‘The Traitor King’ by Andrew Lownie
Drawing on extensive research into hitherto unused archives and Freedom of Information requests, it makes the case that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were not the naïve dupes of the Germans but actively intrigued against Britain in both war and peace.
After reading this incendiary work of revisionist history, perhaps we need to rework the lyrics to read, “I’ve danced with a man, who’s danced with a girl, who’s compromised national security with the Prince of Wales.”
If, like me, most of your knowledge of Edward VIII is derived from fictional portrayals – Edward Fox in ‘Edward and Mrs Simpson’, Guy Pearce in ‘The King’s Speech’ – then I think it’s fair to say that you will almost certainly be horrified by the portrait of Windsor which emerges in Andrew Lownie’s first class biography.
There are a number of reasons for this shock therapy for the reader. Firstly, Lownie – an accomplished literary agent and power house behind several campaigns related to archives and freedom of information – is a powerhouse researcher. In this work he had gained access to previously unpublished memoirs by key characters in the narrative, as well as scoured the UK and US National Archives for previously unexplored resources.
Secondly, Lownie has an unparalleled knowledge and background with which to unpack his topic. His previous works: on Guy Burgess; on the Mountbattons and – to a lesser but relevant extent – John Buchan allow this Cambridge graduate to peel away the onion layers of how the British establishment really works and how it protects its own, obfuscates and evolves.
Finally, it deals with a clearly under explored aspect of this tale. Book of book, movie and TV show has dealt with the abdication – the run up to it, the emotional aftermath, the toll it took on the unsuspecting successor Bertie and his stoic daughter.
But little to nothing has been written of Edward and Wallis’ post-abdication roles. Along the way, he had uncovered enough salacious details of their sex lives to keep the most prurient reader happy whilst also painting a frankly horrifying portrait of the personalities of the two of the major figures of twentieth century history.
Edward emerges as a tone deaf man/child who literally could not be trusted. Secrets are shared with the Germans and his rampant anti-semitism continues, according to sources quoted here, throughout his entire life.
As Europe is falling and Hitler is sweeping away opposition, the nearly King embarks on his famous 1938 German Tour. “The couple arrived by train in Berlin at a station festooned with alternating Union Jacks and swastikas, to be met by Robert Ley, the head of the National Labour Front, [and] the foreign minister Ribbentrop.”
This is before we are treated the sheer tone deaf imagery of Edward and Simpson leacving for their “honeymoon in a convoy of cars to join the Simplon-Orient Express, which had been kept waiting for them. They were accompanied by Dudley Forwood, an attaché at the British Legation in Vienna… two cairn terriers, a pair of Scotland Yard detectives whose brief was as much to spy on as guard the Windsors, and 186 trunks and 80 additional items of luggage.” Modest, retiring and appropriate, they are not.
This is all rather good clean, if horrifying fun, but Lownie is not an author who allows his reader complacency. Just as one has adapted to a former monarch gnashing his teeth abroad, surrounded by unwise companion, but a sort of exasperatingly neutered Charles II before you are treated to the emotional consequences of this collusion.
“Another day was spent in Dusseldorf for an industrial exhibit, where they toured a miners’ hospital and a concentration camp. Forwood later recalled, ‘We saw this enormous concrete building which, of course, I now know contained inmates. The duke asked, “What is that?” Our host replied, “It is where they store the cold meat.”’
Andrew Lownie has produced another first class piece of revisionist history which still contains the power to intrigue, shock and startle. If you read only one excoriating deconstruction of the power dynamics of the British state this year, make it this one.
Author BioAndrew Lownie was born in 1961 and was educated in Britain and America. He read history at Magdalene College, Cambridge where he was President of the Union. He went on to gain an MSc at Edinburgh University and spend a year at the College of Law in London. After a period as a bookseller and journalist, he began his publishing career as the graduate trainee at Hodder & Stoughton. In 1985 became an agent at John Farquharson, now part of Curtis Brown, and the following year became the then youngest director in British publishing when he was appointed a director. He set up the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency in 1988. Since 1984 he has written and reviewed for a range of newspapers and magazines, including The Times, Spectator and Guardian, which has given him good journalistic contacts. As an author himself, most notably of a biography of John Buchan, a literary companion to Edinburgh and a prize-winning biography of the spy Guy Burgess, he has an understanding of the issues and problems affecting writers. He has acted as the literary agent to the international writers’ organisation PEN. In 1998 he founded The Biographers Club, a monthly dining society for biographers and those involved in promoting biography, and The Biographers’ Club Prize which supports first-time biographers. He has had a regular advice column in the writing magazine Words with Jam, written the entries on submitting to agents for The Writers Handbook and The Writers and Artists Yearbook, contributed to The Arvon Book of Life Writing and regularly gives talks on aspects of publishing. (Biography courtesy of www.andrewlownie.co.uk)