The Duke and Duchess of Windsor flirt indiscreetly with Nazi sympathizers in Spain and Portugal
The latest release of documents from the National Archives hugely fleshes out the record of the Duke of Windsor’s time in Spain and Portugal after fleeing France in 1940. The main lines of the story were already known but it appears that far from all of the telegrams from the German missions to Spain and Portugal had previously seen the light of day.
Churchill’s argument for suppressing the telegrams is valid insofar as they come purely from the German side and describe a Nazi intrigue to entrap him and they depend on the “assertions of German and pro-German officials”. Certainly, the documents must be read with the caveat that they give only an indirect picture of the Duke. However, unless the documents are entirely false, the “impression that the Duke was in close touch with German Agents and was listening to suggestions that were disloyal” is accurate. At best the Duke was wildly indiscreet, at worst treasonous. It would have required enormous naïveté on his part to be unaware of the risk (to put it at its gentlest) that his Spanish and Portuguese interlocutors would pass what he said on to the Germans.
Of course, the value of Duke in his varying incarnations as a potential tool of German policy was very much a hobby-horse of von Ribbentrop and, to an extent, Hitler’s. The enthusiasm with which was still being pursued in 1940 by the German ministry of foreign affairs is nonetheless striking. The Duke’s repeated claims that the war would never have occurred had he remained King are evidence that German faith in him was exaggerated but not a complete fantasy.
To his credit the Duke believed that his abdication was final and was surprised at the thought of the Germans placing him back on the throne. The Duchess, though, seems to have been open to the idea the idea that the “course of the war” (presumably German conquest of Britain) might change the constitution in their favour. The Germans were prepared to fulfil the couple’s every wish. Ribbentrop described the “tendency of those wishes” as “obvious” although it is an open question whether he meant restoration to the throne or the Duke’s wishes that he set out to the Spanish minister for foreign affairs: for the Duchess to be recognised as a member of the Royal Family and for the Duke to be given an “influential” civil or military post.
The most damaging indiscretion reported by the Duke is the repeated idea that he might serve as an intermediary between Germany and the British government to bring about peace and that he foresaw himself returning to Europe from the Bahamas to perform this task. He explained his reluctance to take on the role immediately by tactical timing considerations but the telegram he sent asking to be told when “action was necessary” suggests
The Duke’s lack of discretion (and taste) beggars belief. He compromised himself appallingly by disclosing that he was leaving for the Bahamas under threat of court-martial. It is hard to see what he imagined this would bring him beyond demonstrating that he saw himself as a free agent. He openly described his brother George VI as “altogether stupid” and accused Queen Elizabeth of intriguing against him and in particular the Duchess. How far he genuinely distanced himself from the “Churchill clique” but these documents only add support to the image of the Duke as defeatist and “fifth column” (in the words of David Eccles the British agent particularly tasked with keeping an eye on him).