In the Netflix TV series called The Crown, a several-season biopic about Queen Elizabeth II, it is reported that in the '50s, the Queen learned that her uncle, the Duke of Windsor, who was formerly King Edward VIII, had aided the Nazi regime's war effort during WWII by telling the Germans that the British had discovered the details of their plan to invade France. Because the Germans knew that the British knew their plan in detail, they were able to alter it so that British resistance to it would fail. And we all know that the Nazis then occupied France.

Is Edward's aid to the German war effort historical, or speculation based on known facts, or just a bit of fiction in the TV series?

PS: I understand that he was a guest of Hitler in time of peace and sympathized with Hitler, but I intended the question as being about this particular incident of aiding the German war effort during the war.

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    Did you check the Wikipedia article about Edward-VIII? Jun 4 at 0:41
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    This covers a lot of ground and you seem to have two or three separate questions here. Can you narrow it down and add some research? Jun 4 at 3:21
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    The publicly known events are rendered mostly correctly, whatever the protagonists discuss behind closed doors is pure invention. In this sense, "The Crown" is more accurate than, e.g., the latest incarnation of "Trois Mousquetaires", where some public events are completely fictional.
    – Roger V.
    Jun 4 at 7:41
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    Whatever its other merits, the old "If you tell people this happened, we'll deny it" movie trope is very useful as a pre-defense against historical sticklers who get hung up on there being no evidence the scene you just invented ever happened. TVTropes calls it the secret history trope
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 4 at 14:17

1 Answer 1

Yes, Edward VIII did support Nazi Germany, but treason is unproven.

The only reason why he was appointed governor of the Bahamas and not locked up in the Tower of London was his status as former king. As governor he was under constant surveillance, to prevent any mischief. (He managed to do that anyway when he went on a holiday to the USA.)

How did he support Germany? As king he wanted to rule more like an absolute monarch than a constitutional one. That seriously clashed with parliament. One of the clashes was about his admiration of Germany, in particular for the Führer. Admiring Germany was not a problem, the royal family came from Germany and most royals (including Edward) spoke it fluently. Admiring Hitler was a different matter. As king he couldn't (and shouldn't) do that. Edward resented that limitation, and went out of his way to show it.

Before the war, but after his abdication, he went on a tour of Germany where he met Hitler. He was received with far more honors than his present status (abdicated king; now duke) warranted. That, on its own, is not treason. Reprehensible, certainly. Even in democracies one does not accept that kind of honors.

Duke of Windsor inspecting German SS honor guard

During the May campaign, after his abdication, he served as staff officer with the BEF. As such he knew all about the Allied planning. He carelessly told what he knew on a party to Italians diplomats present.

That is the best I could find. He spilt the beans over too much champagne and caviar to the wrong people. Italy was not at war with the allies - yet. Had he been a regular officer, it would have ended his career there and then. He wouldn't have been convicted of treason, rather cashiered for carelessness.

When the BEF retreated to Dunkirk, the duke left his post and traveled in his car with his wife and entourage (driver, personal servants) first to Biarritz and later to Lisbon. They traveled in a couple of cars, with ducal insignia on the duke's car. The duke didn't travel light. With, one might presume, permission of the Germans. Which is rather odd, if not outright suspicious.

Not treasonous, but certainly questionable. A regular officer would definitely be court marshaled for it. It was either AWOL (absent without leave) or desertion. The duke social status protected him.

Churchill had to use pretty strong language to force him back to Britain. Only then he could be send to the Bahamas for his tenure as governor.

If anything, the Netflix series portrays the king more favorable than he actually was. He never publicly apologized for his behavior, not just his betrayal of his country but more in general. Maybe he did apologize in private, but we'll never know that. Given the fact that relations between the queen and the duke were ice cold until his demise, I don't think he privately apologized.

Did he factually commit treason?

No, he didn't.

He was never charged as such. Given his social position and political consequences it was a certainty he would not even be accused of treason.

Especially high treason is a crime with very specific conditions. For a man as the duke of Windsor it is quite difficult (nearly impossible) to be convicted of it. Even accusing a former monarch of treason has enormous ramifications for that monarchy. That is the main reason why he wasn't charged. On the other hand, look at how his family ostracized him. He lived his life out in near total exile.

After I posted my answer I dug deeper into this question: did he actually commit treason? All I can come up with are unsupported accusations. Unsupported, yes. But strong enough to warrant close investigation and making damn sure he wouldn't get into a position where he could commit it. The duke greatly disliked his forced exile on the Bahamas, but it was the safest and remotest place he could be send to. Governor of Saint Helena or the Falkland Islands would be a bit too obvious.

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    The present Royal family descends from King George I, a German-born second cousin of Queen Anne. Apart from spouses such as Prince Albert, it must be many generations since any of them had German as a first language. Jun 6 at 8:09
  • @Kate Bunting That's debatable. Certainly not 'many' generations. Edward was born in 1894, in the reign of his grandmother queen Victoria. I cannot conclusively proof he spoke German as his first language, but he most certainly was fluent in it. However, I don't want to quarrel over it. So I removed it.
    – Jos
    Jun 6 at 8:47
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    This answer speaks at length about Edward VIII's sympathies with Hitler, but the question is about an allegation that he deliberately gave British military secrets about the German invasion of France in 1940 to the Germans. The closest this answer seems to get to that is where it says "As such he knew all about the Allied planning. He carelessly told what he knew on a party to Italians diplomats present." The word "carelessly" and the word "Italian" suggest a somewhat different story. And his visit to Germany was in time of peace. So was Neville Chamberlain's later visit. Jun 6 at 20:29
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    In other words, talking at length about sympathy with the nazis isn't the same as saying he deliberately handed over secrets on a particular occasion. Jun 6 at 20:31
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    @KateBunting Prince Philip spoke German in a way that sounds to me as if he's a native speaker. His son King Charles III is blatantly obviously not a native speaker. Jun 7 at 15:41

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