Duke and Duchess of Windsor Visit Nazi Germany

After the marriage of the former King Edward VIII of England and American socialite Wallis Simpson, the couple, now the duke and duchess of Windsor, took a much-criticized tour of Nazi Germany. They were personal guests of Adolf Hitler and met other high-ranking members of the Third Reich. The duchess was suspected of being a German agent at the time of the visit and after the beginning of World War II, and the duke was permanently in exile from England.

Summary of Event

Following his abdication on December 10, 1936, Edward VIII, now the duke of Windsor, retired to Austria to await the decree absolute necessary to release American socialite Wallis Simpson, his lover, from her second marriage while she sat out the time in France. The divorce hearing was held May 3, 1937, and the decree absolute was granted. Plans whirled into place for the duke’s wedding on June 3 at Château de Candé, home of Charles Bedaux and family. Gifts, including an inscribed gold box sent by the chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler, poured in from across the globe. Hitler, Adolf
[p]Hitler, Adolf;and the Windsors[Windsors]
Windsor, Duke of
Simpson, Wallis
World War I[World War 01];and British royal family[British royal family]
[kw]Duke and Duchess of Windsor Visit Nazi Germany (Oct. 11-22, 1937)
[kw]Windsor Visit Nazi Germany, Duke and Duchess of (Oct. 11-22, 1937)
[kw]Nazi Germany, Duke and Duchess of Windsor Visit (Oct. 11-22, 1937)
Hitler, Adolf
[p]Hitler, Adolf;and the Windsors[Windsors]
Windsor, Duke of
Simpson, Wallis
World War I[World War 01];and British royal family[British royal family]
[g]Europe;Oct. 11-22, 1937: Duke and Duchess of Windsor Visit Nazi Germany[00650]
[g]Germany;Oct. 11-22, 1937: Duke and Duchess of Windsor Visit Nazi Germany[00650]
[g]England;Oct. 11-22, 1937: Duke and Duchess of Windsor Visit Nazi Germany[00650]
[c]Politics;Oct. 11-22, 1937: Duke and Duchess of Windsor Visit Nazi Germany[00650]
[c]International relations;Oct. 11-22, 1937: Duke and Duchess of Windsor Visit Nazi Germany[00650]
[c]Royalty;Oct. 11-22, 1937: Duke and Duchess of Windsor Visit Nazi Germany[00650]
Bedaux, Charles
Ley, Robert
Göring, Hermann

The looming figures of Bedaux and Hitler would circumscribe the popular and diplomatic focus of attention on the Windsors for the rest of the year. The couple’s association with Bedaux and Hitler the former a French-born American millionaire and industry efficiency expert and the latter the leader of the Nazi Party of Germany, which was already threatening European peace would shadow them for the rest of their lives. At Bedaux’s urging, the Windsors initiated plans for a trip to Germany to be followed by a tour of the United States. Ostensibly, the two international visits were justified because of the duke’s interest in the working conditions of the laboring classes. Nazi Germany’s much-publicized public projects seemed the ideal place to start the trip.

The arrangements were made by German diplomat Fritz Weidemann in accordance with instructions from the Third Reich, possibly Hitler himself. The Windsors’s schedule would ensure they saw only the best of Germany’s systemized social welfare plan and keep the Third Reich’s celebrated guests very much in the limelight. This schedule would serve the Third Reich by confirming public belief in the duke’s support of the regime both in Germany and around the world. Back in England this notion caused great alarm, but although King George VI and his top advisers pressed for the Windsors to cancel their visit, the Windsors boldly defied them. On October 11, 1937, the duke and duchess boarded a train bound from Paris for Berlin.

Arriving at the Friedrichstrasse station in Berlin the same day, they were met by the third secretary of the British embassy. The exasperated powers in England decreed that only minimal attention would be given the visit to minimize the appearance that London sanctioned the trip. In the face of this snub, however, the Windsors were fêted throughout Germany. Their tour fell into three principal components: meeting high-ranking Nazi officials, examining the labor practices under the new regime, and making public appearances ornamented by enthusiastic national sentiment fit for a royal visit in the form of cheering crowds and the prominent display of swastikas and the unmistakable Nazi salute.

Robert Ley, head of the German Labor Front, had been detailed to lead the Windsors’s visit. The Windsors spent the first few days separately, occupied by activities their hosts deemed appropriate to their interests. At the Nazi Welfare Society, the duchess observed women sewing clothes for the poor. The duke was escorted to the Stock Machine Works at Grünewald, where he approved the many recreational facilities available for the workers, and to the training school of the Death’s Head Division of the Elite School of the SS (the Nazi police), where the stars of the Hitler Youth prepared for their future roles as leaders of the movement. Together, the Windsors visited museums and socialized with leading figures of the Nazi Party.

The first dinner party the day after their arrival was hosted by Ley. Guests included Minister of Propaganda Goebbels, Josef Josef Goebbels, Ribbentrop, Joachim von Joachim von Ribbentrop, Goerlitzer, Artur Artur Goerlitzer, SS leader Heinrich Himmler, and Hess, Rudolph Rudolph Hess. On October 14, the Windsors were welcomed by Field Marshal Hermann Göring Göring, Hermann and his wife at their country estate, Karinhalle. While the duchess and Mrs. Göring toured the estate, the duke and Göring played with an elaborate toy train. In the library, the duke was shocked to see a large map of Europe upon which Austria Austria had been collapsed into German territory.

On October 20, the duke at last had a taste of a family reunion at a dinner party hosted by his cousin, Carl Eduard, duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. During the festivities, the duchess was curtsied by every lady and addressed as Royal Highness, just as the Windsors had envisioned happening during their lives together. These gestures, along with the reminder to the duke of his family’s German heritage, surely made the evening a poignant one.

On the last day of their visit, October 22, Hitler invited the Windsors to Berchtesgaden. Accompanied by Hess and Paul Schmidt, Hitler’s translator, and escorted by a multitude of detectives and SS officers, they were driven up the mountain to Hitler’s hunting lodge. The führer, outfitted in a brown SS jacket and black trousers, his face a pasty white behind his mustache, greeted them, led them to the immense hall, and took in the view of the Alps from a window.

The duke and Hitler spoke privately, with Schmidt translating, although the duke had long been fluent in German. Both the duke and Schmidt later recalled the noncommittal tone of the conversation that focused on social welfare and the duke’s ideas about English and German soldiers of the Great War creating a fraternal relationship. The visit ended pleasantly with Hitler remarking that the duchess “would have made a good Queen.”

Upon their return to France, the Windsors continued planning their American trip. It was scuttled ultimately by the round rejection in the United States of Bedaux, who was seen as an enemy of workers, and by the complexities of receiving the couple whose German visit appeared to confirm their support for the Nazi regime.


The Windsors’s visit to Germany generated a storm of controversy that contributed not only to the cancellation of the couple’s U.S. visit but also permanent exile of the duke and perhaps to a minor degree the hardening of the Third Reich’s attitude toward England. The duke’s reasons for the trip were deeply personal but also tinged with political aspiration.

While the duke’s interest in labor conditions formed a principal component of his travel plans, it is also likely he wished to give the duchess the opportunity to make the sort of state visit to which she might have become accustomed had he retained the throne of England and been able to escort her as queen. Additionally, the duke was aware of the tenuous relationship that existed between Germany and England and appears to have been eager to mediate peace as well as to secure a welcome return to his home country at a later time, when the scandal over his abdication and marriage had cooled.

A further consideration simmered in England the duke’s desire to return to the English stage to influence politics and public sentiment. As-yet-unproven suspicions of the duchess’s role as a Nazi agent, the Windsors’s association with Hitler and other Nazi Party members, and their potential for stirring up the working classes and fomenting rebellion were largely responsible for their never being able to return to England. Hitler, Adolf
[p]Hitler, Adolf;and the Windsors[Windsors]
Windsor, Duke of
Simpson, Wallis
World War I[World War 01];and British royal family[British royal family]

Further Reading

  • Allen, Martin. Hidden Agenda: How the Duke of Windsor Betrayed the Allies. New York: Macmillan, 2000. This books argues that the duke of Windsor used Charles Bedaux to pass secrets to Adolf Hitler during World War II.
  • Donaldson, Frances. Edward VIII. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1974. Considered the standard biography, notable for its use of British prime minister Stanley Baldwin’s personal papers and those of acquaintances who witnessed the Windsors’s private lives.
  • Evans, Rob, and David Hencke. “Hitler Saw Duke of Windsor as ’No Enemy,’ U.S. File Reveals.” The Guardian (United Kingdom), January 25, 2003. Reports on the release of a U.S. intelligence report in 2003 that examines the duke’s ties to Adolf Hitler.
  • Higham, Charles. Mrs. Simpson: Secret Lives of the Duchess of Windsor. 1988. Rev. ed. London: Pan Macmillan, 2004. Examines Wallis Simpson’s extraordinary political views and connections, her relationship with the duke, and the Windsors’s support of the Nazi regime. Includes extensive notes on sources and comments on new material.
  • King, Greg. The Duchess of Windsor: The Uncommon Life of Wallis Simpson. New York: Citadel Press, 1999. Reevaluates the duchess’s biographies by highlighting the persistent campaign against her by the royal family and the English establishment.
  • Ziegler, Philip. King Edward VIII: A Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001. This excellent modern biography of the duke of Windsor presents a thorough and balanced treatment of the abdication, his marriage to Simpson, and their tour of Nazi Germany.

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