Even if you don’t think he was planning to cooperate, it’s not a good look when the Nazis wanted to scoop up your discarded king and put him back on the throne—for you or the erstwhile monarch. Which is presumably why after World War II, Winston Churchill asked Dwight Eisenhower and the American government pretty please not to release Nazi telegrams discussing that very plan.
Though they never came to fruition, we’ve known since 1957 that in 1940 the Nazis kicked around plans to kidnap or even just sort of coax over to Spain the Duke of Windsor—the former Edward VIII, who abdicated as part of the fracas over whether he could marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson—and put him back on the throne of the United Kingdom as a cooperative puppet figurehead. The thinking seems to have been he’d go along with it, between his anger at how the Simpson scandal had played out and his tendency to be rather cozy with fascist Germany. It never came to anything and Edward was successfully bundled off to the Bahamas.
Now the Guardian reports on newly declassified documents from the UK’s National Archives, which revealed that Churchill tried to hush the whole thing up in 1953:
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”.
The Telegraph says he asked “on the grounds that these papers, tendentious and unreliable as they should undoubtedly be regarded, would give pain to the Duke of Windsor and leave an impression on the minds of those who read them entirely disproportionate to their historic value.”
“I feel sure your sense of justice and chivalry will make you wish to prevent the United States, by an official publication, from inflicting distress and injury upon one who has so long enjoyed their kindness and hospitality,” Churchill wrote to the American president.
Well then, maybe the Duke of Windsor shouldn’t have gone off to Germany in 1937 and been photographed meeting with Hitler!
Eisenhower replied that the telegrams were “totally unfair” to the Duke of Windsor and “obviously concocted with some idea of promoting German propaganda and weakening western resistance.” Nevertheless, Sky News says the telegrams were published anyway just a few years later when historians doing an academic project involving wartime documents threatened to walk over it.
Even the most generous reading of history still suggests that Edward VIII was an asshole.