Near-Treasonous Dukes?

Near-Treasonous Dukes?

The Dukes of Wind­sor and West­min­ster are attacked for their “near-trea­so­nous activ­i­ty” and “overt sup­port of the Third Reich.” In an Amer­i­can Spec­ta­tor review of Sleep­ing with the Ene­my: Coco Chanel’s Secret War (Dec/Jan 2011-12) Roger Kaplan says Win­ston Churchill did not turn against those “top toffs”

The Duke of Wind­sor (1894-1972)

“Near-trea­so­nous” and “overt sup­port” are going some in describ­ing actions of the Dukes, and should be dis­count­ed. Rea­son: They may have been “toffs,” but they count­ed for lit­tle. Nev­er­the­less, Churchill did act to silence them.

The Two Dukes

The Duke Wind­sor cer­tain­ly had “much to be mod­est about.” Churchill got him out of Europe by appoint­ing him Gov­er­nor of the Bahamas, where he did not rehash his pre­war pro-Nazi points of view. With a lit­tle urg­ing from WSC, he main­ly did as he was told. (Though old­er Bahami­ans still remem­ber the local mess­es dur­ing his governorship.)

“Ben­dor,” Sec­ond Duke of West­min­ster (1879-1953)

The Sec­ond of the Dukes, Ben­dor West­min­ster, joined the anti-semit­ic Right Club and the Par­lia­men­tary Peace Aims Group in 1939, along with a oth­er unim­por­tant fig­ures claim­ing to be in touch with “Nazi mod­er­ates.” The British gov­ern­ment, wrote his­to­ri­an Julian Jack­son, “did not take any of this too seri­ous­ly. None of the pro-peace peers were first-rank, or even third-rank polit­i­cal fig­ures.”  (The Fall of France, Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2004, 204.)

Churchill Acts

Nev­er­the­less, in Sep­tem­ber 1939, although a long­time friend, Churchill twice admon­ished “Ben­dor,” the Duke of West­min­ster (Mar­tin Gilbert, The Churchill War Papers, vol. I, pp. 91-92):

…there are some very seri­ous and bad things in [your Peace Aims Group statements]….When a coun­try is fight­ing a war of this kind, very hard expe­ri­ences lie before those who preach defeatism and set them­selves against the main will of the nation.

Ben­dor sent a dis­sem­bling reply and Churchill fired back (Churchill Archives Cen­tre, Churchill Papers, CHAR 19/2A/19-20):

…in time of peace, peo­ple in a free coun­try have a right to form their views about for­eign pol­i­cy; but when the coun­try is fight­ing for its life against a dead­ly ene­my, there are grave dan­gers in tak­ing a hos­tile line to the decid­ed plan….[Especially your] sug­gest­ing that all we were fight­ing for was to make mon­ey for the Jews and inter­na­tion­al finance, or words to that effect.

That seems fair­ly dispositive—and the Peace Aims Group fad­ed into obscu­ri­ty once the bombs start­ed falling on London.


Mr. Kaplan responds: May I note that in my review which you were kind enough to notice, I men­tioned near-trea­so­nous activ­i­ties, not trea­so­nous activ­i­ties, and I did not say he did not shut them up, I just said he did not turn against them.  With­out claim­ing exper­tise, I would say his atti­tude was wise. 

Dear Mr. Kaplan: Well, it wasn’t even near-trea­so­nous, and you said a lit­tle more than that. Churchill did more than you gave him cred­it for. He had a lot of loy­al­ty toward his friends, though he wasn’t always wise in choos­ing them. But he cer­tain­ly was aware of the prob­lems and act­ed to squelch them. Best wish­es, RML

2 thoughts on “Near-Treasonous Dukes?

  1. Kras­simir: What mem­o­ran­dum? In any case, I can­not find that quo­ta­tion or key parts of it in the Hills­dale Col­lege scanned texts of Churchill’s writ­ings, speech­es and pri­vate papers. I would be inter­est­ed to know how The Times cit­ed it.

    In my search I did come upon an allied pas­sage (not about Hitler but Roo­sevelt) in Robert Sencourt’s (Robert George’s) 1940 biog­ra­phy Win­ston Churchill, which may be of inter­est. Sen­court wrote:

    “In the final por­trait of Great Con­tem­po­raries, that of Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt, he [Churchill] shows how much his mind had awok­en to the con­sid­er­a­tions of a chang­ing econ­o­my which he had omit­ted to state in his bud­get speech­es from 1925 to 1929. This essay was writ­ten in 1934. In it he faces the two prob­lems of cred­it and production….

    “What he does state is the func­tion of the cap­i­tal­ist to take risks, to launch enter­prise and car­ry it through, to raise val­ues, and to expand cred­it. The work of the cap­i­tal­ist is to enrich num­bers of the peo­ple by mak­ing real what he imag­ines. Destroy the sys­tem of cap­i­tal and cred­it and you cut men off from their imme­di­ate for­tune. But in any case, asked Mr. Churchill, why crip­ple and kill cap­i­tal­ism till you are sure you have found a means to take its place? Leave the old ship to sink if you like: take to the rafts and lis­ten to the shouts of those who say that the eldo­ra­do of Com­mu­nism is near; but is one so sure that it is near? 

    “‘The Siber­ian coast is rugged and black, and there are long cru­el frosts in the Arc­tic Ocean. The real ques­tion is real­ly oth­er than these: are you going to suc­ceed if you dis­card that sys­tem of prop­er­ty, free­dom and enter­prise which made the Eng­lish-speak­ing world so rich? Life will always be a strug­gle. Which is bet­ter: to be all equal because all are poor: or to secure through vari­ety and inequal­i­ty a high­er stan­dard for all: to have well-being at the price of inequality?'”

  2. The mem­o­ran­dum said: he show­ered Hitler with praise as “the man who had destroyed the sys­tem of inter­na­tion­al banks who are exploiters and not pro­duc­ers thus amount­ing vast pow­er and mon­ey.” Was that cor­rect? I am look­ing for the orig­i­nal mem­o­ran­dum. Any chance? The quote for this meet­ing the foot­note said was from The Times, 23 Novem­ber 1972.

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