Book review: “17 Carnations” by Andrew Morton

by Rebecca Henderson Palmer on August 21, 2017

Author of the wildly popular “Diana: Her True Story” in the 1990s, Andrew Morton returns to royal subjects to discuss the Duke of Duchess of Windsor and their dubious pro-Nazi activities during World War II. The Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII, meets a once divorced, currently married American Wallis Simpson. Once on the throne, he is told that neither his country nor his church would allow him to marry “the woman he loves”, and so “David”, as his family knew him, abruptly abdicates, sending the monarchy into a tail spin. (The current queen, Elizabeth II, is David’s niece.) David and Wallis marry, becoming the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and take up an uncertain existence. Even though still charismatic and a wildly popular public figure, David is essentially kicked out of the royal family. Without wealth, position, family, or status, the shunning is a bitter pill that David and “that woman” (as George VI’s consort refers to her) never get over. Instead, the Windsors are courted by none other than Adolf Hitler, who uses them as a front for his phony peace agenda. Many believe that no matter Hitler’s ultimate goals, he hopes to one day put David back on the throne to rule as a puppet monarch.

Throughout World War II, the Windsors are vocal in their support for Hitler, a European peace plan, and the “plight of the common man” appeal that Hitler used to conceal his true aspirations. The duke is indiscreet when it comes to sharing British military insights, going so far as to share secret information across his dinner table with those who were in a position to act against his native land. The duchess, for her part, admired the Nazis so much that many firmly believed that one of Hitler’s ministers,  von Ribbentrop, was one of her many lovers. Both the duke and the duchess seemed genuinely unaware of the Nazi’s atrocities against the Jews. When they did ask questions, the Nazis mislead them, but the royals never questioned the rather weak explanations. Perhaps they were willfully ignorant or perhaps they knew no better. The documentation about the Windsors’ shabby, shameful behavior – whether they were willing accomplices or ignorant dupes – was a source of much tension after the war, when the royal family did everything they could to destroy, censor, and obfuscate the duke and duchesses’ pro-Nazi activities.

The whole story is extremely peculiar – one where the truth is often stranger than fiction. A king who never wanted to be a monarch, aggressively pursues an already once-divorced, married American with no real education, polish, social standing, or even beauty. “Angular, mannish, and cruel” were terms many people (sometimes even friends) used to describe the former Wallis Simpson. What was likely an extreme case of co-dependency causes Edward to abruptly give up his throne without much thought or negotiation beforehand (which he would come to bitterly regret). This leaves the newly marrieds ostracized from most of “good” society, financially insecure, without occupation or a home base, but plenty of social appeal and time to cause trouble for their royal family back home. The royals, on the other hand, are never quite sure how close to keep the duke and duchess. Not one of them approves of Edward’s choice of wife, his abdication, his lifestyle or his questionable friends, but totally cutting him off means creating a rival court that could be manipulated by the Nazis to unbalance the British monarchy.

Rich in research and details, it’s difficult not to be persuaded by Mr. Morton’s suggestions, especially as much of the documentation pertaining to that era is still under lock and key at Windsor Castle, with no release date set. The author leaves it up to the reader as to whether you believe the duke knew what he was doing or simply allowed himself to be Hitler’s pawn. In my mind, it seems the duke was a sheltered, selfish person who gave little thought as to the consequences of his actions, at many stages in his life. This is a tale so extraordinary that you will have a hard time tearing yourself away.

Amazon link is here.

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