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”
“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.)
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.)
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