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Friday, 31 January, 2003, 11:42 GMT
Royal abdication: You asked experts
Duke and Duchess of Windsor

  Click here to watch the forum

  • Click here for transcript.


    Wallis Simpson had an affair with a car dealer while being courted by the future Edward VIII, according to previously confidential documents.

    The documents throw new light on the love affair that led to the abdication crisis a year later in 1936.

    King Edward VIII chose to marry the twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson, - "the woman I love" - rather than retain the throne.

    A 'gentleman's agreement' among the press ensured that very little detail about the circumstances of the King's abdication was ever published.

    Historian Andrew Roberts and Dr Stephen Twigge, head of record selection at the Public Record Office, answered your questions in a LIVE interactive forum.


    Transcript:

    Newshost:
    Hello I'm Andrew Simmons, welcome to this BBC News interactive forum. Hundreds of documents that reveal the hidden truth behind the abdication crisis of Edward VIII have been released today. One revelation is that Wallis Simpson was unfaithful to Edward. Her secret lover was a car salesman called Guy Trundle, described by Special Branch as "a very charming adventurer and an excellent dancer".

    Well we're taking your questions on this intriguing story and believe me there are many of them. And here to answer as many questions as we can fit in Dr Stephen Twigge, head of record selection at the Public Record Office, and to historian Andrew Roberts. Thanks very much for joining us gentlemen.

    Let's start off then with a question from David Boyle from Dublin in Ireland and he's asking you: "Are the files released today complete or have materials, still deemed to be sensitive for publication, been withheld?"

    Stephen Twigge:
    I think I'll deal with that first. As far as we're aware they are complete. Whitehall departments are asked to provide a full list of documents about last year - halfway through last year - which we managed to go through and there didn't appear to be any major reductions or any major document losses, so the assumption being that yes it is a complete account of the abdication.

    Newshost:
    Okay, well let's get over now to Andrew and deal with some of the history. Barbara Boulton from Bristol: "Was it the unsuitability of Mrs Simpson or the unsuitability of Edward to be King that finally caused the abdication? I'm assuming that really he was pushed rather than jumping."

    Andrew Roberts:
    No, it was very much - it was very much her unsuitability. Not that she was an American - that's paranoia frankly - it's the fact that she was twice divorced, or at least once divorced and then got divorced again from Ernest Simpson, during the course of the crisis. And it was considered to be quite impossible to have, as Queen of England, somebody who had already been divorced twice.

    Newshost:
    And of course when you say the divorce question well of course we now found out that there was a secret lover.

    Andrew Roberts:
    Yes, yes. Of course the Prince of Wales wasn't married at the time and none of these - it wasn't a royal scandal in that Mr Trundle wasn't royal and neither Wallis Windsor - Wallis Simpson as was then. But this gentleman who - some people are saying was a car salesman, others have pointed out was actually quite a senior RAF officer before he went into - he lived in Bruton Street in Mayfair, he was obviously quite a grand car salesman...

    Newshost:
    But he was selling Fords at the end of the day.

    Andrew Roberts:
    He was selling Ford cars, that's right. But nonetheless this is new, this is something that nobody knew before.

    Newshost:
    Okay, let's move on to one of the questions about the facts of this affair and I'll put this one to Stephen. It comes from Phil Wade from Norwich in England. "What did Special Branch have to say about the Prince of Wales Nazi sympathies? Is it not true that he was a traitor?

    Stephen Twigge:
    There's very little about Nazi sympathies in these records collection. Special Branch were obviously following Wallis and there is some evidence that she met Oswald Moseley and there are some records on a subsequent trip to Germany. But there's very little there to substantiate any allegations of Nazi sympathies.

    Andrew Roberts:
    Let alone treachery - I don't think there's anything to suggest, certainly not in newspapers, but in general the idea that the Duke of Windsor was a traitor is quite frankly absurd.

    Newshost:
    What about the issue though from the conspiracy theorists about elements that could be missing from these files?

    Andrew Roberts:
    Well conspiracy theorists will always come up with - whatever you have there will always be conspiracy theories, especially something to do with Edward and Mrs Simpson - it's rather like Rudolph Hess, you know they spawn conspiracy theories.

    Newshost:
    But aren't you surprised that there's no reference to his alleged German sympathies in those files?

    Andrew Roberts:
    No because we - in the Foreign Office papers, of course it was a totally open thing, in front of the world he met Adolf Hitler in October 1937, so it's not - but then so did David Lloyd George and nobody accuses him of being a Nazi sympathiser.

    Newshost:
    Paul M.C. Ebbens from Norwich in England wants to know: "Could you tell me the reasons why the King was denied his request of speaking to the Empire about the situation?" That's an interesting point.

    Andrew Roberts:
    That was simply because, if you look at the speech, it was far too emotional, it might well have made the British people and the people in the colonies actually - and the dominions - actually wind up on his side.

    Newshost:
    It could have changed history couldn't it?

    Andrew Roberts:
    This is something that Stanley Baldwin was not going to allow because he - and therefore he threatened to resign effectively and the King on major issues constitutionally cannot act without the advice of his ministers and so he wasn't allowed to make that speech.

    Stephen Twigge:
    There's a wonderful record of Baldwin getting in touch with the Director General of the BBC to make sure there was no surreptitious broadcast behind the government's back - so it's a quite fascinating image of what possibly could have happened.

    Newshost:
    And of course there was this gentleman's agreement amongst the press not to publish details of the affair - is there any notice of that in the documents?

    Stephen Twigge:
    Oh indeed, the press in many ways you would probably characterise as supine by today's standards - they went along with the government's wishes not to actually state anything and the only time they actually went into the fray was after the Bishop of Bradford had alluded to the affair.

    Andrew Roberts:
    And it turned out later the Bishop of Bradford didn't even know he was alluding to the affair, it was all a great mistake. But there was an element of absurdity here because both the American and the continental newspapers had been covering this story in detail for months.

    Newshost:
    Looking at the documents then Stephen, Nigel Cooke's question here from Croydon: "What do you consider was the worst possible scenario that the government of the day feared might come out of the episode?"

    Stephen Twigge:
    I suppose what we've just been speaking about - the King going above the government's head and bringing the government down. We have Churchill who was a close friend of Edward, threatening to form a King's party, Baldwin's government was not particularly popular and Churchill would have then come to the fore in support the King, split the country and defeated the government.

    Andrew Roberts:
    I think that was their fear, I don't think there were any - that even Churchill was planning anything like it himself. But the government were absolutely terrified that this was going to happen, I mean that's very clear, isn't it, from the Cabinet documents.

    Newshost:
    David Logan from Brisbane in Australia wants to know: "Are there documents in the Public Record Office which record the views of the various different prime ministers in Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand in response to the questions that Prime Minister Baldwin sent to them about the future of King Edward VIII?"

    Stephen Twigge:
    The dominions aspect is fascinating in that the standard view was that the dominions agreed and we now found out that they didn't and they were quite keen on having Wallis as Queen, possibly some of them?

    Andrew Roberts:
    Well New Zealand seemed to be the most liberal minded, which is surprising because it didn't have that reputation at the time. The Prime Minister of Canada, William Mackenzie King, actually said that he thought that the whole of the crisis would be over if the King was reminded how much Canadians loved him - which didn't seem to make very much sense really because presumably the King knew perfectly well how much Canadians loved him but nonetheless he went ahead with it. But the dominions aspect, I think, takes up a good percentage of the boxes - the hundred or so boxes - and are certainly one of the most important aspects of the case.

    Stephen Twigge:
    They had a bizarre scenario where he abdicated a day early in South Africa, which meant that there was no King in South Africa for that period - a bizarre situation which had tried to be remedied but the South Africans are having none of it. You also have Eamon de Valera - who was involved, he was part of the dominions at the time or Irish free state were part of the dominions and their consent was asked for and de Valera in his own way was basically saying well I don't really mind which king we have.

    Newshost:
    Well this is a question from Yoon Fatt from Malaysia who wants to know: "What happened to them after abdication? Did they live happily ever after and grow old together?"

    Andrew Roberts:
    Well they did grow old together, definitely yes, until their death. There were no divorces or anything like that as you got later on in the history of the Royal Family. Whether they were happy is a difficult one, they certainly seemed to - their servants and friends believed that it was a good working relationship and they certainly proclaimed their happiness to the world but detractors claim that he was very much under her thumb.

    Stephen Twigge:
    There was also a sort of period during the war when he was governor of the Bahamas, which was quite a pleasant place to spend the war.

    Newshost:
    And I gather that there were some documentation about his time in the Bahamas amongst the files.

    Stephen Twigge:
    There's a very limited amount, most of the period that the files cover is primarily the abdication, there are some of the files which go up to the '70s with - Edward Heath is covered in some of them and his wish to normalise relations and invite the Duchess back without unduly upsetting the Royal Family.

    Newshost:
    FBI files?

    Stephen Twigge:
    Although we wouldn't have FBI files the Americans have released quite a few FBI files relating to that period - the 40s, where I think there's quite a few suggestions that the Duke was under surveillance by the FBI.

    Andrew Roberts:
    Yes, yes he was and I'm afraid some of them are so absurd. An absolute classic example in one FBI file it claims that when Ribbentrop, Joachim von Ribbentrop, later foreign secretary of Germany but at that time German ambassador to Britain, was ambassador, he sent 17 red roses to Wallis Simpson every day and they were lovers as well. The sheer impossibility of this on so many different levels is pretty straightforward to most historians. The fact is that quite a lot of FBI agents actually just wrote what they think their superiors wanted to hear.

    Stephen Twigge:
    And we have an element of that in the Special Branch files I think. One says what was the purpose of these Special Branch files? Were they to slur the Duchess or the future Duchess, who authorised them, I mean what was the purpose? In some of them we have allegations that the Simpson's were Jewish which is patently false, so it's difficult to say how much credence to put on these allegations.

    Newshost:
    This e-mail's just come in from Richard Abbot in London who asks: "One of the solutions proposed at the abdication crisis was a morganatic marriage. Were Edward and Mrs Simpson in good faith when they named this proposal? Also how likely is it that a morganatic in Britain would have worked or might ever work in the future?"

    Andrew Roberts:
    Well British law provides for no such thing. When a woman marries she takes the rank and status of her husband.

    Newshost:
    Could you explain morganatic to us?

    Andrew Roberts:
    Morganatic marriage means that he stays King but she doesn't become Queen, that she will take a lesser title - Countess of this or maybe even Duchess of that - but doesn't actually sit on the throne with Edward. And it would be a completely new thing under British law because ever since the reign - I think I'm right in saying - of Edward III wives have taken the rank and status of their husbands. So it really wasn't a runner. But they did - he suggested it, the King suggested it and it was considered seriously but it would have required ripping up every piece of precedence. But then of course an abdication does anyway because we hadn't one since the reign of King Stephen.

    Newshost:
    Well this sort of hinges in with this question from Dorys Saxiehner from Miami in the USA: "If Edward VIII had to abdicate because he wanted to marry a divorced woman why is marrying Camilla an option for the Prince of Wales?"

    Andrew Roberts:
    Because society has changed so much since 1937 - divorce is no longer the - and one thinks of course of the Queen's children, three of four of whom have got divorced. So frankly it's not the same any longer.

    Newshost:
    Sheila McGowan wants to know: "Did the late Queen Mother support these new changes?" i.e. the possible marriage of Camilla.

    Stephen Twigge:
    The present Queen Mother?

    Newshost:
    The present Queen Mother.

    Stephen Twigge:
    That's speculating on exactly what the Queen Mother would have supported. I doubt it, given her views of the Wallis case, she was certainly against the idea of morganatic marriage, it certainly wouldn't have worked, she was quite a proper woman and was very much of the opinion that a marriage should be a proper marriage and this idea of a halfway house I just don't think would have sat well with her views and personality

    Andrew Roberts:
    Although we know that she liked Camilla Parker-Bowles personally and they got on well, she invited Camilla to stay at various of her houses and castles in Scotland. So it wasn't in no sense a personal thing.

    Newshost:
    This one from Abdulfez in Japan: "Do you agree with the opinion expressed by many that the abdication crisis and following conclusion were a ripe training ground for the Queen Mother's dismissive treatment of Princess Diana?" I've not heard that opinion expressed by the way.

    Andrew Roberts:
    Well I think if anything actually the gentleman has got it wrong because in fact it was the Queen Mother who put forward Princess Diana to be the wife of the Prince of Wales. She was the granddaughter of Lady Femoy her best friend and Lady-in-Waiting and I think that it's wrong to say that the Queen Mother was dismissive. I think she appreciated the danger for the monarchy that Princess Diana later posed but again there was nothing personal about it.

    Stephen Twigge:
    Quite an interesting parallel with these papers to the present day is that you have questions of a morganatic marriage, you have people being followed by Special Branch and one can see certain parallels and one can draw certain conclusions.

    Newshost:
    Well gentlemen there's an e-mail here which has just come in which I think is probably all we have time for. It's from John Parker from France: "The files are wholly unimportant today, what they do reveal is that the press could not be trusted to fully inform the public then and I see no reason why the situation is any different today."

    Andrew Roberts:
    Well the situation is completely different today, not least because you have television, because you have far more intrusive media, you don't have that sense of responsibility effectively, you don't have Sir John Reith at the BBC able to completely dominate the whole of networks. Frankly you have press proprietors in those days who were great personal friends of the King, frankly Rupert Murdoch no friend of the British monarchy, so the whole thing is absolutely and totally different today.

    Newshost:
    Do you agree - would you dismiss the cynics as well?

    Stephen Twigge:
    I would agree with Andrew, I think the situation is completely different - it's much more intrusive now, the concept and the prospect of a number of press barons sitting on a piece of information as juicy as a possible abdication just wouldn't happen.

    Newshost:
    Gentlemen thank you very much. Thanks to Dr Stephen Twigge and Andrew Roberts. And thank you for all of those questions and apologies for those we couldn't fit in. From now goodbye from me Andrew Simmons and the rest of the BBC interactive news team here at TV Centre.


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