The Duchess of Windsor – Was she a nazi sympathiser? (Part two)

wallis edward hitler
Shawshots / Alamy Stock Photo

Read part one here.

The ‘state visit’ to Nazi-Germany

After the abdication and their subsequent marriage, the newly minted Duke and Duchess of Windsor visited Hitler’s Germany. In October 1937, the German government paid for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to visit Germany. They went against the advice of the British government, but there was little they could do to prevent it. Just before the trip, King George VI’s private secretary wrote, “Eden had discussed the matter with the Prime Minister, and it was agreed that nothing could, of course, be done to stop the contemplated tour.”

The Duke and Duchess needed to do something to restore their image, but the decision to go was very foolish, indeed. The trip would be used as evidence that they were Nazis indeed. On 11 October 1937, the Duke and Duchess arrived at the Friedrichstraße station, and they were treated like it was a state visit. The visit included an inspection of a Nazi training school in Pomerania, where they were greeted by an SS-band playing the British national anthem.

The Duke and Duchess also visited Carinhall – Hermann Göring’s estate – where they had tea. During a dinner with Joachim von Ribbentrop in Berlin, they also met Albert Speer and Joseph and Magda Goebbels, who were very impressed. Joseph later wrote in his diary, “The Duke is wonderful – a nice sympathetic fellow who is open and clear and with a healthy understanding of people… It is a shame he is no longer King. With him, we would have entered into an alliance.”1

On 19 October in Nuremberg, the Duke and Duchess had dinner with the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, who was a male-line grandson of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Before the trip, he had written to the Duke of Windsor, “Dear David! I hear that you are coming to Germany… I naturally would be delighted if you could take this opportunity to see me; perhaps I could introduce you to a couple of interesting personalities whom you otherwise wouldn’t meet during your trip.”2 Over 100 guests were in attendance at the Grand Hotel.

The Duke and Duchess then met Hitler himself at the Berghof in Obersalzberg on 22 October. They were thrilled because Hitler addressed the Duchess with “Royal Highness”, which had been denied her in England. Afterwards, Hitler escorted the couple to their car, and one reporter noted, “The Duchess was visibly impressed with the Führer’s personality, and he apparently indicated that they had become fast friends by giving her an affectionate farewell. Hitler took both their hands in his saying a long goodbye, after which he stiffened to a rigid Nazi salute that the Duke returned.” According to Hitler’s translator, he said of Wallis, “She would have made a good Queen.”3

Their final evening of the trip was spent at the home of Rudolf and Ilse Hess, who hosted a dinner party for 14 people.

Even the Germans were somewhat confused about the reason for the trip. Afterwards, the British consul wrote, “Germans here were much puzzled about the reasons for the tour which many of them attributed to the Duke’s supposed strong pro-Fascist sympathies. This belief was strengthened by the words which H.R.H is alleged to have used to sum up his impressions of the tour, and which was rendered by Dr Ley to a recent meeting of the German Labor Front in Leipzig as follows: ‘I have travelled the world, and my upbringing has made me familiar with great achievements of mankind, but that which I have seen in Germany I had hitherto believed to be impossible. It cannot be grasped and is a miracle; one can only begin to understand it when one realizes that behind it all is one and one will.'”4

The Duke and Duchess’ visit attracted the interest of the FBI. In September 1940, a report to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover said, “For some time the British Government has known that the Duchess of Windsor was exceedingly pro-German in her sympathies and connections and there is strong reason to believe that this is the reason why she was considered so obnoxious to the British Government that they refused to permit Edward to marry her and maintain the throne.”5

The Duke of Windsor’s equerry, Dudley Forwood, later said, “Whereas the Duke, Duchess and I had no idea that the Germans were or would be committing mass murder on the Jews, we were none of us averse to Hitler politically. We felt that the Nazi regime was a more appropriate government than the Weimar Republic, which has been extremely socialist.”6

The Marburg Files

In 1957 plans were made to publish the so-called Marburg files under the title “Documents on German Foreign Policy, Volume X, Series D.”7 These files, found at the German Castle of Marburg shortly after the war, contained a file of around 60 pages of concerning the Duke of Windsor. This included correspondence concerning a plot called Operation Willi which, if successful, meant that the Duke would have been offered the throne of the United Kingdom as a puppet King. One telegram even claimed that this plan to reinstate the Duke as King was discussed with the Duke and Duchess.

Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin did not believe it was in the public interest to release the Duke’s file in 1945. He wrote, “The documents have no bearing on war crimes or the general history of the war […] a disclosure would, in my opinion, do grave harm to the national interest.”8

When the file finally saw the light of day in 1957, both the government and the Duke of Windsor released statements denying the claims in the German telegrams. While the Duke did acknowledge that pro-Nazi sympathisers did try to delay him in Europe, he insisted that he treated it “with the contempt that it deserved.” He said that the telegrams were “in part complete fabrications” and “in part gross distortions of the truth.”9 The British Foreign Office stated that the Duke, “never wavered in his loyalty to the British cause… The German records are necessarily a much-tainted source. The only firm evidence is of what the Germans were trying to do in this matter and how completely they failed.”10

It is quite possible that the telegrams were truthful and that the Duke was willing to take the best deal possible, but the fact remains that the telegrams are second-hand accounts of what he is alleged to have said.11 There is no (surviving?) evidence in his (or their) own hand in the plot.

Wallis herself had been distrusted from the very beginning of her relationship with the Duke, and it is perhaps no surprise that any indication of untrustworthiness was exploited. Wallis enjoyed the attention being paid to her by the German diplomats, but she was probably no more pro-Nazi than many in the cabinet at the time. Prime Minister Baldwin never accused her of having German sympathies, either at the time or after.12 

It is quite telling that any mention of the Duchess is, after all these years, still followed by the accusation of her being a Nazi or having Nazi sympathies. Were they foolish when they visited Germany in 1937? Absolutely. However, neither she nor the Duke were ever members of the Nazi Party, and while they may have favoured the early regime over a socialist government, it can hardly be said that they supported the atrocities that followed.

The evidence here is not enough for a conviction.


Our book The Duchess of Windsor – A Collection of Articles is available now in the US and the UK.

  1. Royals and the Reich: The Princes von Hessen in Nazi Germany by Jonathan Petropoulos p.208
  2. Royals and the Reich: The Princes von Hessen in Nazi Germany by Jonathan Petropoulos p.207
  3. Royals and the Reich: The Princes von Hessen in Nazi Germany by Jonathan Petropoulos p.209
  4. Royals and the Reich: The Princes von Hessen in Nazi Germany by Jonathan Petropoulos p.209
  5. Royals and the Reich: The Princes von Hessen in Nazi Germany by Jonathan Petropoulos p.210
  6. Obituary
  7. You can read the files here.
  8. Princes at War by Deborah Cadbury p.325
  9. Princes at War by Deborah Cadbury p.355
  10. The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.381
  11. Princes at War by Deborah Cadbury p.355
  12. That woman by Anna Sebba p.127

About Moniek Bloks 2702 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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