Churchill tried to suppress Nazi plot to restore Edward VIII to British throne
PM sought US and French help to withhold publication of telegrams revealing German overtures to Duke and Duchess of Windsor, cabinet papers reveal
Edward and Wallis Simpson are greeted by Adolf Hitler during a visit to Nazi Germany in 1937.
Alan Travis Home affairs editor
Thursday 20 July 2017 10.01 BST Last modified on Thursday 20 July 2017 17.20 BST
Winston Churchill wanted “to destroy all traces” of telegrams revealing a Nazi plot to reinstate the former King Edward VIII to the British throne in return for his support during the second world war, newly released cabinet papers have revealed.
The telegrams document Nazi plans to kidnap the Duke of Windsor – the title granted to Edward following his abdication in 1936 – and his wife, Wallis Simpson, when they reached Portugal after fleeing their Paris home when France fell to German forces in 1940.
The Cabinet Office file published on Thursday by the National Archives reveals how Churchill appealed to the US president, Dwight Eisenhower, and the French government to prevent publication of the intercepted German telegrams for “at least 10 or 20 years”.
Churchill, the UK prime minister, said the captured German telegrams offering Edward the British throne in the event of a Nazi invasion of Britain were “tendentious and unreliable” and likely to leave the misleading impression that the duke “was in close touch with German agents and was listening to suggestions that were disloyal”.
Churchill made his appeal to Eisenhower after learning that a microfilm copy of the telegrams, which were found in German archives at the end of the war, had been sent to the US State Department and were being considered for inclusion in the official US history of the conflict.
Eisenhower told Churchill on 2 July 1953 that US intelligence shared his assessment that the communications were “obviously concocted with some idea of promoting German propaganda and weakening western resistance” and were “totally unfair” to the duke.
Churchill told the US president that fears for the duke’s safety had led to his appointment as governor of the Bahamas, part of “strenuous efforts to get him away from Europe beyond the reach of the enemy”.
The German telegrams claim that the duke and duchess reacted with surprise when it was suggested to them that Edward might yet have another opportunity to take the throne. “Both seem to be completely bound up in formalistic ways of thought since they replied that according to British constitution this was not possible after abdication,” one telegram says. “When [an] agent then remarked the course of war may produce changes even in the British constitution the Duchess in particular became very thoughtful.”
Churchill told cabinet on 12 August 1953, in a top secret memorandum, that the duke had no knowledge of the telegrams. “The late King [George VI], who had seen the documents, confined himself to insisting that if publication could not be avoided, the Duke of Windsor should be given full and timely warning,” the papers reveal.
Churchill succeeded only in delaying the publication of the telegrams for a few years. When they did come to light, in 1957, duke denounced them as “complete fabrications”.
• This article was amended on 20 July 2017. Due to an editing error, an earlier version incorrectly said that Edward VIII abdicated in 1938. This has been corrected. The picture caption said that in 1937 Edward was later to become King Edward VIII. This has also been corrected.
Kenneth Harris interviews HRH Duke of Windsor, the former King Edward VIII, and his spouse Wallis, Duchess of Windsor