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 Thursday, 30 January, 2003, 00:00 GMT
Royals kept Windsors in exile
The Royal ban: King's letter to PM
The Royal ban: King's letter to PM

The Queen Mother's role in keeping the Duke and Duchess of Windsor out of Britain after the abdication in 1936 and in preventing a royal title for the Duchess has been illustrated in documents released by the Public Record Office.

Because of their attitude towards my wife and myself, I blame the Royal Family for any controversy which might arise on my return.

Duke of Windsor
In a letter to the then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain dated 14 December 1938, King George VI said his brother, who had abdicated almost exactly two years previously, should be told that he could not pay a visit from his exile in France if he were accompanied by the Duchess.

"I have heard from all sides," wrote the King, "that there is a strong feeling amongst all classes that my brother should not return here even for a short visit with the Duchess of Windsor."

He went on: "I think you know that neither the Queen [Elizabeth who became Queen Mother] nor Queen Mary [The King's and Duke's mother] have any desire to meet the Duchess of Windsor."

Open in new window : Abdication papers
See the documents for the first time

In a memo in 1937 to the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary Sir John Simon referred to the legal process under which the title of "Her Royal Highness" was denied to the Duchess.

A letter from the Home Secretary on whether Wallis Simpson should be made an HRH
HRH: Debate on title for Simpson
"You are aware how strongly the King and Queen desire this situation to be established," wrote Sir John. "I believe Queen Mary also has strong views."

The situation was established despite angry protests from the Duke which the files show were repeated long after the war.

On one occasion, he protested to Mr Chamberlain who had called on him in Paris. The prime minister noted: "The Duke spoke of his vexation that the title of Royal Highness had not been bestowed on the Duchess.

"He thought it was due to the mendacious and disgraceful stories that had been spread about."

Chamberlain, ever the negotiator, suggested that he go on his own but was told: "Married people ought not to be separated."

The denied visit was also the subject of correspondence between the former king and Mr Chamberlain, who at the same time was trying to deal with the growing menace of Hitler. The Munich agreement had pre-occupied him only a short time before.

After being told the bad news, the Duke railed in a letter to the Prime Minister: "Because of their attitude towards my wife and myself, I blame the Royal Family for any controversy which might arise on my return.

"I must therefore tell you frankly that I will never allow this attitude on their part to be used as a reason to keep me out of my country."

HRH: Ministers feared Simpson would use title

There is another, seven page, furious missive from the Duke to the Prime Minister in 1937.

In the letter, the Duke complained bitterly that he might lose an allowance (approximately 25,000 a year) from the King if he visited Britain without the King's (and therefore in effect the government's) permission.

"I cannot refrain from saying that the treatment which has been meted out to my wife and myself since last December, both by the Royal Family and the government, has caused us acute pain," he said.

The decision, he said was "unfair and intolerable as it would be tantamount to my accepting payment for remaining in exile." He had "never intended to renounce my native land or my right to return it - for all time."

The letter had no effect. His brother the King wrote back to say "the continuation of this voluntary allowance must depend on your not returning to this country without my approval."

Far more serious to the government was the behaviour of the Duke and Duchess.

It must not be assumed that she has abandoned hope of becoming Queen of England.

Sir Horace Wilson
In 1937 they paid a visit to Hitler. The Foreign Office wrote a sharp warning letter to the British Ambassador in Berlin not to have anything to do with the visit.

"His Royal Highness and the Duchess must not be treated by His Majesty's representatives as having any official status during the visit," said the telegram.

The Ambassador was told to send a secretary, a junior diplomat, to the railway station to meet them. "You should not attend yourself," stressed the Foreign Office.

The fact that the Duchess of Windsor was looking forward to meeting Hitler is indicated by a note from the British ambassador in Paris that she had told a member of his staff that she and the Duke would be "entertained by Herr Hitler" when in Germany.

One British official said that she had been "in touch with the Nazis" but there is no evidence that this went beyond planning the Germany trip.

Hostile comments

One of the most hostile comments about the Duchess of Windsor came from Sir Horace Wilson, a close adviser to the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin in 1936 within days of the abdication.

He wrote: "It is clear to me that it is her intention ... to set up a court of her own and ... do her best to make things uncomfortable for the new occupants of the throne.

"It must not be assumed that she has abandoned hope of becoming Queen of England."

Yet there is a more sensitive touch in some Cabinet minutes which quote Mr Baldwin speaking to the King.

"I suppose if an Archangel asked you to give up Mrs Simpson it would have no effect?"

"Not the least", replied the King.


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