The Windsor Plot

0

A series of letters between the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and royal courtier Kenneth de Courcy, recently uncovered by royal historian Christopher Wilson in a Californian library, shed new light on how the ambitions of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor continued right up until the death of King George VI. The findings threaten to tarnish the controversial ex-monarch’s reputation further. An attractive and progressive figure in his youth, the Duke of Windsor, and Wallis Simpson, gained a degree of notoriety for their flirtations with fascism in the 1930s. The Duke has often been portrayed as the monarch who would have parleyed with the fascist powers if he had not abdicated in 1936. Although he chose to be with the love of his life Wallis Simpson and relinquish the throne, the former king never fully gave up his political ambitions. The Duke and Duchess were never reconciled to their life as exiles and Christopher Wilson’s discovery illustrates how far they were prepared to go to find a way back to influence and power. Correspondence between the Duke and Duchess and a courtier, the rather strange character of Kenneth de Courcy, has revealed a plot to prevent, or at least delay, the accession of Queen Elizabeth II. The story begins in the spring of 1946. The Second World War had ended only a few months previously and the nation was just beginning to pick up the pieces with a shattered economy and a socialist government with grand plans for a welfare state yet to be realised. For the monarchy the fragile King George VI was in poor health and the exiled Windsors in France saw an opportunity to engineer their return to Britain due to a division caused by dynastic politics. In grim post-war Britain courtiers were alarmed by the King’s deteriorating health and some members of the ruling elite saw bringing the Duke of Windsor back as a caretaker monarch as preferable to allowing the inexperienced Princess?Elizabeth to come to the throne. The scheming, which reached its peak in 1949, was heavily influenced by antipathy toward the Mountbattens. Princess Elizabeth’s marriage to Prince Philip of Greece in 1947 led to the fear of the Windsors becoming tools of Philip’s ambitious uncle Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl of Burma, who at the time had been appointed Viceroy of India by Labour PM?Clement Attlee. Although she was the heir apparent, Princess Elizabeth was in her early twenties and it was feared that she would be vulnerable to “the Mountbatten influence”. There was some basis for this as Louis Mountbatten did see his nephew’s marriage to the future monarch as a defining moment in British history. Christopher Wilson believes that courtiers reacted to this perceived threat by concocting a plot to prevent Princess Elizabeth’s accession. What emerged amounted to a soft coup d’etat with the Duke and Duchess returning to Britain seemingly innocently to settle down on an estate. With King George VI’s failing health, the Duke would simply wait to be called to safeguard the throne. The first written evidence of the plot is a letter from the Duke of Windsor to Kenneth de Courcy, dated March 19, 1946 and signed “Edward”, which refers to “the subject we discussed in Paris . . . It certainly is a situation of great delicacy but, at the same time, one in which it would seem I hold fifty percent of the bargaining power in order that the Duchess and I can plan for the future in the most constructive and convenient way.” The Duchess was also active in the scheming. A hand-written note to de Courcy of July 18, 1946: “We are always busy turning things around and around in our heads – there’s no doubt that something must be done . . . Anyway I can’t sit by and see the Duke of Windsor wasted.”

April 1949: The Duke and Duchess of Windsor at Victoria Station, London. The plot for the Duke to return as regent was on the verge of being set in motion due to King George VI’s failing health.

April 1949: The Duke and Duchess of Windsor at Victoria Station, London. The plot for the Duke to return as regent was on the verge of being set in motion due to King George VI’s failing health.

These grandiose hopes all hinged on George VI’s poor health and by 1949 he had undergone an operation on a nerve at the base of his spine to mitigate the artesclerois caused by the stress of the war and the King’s heavy smoking. The plotters prepared to move. In a letter dated May 13, 1949, de Courcy wrote to the Duchess: “The King is gravely ill and out of circulation and he will not be in circulation again . . . the King faces the fearful tragedy of losing first one leg then the other . . . The King will be able to do extremely little and moreover that those around him will gain greater and greater power. I may tell you most confidentially that a Regency has already been discussed and it seems likely enough that presently [a Regent]will be appointed.” De Courcy’s fear was of a regency dominated by Louis Mountbatten, which he believed could be fatal to the Windsor dynasty, However, de Courcy was aware of the possibility of treason and suggested that the Duke not try to regain the throne but in “laying entirely fresh foundation-stones in place of those which are now endangered.” At the same time de Courcy encouraged the Duchess’?hopes: “The King is suffering from a grievous malady which is incurable . . . I am told on the highest medical authority that the King faces . . . the fearful tragedy of losing first one leg and then the other within two or three years.”

June 1953: The Duke and Duchess of Windsor watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on the television screen at the Paris home of the American socialite Mrs. Margaret Biddle (right),

June 1953: The Duke and Duchess of Windsor watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on the television screen at the Paris home of the American socialite Mrs. Margaret Biddle (right),

For de Courcy it meant that the moment was ripe with possibilities and if the Duke and Duchess returned the Regency was for the taking: The Duke “could, in these difficult circumstances be a decisive influence for good – making it absolutely impossible for the Mountbattens to become the decisive political and social influence upon the Regency and the future Monarch.” De Courcy had also thought through the public relations?campaign that he would use to promote the Duke and Duchess: “I should like to see you and the Duke buy an agricultural property somewhere near London and the Duke devote a good deal of his time to experimental farming on the most advanced modern lines. This would make a great appeal to the country . . . Your property here ought to be sufficiently near London to make it possible for people to drive down for dinner, etc, and the [guest]lists should be most carefully considered… I venture to say that if this advice were followed, the results would be remarkable.” But the Windsors failed to seize the opportunity. The Duke hesitated and George VI?made a recovery and lived on until February 1952. Not for the first time the ambitions of the Duke of Windsor had threatened to take British history in another direction and the “Mountbatten influence” certainly went on to play a significant role in the post-war monarchy; although it was hardly the dynasty changing one that de Courcy had feared. The plotters had lost the plot of history and de Courcy’s colourful imagination had probably exaggerated the prospects for the Duke and Duchess. And by the time his brother died in 1952, the Duke and Duchess had settled into their rather aimless lives on the high society social scene and, ignominiously, watched Queen Elizabeth’s coronation on the television screen at the Paris home of Mrs. Margaret Biddle, the American millionairess. (Royalty Magazine Vol. 21/09)