Morton's new book is a study of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. 17 Carnations, The Royals, The Nazis and the Biggest Cover-up in History.
King Edward VIII abdicated the British throne in December, 1936 in order to marry a twice-divorced American woman, Mrs. Wallis Simpson. As the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the couple lived an international life style among the jet set, a life increasingly meaningless as the years went by. The Duke of Windsor died in 1972, the Duchess in 1986.
I spoke to Andrew Morton from his home in Los Angeles.
CP: What does the title mean, 17 Carnations?
AM: That's the number of roses Joachim von Ribbentrop sent to Mrs. Simpson during their affair in London, while he was the German ambassador to Great Britain. The number supposedly is the times they were together.
CP: How active was Mrs. Simpson in the abdication? Could she have stopped it?
AM: Mrs. Simpson tried to stop it. She issued a statement saying Don't do it! But she realized that, and so did Edward VIII's friends that he was very obstinate. He set his heart on marrying Wallis and she was stuck in a corner. She even considered sailing to China to get away from him. She realized he would follow her, and it would be a more undignified situation than that which eventuated.
CP: Shortly after their marriage in 1937 they toured Germany and were photographed with Hitler. What do you think the duke was trying to accomplish with this visit?
AM: Supposedly he was going to look at housing project. Beneath that it was really to show Wallis
CP: Do you think, the duke found anything admirable in Nazi Germany?
AM: Yes, he very much admired Nazi Germany. He thought Hitler was doing a very good job in restoring stability to a country under the Wiemar regime of the 1920s , which was when inflation was rampant, unemployment was high, there was fighting in the streets between Communists and right wing organizations like the Nazis, The duke felt that Hitler restored stability and order to Germany.
CP: You write that there was plot to put Edward back on the throne as King of a German conquered Great Britain. Was the duke aware of this plot?
AM: At the time he wasn't aware of this secret plot, hatched by Hitler and his right hand man Joachim von Ribbentrop. Ribbentrop allegedly had an affair with Wallis Simpson , hence the tile of the book 17 Carnations. At the time Hitler, under Operation Willi as it was known, planned to seduce Windsor back to Spain -they were then staying in Lisbon-where they could be kept in a castle and held in abeyance waiting for the Nazis to invade Britain . Then he would be restored as the King. In Norway, Holland and in all the monarchies the Nazi invaded, they desperately tried to capture the King or the Queen in order to use them as pawns.
CP: You make the point that in 1937 the duke was not alone in his sympathy for Nazi Germany
AM: Not just the British people but the Americans too. Hitler in Mein Kampf gave Henry Ford a special honorary mention . Many American companies did business with the Nazis and wanted that business to continue during the war. In Britain, Hitler was known by Lloyd George as the George Washington of Germany! Hitler had a tremendous following both in America and in Britain.
CP: The Windsors were stashed out of the way in the Bahamas during the war, where the duke was made Governor general. Was he rehabilitated after the war for his pro German views?
AM: No, he was never really rehabilitated. Quite frankly, after the war when the full horrors of the Third Reich were exposed, when the films of the camps were made known, anybody remotely supportive of Nazi Germany in the 1930s was looked upon with disdain. The duke's right wing views and his friendship with Hitler were seen as very badly judged. Particularity once people became aware of what the Germans had been doing before and during the war.
One of the positions of this book is to show how the British and the Americans tried to destroy papers relating to the Duke of Windsor and his views held during the war. They felt these could be extremely embarrassing for the British monarchy.
CP: There were huge files hidden away in a schloss in German under the pretext of letters from Queen Victoria to her eldest daughter .
AM: In fact there were two operations going on. King George VI was sending some of his courtiers out to Germany to a German castle to pick up letters from Queen Victoria . They were also told, keep an eye out for any correspondence between the Duke of Windsor and Hitler.
CP: But to what extent are those sentiments because the duchess was so totally rejected by everybody in Britain Certainly the Royal Family
AM: Very much so. Wallis Simpson was seen as a Nazi spy. She was seen as one notch up from a whore . She was seen by Queen Mary, the duke's mother, as a sexual hypnotist and those sentiments drove the Duke of Windsor wild. He had utter contempt for his brother the king. And for his sister in law and the whole court . It really altered his thinking toward Britain and the Royal family.
CP: Does the evidence really portray the duchess as a selfish and unpleasant woman ?
AM: She was born into penury. She was always worried that the trap door was always open and that she would fall back in , so she was quite grasping. There are a couple of incidents that showed that. When she was in Lisbon about to go to the Bahamas during the war, she insisted that her green bathing suit, which she had left behind in their rented villa in the south of France, in Vichy-enemy control, be retrieved by the American consul. He duly did that. Went to the house which was all boarded up in enemy territory and got the swimsuit!
Secondly, she insisted through the duke that he contact the Germans in France about looking after the security of their two rented properties, and for their possessions. Their silverware, and for their very fine bed linen. She was very, very self absorbed.
CP: While children were being blown up she was worried about her bathing suit .Finally, you are no stranger to controversy with books about the Royal family. Have you had any push back from 17 Carnations?
AM: Yes. The feeling in Britain is that you shouldn't re open these issues. But we live in the age of Wikileaks . For once though, the controversy gets it right: There was a conspiracy to protect the duke and duchess of Windsor by the British Establishment from embarrassment and from their behavior harming the monarchy. It's a fascinating story