In Part 1 of this two-part series , I wrote that I think that, with Steve Bannon at his side (actually out in front of him in the present lead-up to the Big Event), as the various investigations close in on him, Pres. Trump is preparing to resign (with pardons all round). I noted that there are certain parallels on both the personal and political sides between Trump and history's most famous Prince of Wales. Part I was devoted primarily to my description and analysis of the events that are taking place and in view will take place in the run-up to that predicted resignation. (By the way, I am not the only one making it.) Then I described briefly the run-up to the abdication of the Prince, before he could be crowned at Edward VIII of Great Britain (see also, further, below).
King Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson on holiday in Yugoslavia, 1936.
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The common interpretation of this event focuses on the Prince's then impending marriage to a U.S. divorcee, Mrs. Wallis Simpson. Actually, at the time she was in her second marriage and would have to be divorced again before she could marry the Prince. However, history has shown that the primary reasons behind the Prince's abdication were political, not social. It is to those reasons, as well as subsequent political events involving the Prince (who became the Duke of Windsor following his abdication) that this column is devoted.
Like many members of the British aristocracy and industrial ruling class as well, in the 1930s the Prince became quite attracted to Nazi Germany and fascism. This attraction was both for how it controlled its working class at home and how, it was hoped, it would eventually lead the destruction of the hated Soviet Union abroad. In fact, after his abdication, in Nov. 1937 the Duke had a private meeting with Adolf Hitler that lasted for 50 minutes. There is no extant record of what was discussed at that meeting.
But when he was still the Prince of Wales, as the war clouds began to spread over Europe once again in the mid-1930s, he had made it quite clear that he was sympathetic to the "German way of doing things." (Although he didn't think that they should be doing what they were doing to the Jews, to him that always seemed to be a minor point). He was also close to the homegrown fascists led by Sir Oswald Mosely and his British Union of Fascists and the very upper class, very Right-wing "Cliveden Set," which counted many Hitler-admirers among its membership. The political ruling class, dominated by the Conservative (Tory) Party at the time, was split on the subject. They were concerned with German rearmament and Hitler's increasingly aggressive foreign policy on the one hand, but on the other they thought too that he might be able to be focused in what he had called the "Drang nach Osten," the drive to the East, to destroy the jointly hated communists and the Soviet Union.
In the meantime, as his father was failing, Edward was getting closer to throne. Also in the meantime, he serially spurned a wide variety of royal matches from Europe who were offered to him. And then lightning struck in the form of Wallis Simpson, a once divorced, currently married U.S. from Baltimore. An affair was struck up in 1934 (during which time she apparently also had a dalliance with the then Nazi Ambassador to the U.K., the former successful wine merchant (by marriage) Joachim von Ribbentrop [who had purchased the Prussian "von" for himself].) At the same time Edward's pro-Nazi leanings were becoming widely known. Which presented difficulties for the British political elite, if not the pro-Nazi aristocracy. Edward would be becoming King. Hitler and Mussolini were both presenting "problems." Then, despite the hoped-for "Drang nach Osten" (to get Hitler to focus exclusively on it was the real purpose of the Munich Agreement of 1938), the U.K. might once again be facing a heavily armed Germany on the European mainland.
Then Edward bailed them out (or was he pushed out). George V died on January 20, 1936. The Prince of Wales became Edward VIII. He insisted that as King he would marry Mrs. Simpson (once she got her second divorce, of course). There was a resounding "NO" from most quarters, from the Royal family on down (or up, depending upon your point of view). Publicly, it all had to do with the fact that Mrs. Simpson was a) once divorced, b) still married to her second husband, c) a commoner, and d) a U.S. to boot. And so, Edward "gave up the throne for the woman he loved" and abdicated on December 10, 1936 (just after I was born, as it happened). He became the Duke of Windsor and married Wallis when her second divorce became final the following year. She then became the Duchess of Windsor, although never recognized as such at Buckingham Palace.
So why am I going on like this, about a series of events widely known around the world at the time but which has long-faded into the bowels of history? Because I have always been fascinated by A) this story, B) the political behavior that the Duke engaged in, in the subsequent years leading up to WW II and its first two years, and C) what were the real reasons why he abdicated the throne. As noted the Duke was a right-winger, who thought that fascism had a lot to offer to the Western nations struggling through the Depression. He was rabidly ant-Soviet. In terms of Germany and Italy he was a pacifist until September 3, 1939 when the United Kingdom declared war on Germany following its invasion of Poland. Even after that he plumped for a peace settlement between Nazi Germany and the U.K., especially following the Fall of France in June 1940. He openly, through intermediaries, consorted with the Nazis whilst in France early that summer, and after France's abject surrender then in Spain and Portugal as he and his wife were making their way out of Occupied Europe.
In the summer of 1940, before and during the early days of the Battle of Britain, a German invasion of the U.K. seemed a certainty and a then-German victory almost inevitable. During that brief period Hitler and the Nazi High Command actually envisioned either restoring Edward to the throne of a conquered nation or converting it into a Republic with Edward as President. It is certainly unclear to what extent Edward bought into this idea and how much of it was discussed with him through Spanish and Portuguese intermediaries as he dallied on the European mainland before getting back to the UK. Did he ever buy into the idea, did he listen intently, did he reject it out of hand? Which alternative is not known. But, he certainly was pursuing having the U.K. engage in peace negotiations with Germany during that summer.
Detailed files from the German side of what went on in Portugal and Spain during the summer of 1940 between the Duke, (to re-emphasize, through intermediaries not directly), and the Nazis, called collectively by them "the Windsor file," emerged after the War (despite the best efforts of both the Tories and the post-war Labour government to keep them hidden if not destroyed). But it has never been clear what exactly happened in that fevered time. As Andrew Morton (see the note below) said, was Edward a "Traitor King or a Duped Duke?"
But what we do know is the following. As noted, Edward been a Nazi sympathizer quite some time, and in that summer he was flirting with the Nazis. And he knew it. If he had been coronated in 1937 he would have had a hard time of it both because he had those sympathies and because very early on in his brief reign he had already shown an authoritarian streak. He violated the British Constitution(unwritten as it is --- only the British could do this) which since the time of Queen Victoria had provided that the Royal sovereign should have no role in actual governance. For four days after Hitler undertook his first foreign aggression and re-occupied the Rhineland in violation of the Treaty of Versailles in March 1936, Edward (by then King and head-of-state even though not yet coronated) instructed his government not to react to it. They didn't (and neither did the French). Whether that was because of a directive from Edward or not, he, according to German intelligence, did deliver it.
So what was going on? My estimation (and I must say that it is different from most interpretations of his behavior at the time) is that Edward, at some level, knew that as much as many of his aristocratic friends and certain elements of the manufacturing/commercial British ruling class agreed with him on Germany (and Italy) and fascism as a mode of governance, in one way or another he would not be permitted to continue to function that way as king.
The by-then traditional role of English king was one which did not suit him. And if war with Germany were to come, he would be forced to ceremonially be the nation's leader in it, something that his political gut would reject. (As it happened, his younger brother, the Duke of York who succeeded him as George VI, also had right-wing tendencies. But as King he was able to put them aside and was also able to abide by the British Constitution. He thus became an important ceremonial leader for the British people during the war.)
In my view further, however much he was in love with Wallis Simpson, the Duke, who had had many lovers over the course of his life (as had she), did not abdicate because of his love for her. I believe that A) he didn't want to be King as the British Constitution would have eventually required him to be, B) he really thought that things might change in that regard should there be a war that Germany could very well win, and C) he didn't really want to be the titular leader of Great Britain in any prolonged war (which of course it turned out to be).
As it happened, as previously noted, there were some very delicate negotiations, through intermediaries in Spain and Portugal in that summer of 1940, between Edward and the Nazis. (Edward and Wallis had left one of their palatial homes on the French Rivera in advance of the German arrival following the armistice with the collaborationist Petain/Laval Vichy government.) BUT, he was always VERY careful to make sure that he never actually said what it was he wanted and what he might accept. He certainly did not want to become the first English former sovereign to be executed for treason since Charles I. Hinting, but with total deniability. That was the way of Edward VIII, then the Duke of Windsor.
Which brings us to Donald Trump. Loves the limelight. Well-known as a womanizer (who, in his case, actually boasted about it on film). A deal-maker, who in the run-up to the Presidency, dallied with the nation's principal enemy (among the developed countries) at the time, Russia. The reasons? Well, there could have been collusion with the Russians over their interference in the 2016 elections. There have indeed been a variety of Trump/Russian investments, going in both directions. The famous "tape" could really exist. Of course, Trump could have had a sincere desire for "de'tente" with Russia, something the bulk of the U.S. ruling class was/is absolutely not interested in. Then of course, there are all the troubles and frustrations that he is experiencing being President, which job clearly causes him to feel hemmed-in. Further, there are his business interests and his brand, which he may well have trouble holding on to, should the Constitution's "emoluments clause" come to ensnare him.
But there is one thing that we can be absolutely sure about. Like the Duke of Windsor in his dealings with the Nazis in the summer of 1940, for Trump, in whatever dealings he did or did not have with the Russians, there is nothing (yet, at least) out there showing a direct connection between him and them, with his own fingerprints on it. Trump may be both dumb and ill-informed/educated when it comes to the history and governance of the United States and what being President is really all about besides smiling a lot at public appearances, frowning a lot over Twitter, stirring up his racist/xenophobic "base," and making promises that he cannot possibly keep. But in making sure that he cannot get caught in doing something illegal, that is something he is very good at.
American Mussolini. Nuff said.
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And oh yes, one more thing that the Donald and the Duke have in common. When things got hot with Nazi Germany the latter was still not hanging around, as King Edward VIII, to get fired in one way or another as King, by the British political elite. (England has a long history of firing kings who did not suit the times. Just ask the Stuarts, Charles I and James II. Although they did have very cute dogs, when they didn't otherwise fit, they were gone, the first beheaded, the second exiled.) And so, the Donald, when for one reason or another things get too hot (and likely too boring for his taste) will, as I have said previously, just quit. Of course, just like Nixon was pardoned by Ford, Trump will be pardoned by Pence. (Or with all of the pardons he will hand out just before he quits, he might well try pardoning himself.) And then, as noted in Part 1 of this series, he will very quickly set up his own, new, far-right, authoritarian, party, with Bannon as Chief Under-boss and Consigliere. With no limitations whatsoever, of politics, policy, what he can say in his speeches and Tweet, or the Constitution, now that, for Trump, will be seventh heaven.
For the history of the "Duke of Windsor" era, although I knew some of it from a variety of sources (including some from my childhood when after the War, the "Duke and Duchess," living in exile in France, were a recurring item in the media of the time), I am much indebted to a marvelous book about the time: 17 Carnations by Andrew Morton (Grand Central Publishing/Hachette, 2015, trade paperback edition, 2016). The title of the book refers to the 17 carnations that Nazi Ambassador von Ribbentrop apparently sent regularly to Wallis Simpson to commemorate the number of times they had been to bed together (while she was also beginning her relationship with the Prince of Wales).