I have just finished reading “Traitor King by Andrew Lownie. It covers the activities of King Edward the Eighth after his abdication in 1936. Ostensibly he abdicated because he insisted on marrying a divorced woman, Wallis Simpson. But there were worries in government circles about his political views and his temperament.
As Prince of Wales, and briefly as King, he had led a full life, with plenty to do, and plenty of time for affairs and entertainments as well. He had spent his entire life as heir to the throne surrounded by servants who attended to his every whim. He became used to adulation.
After he abdicated, all this changed. He was no longer a King, just the Duke of Windsor. His wife was not a Queen, and was not allowed to describe herself with the prefix HRH (a matter about which he became obsessed).. Initially he lived in Paris and the French Riviera with Wallis Simpson.
He doted on her and became dependent on her. But she found him boring. She found it difficult living up to the legend of a romantic love she did not feel.
He no longer had anything useful to do, no prearranged programme. Their days were filled with private dinners and lunches and little else.
As time went by, he wanted to be back at the centre of things. This desire for attention led to his entanglement with Germany.
His Fascist and pro German sympathies had been well known even before he abdicated. The British Union of Fascists even held a demonstration demanding that his abdication not take place until there had been a referendum on it.
His first formal trip, after his abdication, was a high profile visit to Nazi Germany. He wanted to make a similar high-profile trip to the United States. But the reaction to his German trip was so bad that this had to be called off.
He soon became convinced that Britain could not defeat Germany in a war, and should reconcile with the Nazi regime.
When the War broke out in 1939, he was given a role inspecting the defences on the French and British fronts facing Germany. His report identified the weak point in the Ardennes, which Germany was to exploit to spectacularly a few months later.
But in his private conversations, he was a defeatist, talking in direct contradiction to the foreign policies of his own government.
When France fell in May 1940, he fled to Spain and later to Portugal.
Lownie’s book documents his indirect, but extensive, contacts with German agents while in Madrid and Lisbon. He was scheming to get Britain out of the war, and himself back onto the throne.
While he did want peace for its own sake, he also saw either a German victory, or a negotiated peace, as routes towards getting himself back to the throne of England, and a means of his wife becoming Queen.
It is pretty clear, from the documentary evidence cited in this book (including German archives discovered after the War), that his activities while in Spain and Portugal in 1940 amounted to treason.
His stay in Europe was cut short when he was sent as Governor of the Bahamas, where he intrigued with isolationists to keep the United States out of the war.
Edward the Eighth was not a stupid man. He had some administrative ability which he demonstrated as Governor of the Bahamas from 1940 to 1945.
So how could he have allowed himself to become drawn into what he should have seen were treasonable activities?
I suspect the atmosphere in which he grew up, as heir to the throne, led him to believe that normal rules did not apply to him.
This is a highly readable book.