13 February 2018

Prince Edward's World War 1 experiences and his pro-Fascist views

To understand why Ed­ward the Prince of Wales (1894-1972) turned towards Fascism before WW2 and turned away his parents’ moral values, I will be citing the writing of Dr Heather Jones. Her journal article “Edward in the trenches” lays the blame firmly on his terrible war experiences.

So let us first canvas WW1. When Britain found itself under threat during WW1, Edward (20) had become the Prince of Wales three years earlier. Edward could easily have stayed at home in safety and inspected military train­ing camps but he was desperate to serve on the Western Front. The Secretary of State for War naturally forbade the first in-line-to-the-throne to die in the trenches so Edward took a commission in the Grenad­ier Guards and accepted a junior officer role in France, far behind the front lines.

As soon as he could, Ed­w­ard wanted a com­promise. Although not directly involved in fight­ing, he was assigned to staff work on logistics. Thus Edward could go on frequent morale-boosting visits to the trenches, visit advanced positions, see the dead bodies lying unburied in the fields and smell the shell fire. The visits made him very popular with the men.

In contrast, his younger brother Prince Albert (1895-1952) would not ever become king under normal circumstances, so there was a less rigid approach to him serving in war. Everyone believed that Britain controlled the seas and the nation’s naval supremacy could not be challenged by Germany, so Albert, who was still in his teens, served in the Royal Navy as a midshipman.

However Germany embarked on a campaign of battleship building and by 1916 was ready to take on the British fleet which was block­ad­ing the North Sea. In May the Battle of Jutland was waged, becoming WW1’s biggest sea engagement. It was a catast­rophe for both sides, including for the young prince in a gun turret, watching the ships being destroyed by torpedoes around him.

Thus both princes, who had lived in the lap of luxury back in their palaces, faced horror at war. Perhaps Edward seemed a little jeal­ous of his younger brother who participated in direct action. But there was no questioning the bravery of both princes.

Edward the Prince of Wales in army uniform, and his brother in navy uniform, 1915. 
Photo credit: Express

During WW1, Edward had his first, hidden sexual experiences in Amiens, and then in Paris. But post war, liv­ing a vigorous social life was essential for any ex-serviceman, to regain his sanity. People were tolerant. In London Edward courted Lady Sybil Cadogan, his sister’s best friend, and wanted marriage in 1917. His next affair was with Lady Rose­mary Leveson-Gower, a soc­iety beauty who the prince wanted to marry in 1918. However she married William Ward, 3rd Earl Dudley, in March 1919. Then Ed­ward chose married women: Mar­ian Coke, his much adored lover Freda Dudley Ward divorced wife of an MP who was vice chamb­erlain of the Royal House-hold and the Amer­ic­­an heiress Aud­rey James. Best of all was Lady Thelma Furn­ess, daught­er of an American diplomat who eloped at 16, divorced and then married the shipping magnate Vis­count Furness. Thel­ma joined the Prince in Kenya in 1928 where the two fell in love. 

He enjoyed a hectic social life, travelling the world (Canada, USA, the Caribbean, India, Australia, New Zealand etc) formally rep­res­ent­ing his father the king, and making many private visits to Germany throughout the 1920s and 1930s.
King George V and Tsar Nicolas II, 1913
first cousins and close friends, sharing a family wedding in Berlin
Photo credit: Rare Historical Photos 2018

Dr Jones showed that the war had a fundamental impact on Ed­ward’s political views. It left him with an abhorrence for Commun­ism and anger that the Bolsheviks had killed his Russian cousins, Tsar Nicholas II and his family. [So why did Edward not blame his father King George V, for banning the Russian royals’ entry into Britain when the Tsar was desperate for a safe haven in 1917?]

Edward fervently believed future European war had to be avoided, supporting the British Legion in interwar efforts at reconciliation with German ex-servicemen, even after Hitler came to power.

For King George V, individual personality had to be completely subord­inated to the dignity of the office of king. But Prince Ed­ward believed a king had to be a strong leader who embraced a cult of personality. He admired Fascist leadership because he believed appeasement with Fascism offered European peace. In particular Fascism seemed a modern answer to the Communist threat, for example by improving the lives of Germany’s poor.

King Edward VIII on an unofficial tour to Germany
giving a Hitler salute in 1937
Photo credit: Daily Mail

A weak personality himself, Edward was most vulnerable to the myths Fascism propagated – anti-Semitism, a need for new rad­ical politics of the right and a strongman leader. Perhaps this was appealing because the war had left Edward deeply insecure about his own mas­culinity. By abandoning crown and nation in a passion for the last of many women he had loved, Edward could finally publicly prove his manliness.

I will add one more critical factor that Dr Jones did not mention. Edward VIII’s mother Queen Mary was almost entirely German and his father King George V was partly German. Edward remembered how older relatives would change to speaking German, as soon as any English-speaking staff left them in privacy. Edward himself was fluent in his "mother tongue". So asking the prince to devalue his German heritage would have been cruel, and ineffective.


Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, I suppose that there are volumes of explanations of Edward's actions and attitudes but I believe that at heart he was a rotten apple, which idea also explains a lot of his actions.

bazza said...

Your photo of the group with Edward giving a fascist salute is absolutely chilling and says more than a thousand words could do! Also, having Lord Lucan's lookalike in the picture doesn't help. George V and Tsar Nicholas are mirror images of each other aren't they?
Edward's Nazi sympathies are well known but I don't buy the apologist's view that his opinions were "of the time". Human decency could and should rise above that kind of thinking.
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s tenebrific Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Mike@Bit About Britain said...

That's a really fascinating, well-written, piece. Wallis certainly did us all a favour - however popular David was, Bertie was the much better egg. But are you SURE that's a Nazi salute and not a wave? Nor was he the only one to have some sympathy for Germany in the 1930s - people find it so easy to be wise after the event. Also - antisemitism was widespread; we may find that uncomfortable, but, though it usually fell short of the disgusting extremes of the Nazis, it was there.

Deb said...

When the Duke and Duchess visited Bavaria in 1937 and met Adolf Hitler at his Berghof holiday home, I always thought that Wallis was the leading thinker in the royal couple's decision making.

CherryPie said...

The course of history would have been different if it hadn't been for the abdication.

John Tyrrell said...

I doubt whether Edward VIII was that untypical of his class in the hatred of bolshevism, and in the fear of another war which they correctly understood would bring about the end of the British Empire. I think the same may be said of the anti-semitism, which stretched far beyond the upper classes.

One day we may get access to all the records on the Royal Family's relations with Germany in the years leading up to war and maybe beyond. There have been stories about the Duke of Coburg and the Duke of Kent and Rudolf Hess for those who like conspiracy theories. Then we had the pictures of the Queen mother and the current Queen's famous Nazi salute in the company of Edward VIII in the early 1930's.

Hels said...


there were a lot of rotten apples *nod* but it didn't matter before. The monarch was only the Head of State, not a person with political power. As long as the royal kept out of politics, it was acceptable for him to sleep around the upper classes, shoot endangered animals in hunts, spend tax payers money building more private palaces etc etc.

Hels said...


Edward's Nazi sympathies were _very_ scary. And not just in the years before WW2 started. There is good evidence that the Nazis planned to win the war in Britain, make King George VI abdicate and put King Edward VIII back on the British throne.

Hels said...


Edward was far from the only one to have some sympathy for Germany in the 1930s, true.

Over the last decade I have done a lot of reading about the rise of organised Fascism in Britain in the interwar years and find it fascinating that it was openly supported by The Great and The Good. Lord Rothermere, the owner of the Daily Mail in the 1930s; 2nd Baron Redesdale and half his children; 2nd Baron Brocket; 2nd Duke of Westminster; Duke of Buccleuch, Lord Steward of the Royal Household; 14th Duke of Hamilton etc etc

Hels said...


The Prince of Wales met and adored Wallis Simpson in 1931 and they married in 1937. I too assume that she was the dominant thinker and actor in their relationship, and that he did whatever made her happy. But her pro-Nazi views had to have fallen on sympathetic ears. Edward had to have had his pro-Fascist, anti-Communist views well and truly established long before they were married.

Hels said...


agreed. The history of Britain and of the British Empire would have been very different, had Edward not abdicated. And not for the better.

Hels said...


Yes indeed. It is amazing that the hatred of Bolshevism, in a country far removed from Russian influence, could have guided political beliefs and actions after 1917. I am assuming that the politicians did not think the Communist Party would not take over in Westminster; rather that the miners would go on strike for proper wages or that communities would demand universal health care.

Without a doubt, the War to End All Wars had been such a catastrophe, that any thinking person would have avoided another war at any cost. But how did they plan to avoid war? The Duke of Buccleuch, for example, urged a truce with Germany, based on Germany keeping all the European lands Hitler had already taken. Lord Londonderry made many trips to Germany to negotiate a German-British pact.

mem said...

I think that Britain and the world dodged a bullet with the abdication . My reading is that he he was a selfish stupid man who loved all the glamour of his position but didn't have the brains or the virtue to be a good king . He was good at PR but not much else . He was deeply shocked by the consequences of the abdication to him and Wallis and from then on felt entitled to go after whatever relevance he could find for himself and Wallis who he thought should have been treated with far more respect than she was, which included being buddies with Hitler . I am afraid I dislike the man thoroughly and while I find there is usually something to recommend most people I find little in him and even less in her .Both stupid vacuous people .

Hels said...


King George V thought his son Edward was shallow, short, had poor moral values, unpatriotic and disloyal to his family. Although King George would _never_ have changed the line of succession, he did not want Edward David to marry and have heirs. At least that way Edward's brother Albert and his children would eventually inherit the throne.

Britain and King George (had he lived) really did dodge a bullet with the abdication, but I would have put good money on King Edward keeping the throne. Just because the Archbishops and prime ministers across the Empire were having a heart attack when Edward proposed marrying a foreigner who was divorced from her first husband and still married to her second husband!! King Edward might have just called their bluff.

Another Student said...

When we looked at Coco Chanel in class, she seemed quite connected to The Duke and Duchess in France. I was surprised, but no other student looked surprised.

Hels said...


Examine this reference in Lisa's History Room. Note the wave of attention the Duke and Duchess of Windsor received when they settled in Paris in the late thirties. A glamorous social set of fashion designers, Nazi sympathisers, American heiresses, British ex-pats, and assorted other idle rich people welcomed the Windsors and became a sort of parallel court for the displaced royals. This French upper-crust group was dubbed The Windsor Set. The press endlessly described their comings and goings, designer clothes, fancy homes and elegant soirees.

So did The Windsor Set include Coco Chanel because Wallis Simpson loved the designer's work? Or did the Duchess include Coco Chanel because the French designer improved the quality of sympathetic people hanging around the British Court in Exile?