The British Royal Family have never been able to escape the spectre of their unsavoury historical Nazi connections – Nazi sympathisers the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (whose relationship is explored in SBS documentary Spying on the Royals), alleged WWII plots to install a pro-Nazi government and that controversial footage of Queen Elizabeth apparently making the Nazi salute as a child.
Now the question remains: just how far reaching were their Nazi connections? With the Royal Family refusing to release historical documents that would bring greater clarity to the issue, alternate evidence has come to light and theories abate.
The Nazi sympathisers: the Duke and Duchess of Windsor
The Windsors – former monarch Edward VIII and his American love, Wallis Simpson, for whom he abdicated the throne – were a pesky thorn in the Royals’ side, not least because they were thought to be Nazi sympathisers. Intelligence given to the FBI claimed the Nazis were using the Duke and Duchess to glean information that would scuttle the war effort of the allies.
"He was certainly sympathetic,” says royal biographer Andrew Morton, author of 17 Carnations: The Royals, the Nazis, and the Biggest Cover-Up in History, of the duke. “Even after the war he thought Hitler was a good fellow and that he'd done a good job in Germany, and he was also anti-Semitic, before, during and after the war."
Edward was at the centre of an alleged plot to overthrow the Winston Churchill government in favour of a pro-Nazi one. The Fuhrer and his key advisers were no doubt rubbing their hands together at the prospect of pulling the strings of a “puppet king” if their wish for Edward to be reinstalled was realised.
Dr Karina Urbach of the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London (and author of book Go-Betweens for Hitler) uncovered evidence of just how deep the duke’s collusion with the Nazis went. She details a report from June 25, 1940 by Spanish diplomat and friend of the duke Don Javier Bermejillo of a conversation where Edward went so far as to argue that the bombing of England could bring WWII to an end. Dr Urbach claims the report was passed on to Spain’s military dictator, General Francisco Franco, and then to Germany. Britain was first bombed by the Germans on July 10, 1940.
Simpson was also alleged to have deep Nazi links, with rumours that prior to marrying Edward she was the lover of Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop.
The Nazi cousin: “Charlie Coburg”
The Windsors’ Nazi-supporting German relatives also proved a fly in the ointment, although one, for a period, was a welcome visitor to Buckingham Palace. Former British prince Carl Eduard (Charles Edward), the Duke of Coburg, also known as “Charlie Coburg”, was Queen Victoria’s grandson, first cousin to King George V and confidant to the Duke of Windsor.
Coburg was employed by the Fuhrer as a go-between for the German government to exploit the Royal Family’s pro-German leanings. The Times, via The Weekend Australian, reports that Coburg wrote in his diary of often visiting the royals at Buckingham and Sandringham Palace.
His value as a key asset to Hitler was laid out in a telegram sent from the Nazi leader’s bunker in April 1945:
“The Fuhrer attaches importance to the Duke of Coburg on no account falling into enemy hands."
Another traitorous prince?
A pair of historians believe Edward VIII wasn’t the only son of King George V to conspire with the Nazis to create a WWII Anglo-German alliance. John Harris and Richard Wilbourn, authors of Rudolf Hess: Treachery and Deception, assert that Prince George, the Duke of Kent and uncle to Queen Elizabeth II, played a key part in planning a coup d’état with Hitler’s deputy, Hess, to remove Prime Minister Winston Churchill and forge a treaty with the Fuhrer.
One of the most enduring mysteries of WWII is why Hess parachuted into Scotland in 1941. Harris and Wilbourn, after sifting through over 10,000 documents, believe the evidence “very strongly points” to an Anglo-German conspiracy. (Intriguingly Prince George, who served in the RAF, is said to have been in Scotland when Hess arrived.)
“Having weighed up all the evidence, and in light of recent discoveries we have made, we now believe that it was, in fact, a coup attempt centred around Prince George,” says Harris. “The aristocracy had the most to lose from Churchill staying in power. All they knew was that Germany was bombing Britain nightly, softening the country up prior to an invasion, which would surely cost them their wealth, their status and their lives.”
The prince died in action on August 25, 1942.
Queen Elizabeth II’s Nazi salute
There’s much debate on its context, but 20 seconds of footage obtained by The Sun, released in 2015 and thought to be shot in 1933 or 1934, appears to show Queen Elizabeth II as a girl performing the Nazi salute, as coached by her Nazi sympathiser uncle, Edward. The Queen Mother appears to be making the salute also. Of course, if the Queen was making the gesture, she couldn’t have known it at the time.
“The video is pretty shocking,” says Dr Urbach. “She was a child when this film was shot, long before the atrocities of the Nazis became widely known. But Edward was already welcoming the regime as Prince of Wales in 1933 and remained pro-Nazi after war broke out in 1939.
“He could well be teaching the Queen and Princess Margaret how to do the salute. The film involves our monarch and is an important historical document that asks serious questions of the Royal Family.”
A royal cover-up?
The footage of the Queen’s alleged Nazi salute is an anomaly, with the remainder of the Royal Archives, housed in Windsor Castle’s Round Tower, that deal with any relationship between the Windsors and the Nazis sealed. They include correspondence between the British Royal Family and their German relatives that would reveal the full extent of the family’s connections to the Third Reich in the lead-up to WWII. So what exactly are they trying to cover up?
“We know that after ’45 there was a big cleanup operation,” says Urbach. “The royals were very worried about correspondence resurfacing and so it was destroyed.”
Churchill employed a top-secret team called “the weeders”, sent to Berlin to find and conceal anything that documented the duke’s interactions with Hitler and Nazi officials, to protect the Royal Family’s reputation.
One theory is the archives could include incriminating evidence retrieved by Anthony Blunt, the “Weeder-in-Chief” who was revealed to be a Soviet spy. Historians and MPs have called for the archives to become public.
“The Royal Family can’t suppress their own history forever,” says Urbach.
Watch Spying on the Royals tonight and tomorrow at 7:30pm on SBS.