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Reviewed by Paul T. O’Connor
TRAITOR KING: THE SCANDALOUS EXILE OF THE DUKE AND DUCHESS OF WINDSOR. By Andrew Lownie. Pegasus Books. 432 pages. $19.95, softcover. Also available as audiobook from Tantor Audio. 8 hours, 27 minutes. Read by the author.
Some families are just trouble.
The kids are trouble, the parents are trouble, the grandparents are trouble. If you know the great grandparents, aunts and uncles, you know that they were trouble, too.
Like that family over in England that owns a bunch of stone houses and horses.
One adult son is living in California telling family secrets on Oprah, 60 Minutes and Netflix. His mom was a lovely soul, but his dad openly cheated on her with a woman now officially recognized as his “queen consort.” His grandmother couldn’t find the heart to openly grieve when his mom was killed in a car crash nor when a bunch of men were killed in a mine collapse. That stiff upper lip thing, pip pip.
This is the royal family, of course, the Windsors, the family that included three of the main characters who led the world into World War I. Yes, the Kaiser, the Tsar and the King George V of England were all related. Oh, and don’t forget Andrew, who used to party with Donald Trump, Ghislane Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein.
As if all the Harry-and-Megan and William-and-Kate trash isn’t enough Windsor gossip, British historian Andrew Lownie has repackaged and retold the infamous story, maybe the most infamous of all the Windsor stories, of King Edward VIII, the feckless monarch who quit after less than a year because he fell stupidly in love with a twice-divorced woman who was, hold your breath, an American.
When a king quits, he reverts to being a duke and to his birth name. So, Edward VIII became Duke David Windsor – who is easily confused with David Duke, the Louisiana white supremacist. And the horrible woman he married, Wallis Simpson, became a duchess. But she was thoroughly despised in Great Britain and the two were practically exiled from that merry little island.
This story has been told many times before, sometimes as a love story, although no one really believes that she loved him, sometimes as a spy story, although those accounts often depict the duke as a witless tool of more sinister forces. Lownie’s claim to originality here is his contention that David Windsor was a willing traitor to his country in the time leading up to and during World War II.
Lownie charges that the duke positioned himself to have Nazi Germany, after a presumed victory in the war, place him back on the throne. That would also mean that Wallis would become the queen, and people would be required to curtsy before her. She so craved that.
The evidence against the couple is considerable. After his abdication, the couple exiled themselves to France, where they maintained ties with Nazi sympathizers and German agents. After the fall of France, the couple moved between Spain and Portugal, where the duke stayed in contact with German officials. The British, very concerned about his actions, eventually persuaded him to take the job as governor of the Bahamas, presumably out of the reach of German hands.
While in the Bahamas, the duke actually did some good to improve the welfare of the poor, that is, when he wasn’t consorting with Nazi agents and flying off to America so Wallis could replenish her wardrobe at the expense of British taxpayers. (Sometimes, she just cheated the merchants.)
There are more reasons to despise the duke, more than his dalliances with the Nazis. At a time when Great Britain was under daily attack, he kept complaining from abroad that he wasn’t being treated with enough dignity, that his wife wasn’t addressed as “her royal highness,” and that his allowance was not great enough. In post-war France, where food was rationed, he used his position to provision and throw extravagant parties for similar quasi-royals. “Self-absorbed” is a term used repeatedly by others to describe him. He was also described as a bore.
The couple no doubt cheated merchants, their government and insurance companies. They insisted on diplomatic positions that would relieve them of the duty to pay taxes. They were antisemitic and racist, and they treated their staff horribly.
Add to this that Wallis treated him poorly, had sexual affairs quite openly and that, despite their being wealthy themselves, relied on others to pay their bills. These people are worse than any of those awful characters who show up on prime-time network soap operas.
But it’s a fun read, or fun listen, although Lownie should have hired someone besides himself to read the book — an Irishman who could delight in telling the story would have been ideal. He’s weak in that regard.
2 responses to “The king, the duke, blood, toil and trouble”
Having read most books on or by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, I found this one valuable in that it sites documentation of their wartime duplicities. Long suspected of extreme Nazi sympathies, we now know more about the Duke’s activities in that regard. Had he been an ordinary citizen, he surely would have been charged with treason.
The Duke and Duchess are deserving of your characterizations, although the whole idea that he gave up the throne for the woman he loved needs to be forgotten. I think he gave it up believing he could have the lifestyle of a monarch without the work, and with Wallis. His ignorance, racism, and need to prove himself to his wife led him into the arms of the Nazis.
Ironically, the British were saved from so much by Edward’s abdication. They need to build a statue to Wallis.
This book by itself is not the whole picture, but it does flesh out many questions left from previous readings.
Thanks for your insights – especially about his having given up the throne for true love.