HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW: ‘Traitor King: The Scandalous Exile of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’ by Andrew Lownie

Traitor King, by Sunday Times bestselling author Andrew Lownie, looks at the years following the abdication of Edward VIII when the former king was kept in exile, feuding with his family over status for his wife, Wallis Simpson, and denied any real job.

Drawing on extensive research into hitherto unused archives and Freedom of Information requests, it makes the case that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were not the naïve dupes of the Germans but actively intrigued against Britain in both war and peace.

It reveals:
– the story behind the German attempts to recruit the Duke as a British Pétain in the summer of 1940.
– the efforts, by Churchill in particular, to prevent post-war publication of the captured German documents which detailed the Duke’s Nazi intrigues.
– the reasons why the Duke, as Governor of the Bahamas, tried to shut down the investigation into the 1943 murder of his close friend Harry Oakes.
– the full extent of the feud with the British Royal Family, based on his betrayals going back to his dishonesty about his true financial position at the time of the abdication.
– that far from a love story, Wallis felt trapped in a marriage she had never wanted with a pathetic and suffocating husband, one of the reasons she took several lovers, including the gay playboy Jimmy Donahue.

Traitor King tells the story of a royal exiled with his wife, turning his back on duty, his family and using his position for financial gain.

Purchase on Amazon here

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The moment this book arrived, my 18yo son saw it and said ‘ooh, like The Crown!’ and stole it, meaning I had to wait. I can safely say it is one of the best books I have read this year. I am no fan of Edward VIII and have no sympathy for him whatsoever. But even I had extra room to loathe him.

Lownie wastes no time with the story; within the first chapter, the weak king is out of his role and his family. By chapter two, you wish he would slip off a pier or something. Everything he says or does shows just what a truly pathetic man he was. Wallis Simpson instantly comes across as the best-suited partner for Edward – as pitiless, spiteful, thoughtless and nasty as the man she didn’t even want to marry. The book dives straight into Edward and Wallis’ Nazi connections, showing the level of detail of their disgusting associations while stomping on their loyal British friends and leaving everyone around them with bills and a bitter taste in their mouths. Yet the book doesn’t read as one written by an author with a personal hatred for the subjects, rather these people are just so awful that there is no way to flatter the image.

As soon as the royal family managed to get Edward and Wallis out of Europe during the war and their blatant dreams of reclaiming the throne through Nazi intervention, the pair started causing trouble in the Bahamas, where Edward was placed as Governor, a purposeless role to get him out of the way. Excessive spending, wild parties, embarrassing trips to the US, and copious people left used and ripped off culminated in Edward stepping in to cover up the high-profile murder of his friend Harry Oakes. Without giving spoilers, it shows just how low Edward had sunk, and by choice, seemingly having no shame in associating with criminals.

While Edward moaned and lied incessantly about having no money (and simultaneously spending insane amounts), Wallis was doing the same, while trapped with a man-child for a husband she appeared to never like, let alone love. Affairs, lies, cruelty and insufferable complaints abounded through the years. They really were the worst of the upper class; indiscreet with their words and bedroom habits, co-dependent, weak-filled, flighty and never satisfied. Edward seemed to have never developed beyond adolescence and hid the fact he was gay or bisexual, while Wallis made no secret of her infidelity and disdain for the man who gave up the crown. The book is a tale of two truly sad people, and how lucky Britain was to avoid them. Even those who have no love for the monarchy could sympathise with George who took over the throne, having such wastrels in the family.

Despite knowing the life of Edward and Wallis, I was still keen to get to the end of this book and read it in just a few days. The tale leaves you grateful for Queen Elizabeth, that Charles was born before Andrew, and that William was born before Harry. The last thing the monarchy needs is a repeat.

no free book or money changed hands in return for this review