal brand, tacky lifestyles, embarrassing media interviews, lucrative book deals and commercial exploitation of the royal brand.
Could we say that the abdication crisis was the most threatening episode for the British Monarchy in its history?
Up to that point, but I’d say today that the crisis is much worse with Meghan Markle, Prince Andrew, and the growing rejection of the monarchy by young people.
What is the biggest threat to the Monarchy?
Apathy and concerns about cost benefit.
I don’t know if you have watched the fifth season of The Crown, but, if so, I would be curious to know what you think about the historical veracity of its content.
It’s an odd mixture of getting small details right and then playing with the real narrative. Sometimes fresh insights can come from invented plot lines or scenes, but the characterization is often wrong – most notably Prince Charles in 1990s. We have to remember it is drama but also it is dealing with real people and that the very high production values persuade people it is authentic, so some sensitivity needs to be shown.
You are a keen observer of the British establishment and the Monarchy. What is your assessment of King Charles III so far?
So far so good but early days and there are several obstacles ahead such as the inquiry into cash for honours, Harry’s book, Prince Andrew, and whatever icebergs lie beneath the surface.
2023 looks more promising for Prince Andrew.
Talking about Prince Andrew, what are the prospects for him?
The Duke of York ends the year with his humiliation complete. Whilst not quite an ordinary citizen – he was at Sandringham with members of the Royal Family over the Christmas period – his official links have now all been cut. His protection is now paid by his brother the King and he has no presence at Buckingham Palace.
He still lives at Royal Lodge, for whose refurbishment he paid, but it is a huge home for a solitary man and that is still to be reviewed. His former wife Sarah still lives there and, whilst she has stood by him, not least because her money-making activities rely on her royal links, her connection with the Royal Family must be under review. Ironically, she was included in the royal party this Christmas, having been banned in the past.
The other question is whether their daughters Beatrice and Eugenie will be given any official role in a Royal Family which is short by two members – Prince Harry and Prince Andrew. Andrew is reputedly developing his business interests in the Middle East and Asia, so 2023 looks like being a better year for him than 2022.
Is there another book project on your writing table, and if so, are you at liberty to tell us what it will be about?
Yes, I’m doing the first full biography of the Duke and Duchess of York. So far, I’ve interviewed over fifty people and many revelations are promised. Always happy to hear from anyone who had dealings with them.
Many sincere thanks for the generosity of your time Mr. Lownie.
Andrew Lownie’s book Traitor King: The Scandalous Exile of the Duke & Duchess of Windsor is published by Pegasus Books.