That dull roar audible all weekend was the sound of the United Kingdom’s national press, freaking the fuck out over some leaked footage of a 7-year-old Queen Elizabeth seemingly giving a Nazi salute.
It all started when the tabloid Sun published a home video, shot at Balmoral circa 1933 or ‘34, showing seven-year-old Elizabeth apparently trying out the Nazi salute while Prince Edward watches on. Her mother then joins in, with what looks to be one of her own. The headline: “Their Royal Heilnesses.”
Obviously, this denoted in the news cycle with the force of a proverbial hydrogen bomb.
“This is a family playing and momentarily referencing a gesture many would have seen from contemporary news reels,” officials at Buckingham Palace quickly told the Independent, adding that “no one at that time had any sense how it would evolve.” The Independent notes that “The infamous gesture was used widely in Britain to mock Hitler at the time and its performance was not automatically considered an approval of his regime.” Even the Sun’s managing editor Stig Abell told the BBC that, “We’re very clear. We’re of course not suggesting anything improper on behalf of the Queen or the Queen Mum.” But:
“I think this is a piece of social history. One of the most significant events in our country’s history, the Second World War, the rise of Nazism, one of the most pernicious movements in human history, and I think one is entitled to have a look at some of the background to it.”
Regardless, Queen Elizabeth was too young to have a good grasp on her multiplication tables—forget the intricacies of geopolitics.
But the story has stirred some very old tensions. Edward’s relationship to the Nazis has been a source of debate for years, fueled by things like his infamous post-abdication visit to Germany with Wallis Simpson, where he met Hitler himself. This was in 1937, when everybody was waking up to which way the wind was blowing. And as historian Karina Urbach notes at the Guardian, the Windsors had a whole bunch of Nazi cousins over among the German aristocracy. (Not to mention the upper-crust Brits like Unity and Diana Mitford, the Hitler groupie and the one who married a fascist aristocrat, who both spent time socializing with Hitler.)
And so, the Guardian reports, the video has inspired renewed calls for public access to the closed royal archives:
Respected historians said that releasing some of the material, which stretches back over 250 years, would add to the country’s knowledge of the Queen and provide important historical context to the links between some leading royals and the Third Reich before the second world war.
Mark Almond, professor of modern history at Oxford University, said: “Opening up aspects of the Queen’s early years is not going to damage respect for the monarchy. It can only reinforce her standing with the public.
“This film reminds us of how many challenges this country has overcome in the last eight decades under the Windsors.”
Nevermind all that, though, because the Daily Mail found the only angle that matters:
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