They are just a memory now, but in their day, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were world-class celebrities. Their stars blazed so brightly that they would have made today’s Kardashians look like rusted soda cans on an abandoned lot.
He was formerly King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom. She, Bessie Wallis Warfield, was a twice-divorced socialite (first a Spencer and later a Simpson). The Duchess was born in 1894, in Blue Ridge Summit, PA., a summer home for Baltimore’s blue bloods. She resided for a time, at 212 E. Biddle Street, in the Monumental City, only blocks from today’s Belvedere Hotel, which opened in 1903.
In December, 1936, the emotionally immature King, then age 40, gave up his throne after a reign of only 325 days to “marry the women he loved.” He then accepted the title of Duke of Windsor. Wallis was 42 years of age at that time. The Duke was given a stipend of 25,000 pounds a year from the British Royal Family’s treasury. He needed it, since he had never held a real job before. And, the London-based Palace crowd never wanted to see him again! He had “badly miscalculated” the situation.
The Royal Family resented the Duke for bailing out on them, and they also deeply despised Ms. Simpson. She was referred to as “that woman.” How much of that hatred was inspired by class distinctions and/or the fact she was an American is difficult to discern. The Duchess divorced her second husband and the Royal love birds married in 1937, living mostly in France during those pre-WWII years. They even made time, later in 1937, to visit Adolf Hitler in Germany. That set the Duke/Duchess-bashing tongues wagging.
Keep in mind, that back then, most Americans, and many of the British elite considered Joseph Stalin’s Godless Soviet Union/Communist regime to be the “Evil Empire,” and the Fascist Nazis were seen as a bulwark against any encroachment from the “Barbarian East.” Plus, the Duke was of German stock and darn proud of it. Also, the Duke hated Stalin, and his butchers, the Bolsheviks, for murdering, in 1918, his Godfather Czar Nicholas II, and his family. This included his wife and three innocent, young children.
In 1938, no less an iconic figure than Winston Churchill had this to say about the German dictator: “I have always said that if Great Britain were ever defeated in war, I hope we should find a Hitler to lead us back to our rightful position among the nations.”
Enter British author Andrew Morton. He covers celebrities, Enquirer Magazine-style, and has previously penned a best-selling book on the ill-fated Lady Diana. And, in 17 Carnations: The Royals, The Nazis and the Biggest Cover-Up in History, he works hard to sell the notion that the Duke and Duchess were conscious “Nazis sympathizers… and had collaborated with the enemy in wartime.”
So where is the evidence?
Morton can’t have it both ways. He portrays the royal duo as mostly hapless, shallow, and narcissistic, interested primarily in accumulating jewelry, fancy clothes, traveling to exotic locations, and hanging out with other members of the aristocratic set. If anything, Morton’s Duke and Duchess come off as pathetic figures, given to silly gossip, attending endless parties, and talking through their cocktails. They were more to be pitied than feared.
The idea that these two poor, often boozed-up souls plotted with the Germans for the Duke to be set up as the King of England if the Nazis prevailed with their war against the Brits just doesn’t fly. You can’t build a solid case against this spacey duo based on rumors, gossip, and party-time buzz.
The Duke’s closest confidant, Lord Louis Mountbatten, described him as a “lonely person and sad.” To his credit, the Duke did visit the front line in WWI in France. Later, he recalled witnessing “the ground gray with corpses.”
Morton strongly suggests that, in 1934, the Duchess had an affair with the then-German envoy to the UK, “the pompous former champagne salesman, Joachim Von Ribbentrop.” The supposed proof: He sent her “17 carnations!” The truth: There is no evidence to support this slur against the Duchess at all. Ribbentrop, a congenital liar, was hanged in 1945, at Nuremberg, for his role in starting WWII.
After WWII, Morton spotlights the manic chase to secure the “secret documents” of the Third Reich. The British were fearful the records might “embarrass” the Clan Royals, including the Duke, re: their supposed Nazis ties. This is all much ado about nothing.
To show the popularity of the Duke and Duchess outside of the Royal circle, Morton described a visit that they made to the U.S. in November, 1941. On the agenda was Baltimore—the Duchess’s home town. He writes: “Over 250,000 people lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the homecoming duchess.” Can you imagine 250,000 people lining up to see the (double gasp) Kardashians?
Back in London, the notorious Soviet spy, Sir Anthony Blunt, was operating for years right under the blue-colored noses of the Wallis-Simpson-bashing British Royals, their Palace guards, and their intelligence services.
To complete the WWII saga, after the U.S. got into the war, the “Godless” Soviet Union joined forces with the U.S. and the UK, in the Allies’ winning fight to smash Nazi German. Go figure.
Andrew Morton is a good writer and has penned a highly entertaining book. He’s also gone to great lengths to document his sources. I, however, respectfully disagree with his conclusions, which are based too much on hearsay.