Once a King: The Lost Memoir of Edward VIII, by Jane Marguerite Tippett

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Reviewed by Elaine Simpson-Long

The author of this book, Jane Marguerite Tippett, came across a previously unknown cache of letters, memoranda and notes written by the Duke of Windsor when she was collaborating with Charles Murphy on the publishing of A King’s Story (Edward’s ghostwritten autobiography, published in 1951). No historian is going to pass up a find like this and the result of this discovery is the publication of The Lost Memoir of Edward VIII. Calling it a lost memoir is pushing it a bit, to be honest, as these are fragments which were discarded during the writing process but, I have to admit, they make fascinating reading.

I have always maintained that if you are writing your autobiography, letters or a diary, no matter how hard you try, your innate character will be revealed, and so it is with these memoranda and notes. They are penned through the prism of the Duke of Windsor’s need for justification and they reveal a total self absorption and lack of understanding of how others might have acted or felt at the time. This comes as no surprise, and Charles Murphy, his ghost writer, was skilled enough to prune these outpourings and refine them for publication.

The author has taken a stance regarding the Duke: he argues that he was misunderstood, hard working, and a moderniser, and she is determined to prove this no matter how contradictory the evidence. It all gets a little tedious as time after time his dilatoriness, his narrow mindedness or plain ignorance is excused or dismissed. (In crime novels, of which I am a fan, I have lost count of the number of times it is made clear that it is dangerous to decide who committed the crime and then arrange the facts to support this theory. Well, this is what Ms Tippett does here).

Charles Murphy does not come out of this very well either. It seems that he and the Duke forged a friendship which lasted throughout the writing process, but the more I perused the letters Murphy was writing to his publisher and to the newspapers, once again, his real character came through and revealed him to be someone with a decidedly manipulative personality. He seemed to despise the Duke, always referring to him in correspondence as ‘Our Friend’ and speaking of him slightingly. Publication was constantly pushed back owing to the lack of progress and Murphy became ‘bored and weary. He has stopped working for days without my knowing it or he will be present in the body but not the mind.’  When the Duke and Duchess took themselves off for three weeks rest in Italy, he wrote : ‘he considers himself fatigued and wishes for relaxation and detachment’. 

Regarding the Duchess of Windsor, I find I have developed a somewhat less censorious attitude towards her over the years and this is strengthened by the reading of this collection. How difficult it must have been to be the focus of such total adoration, which must have been stifling. She was well aware that the marriage had to succeed after the Abdication and one fact that emerged from an interview she gave to Murphy when she was contemplating her own autobiography was that Edward never asked her to marry him until after the Abdication. He went through with it and decided her future as well as just assuming that she would be his wife. 

When I reached the section of the book headed ‘The German Question’ I wondered how the author would deal with this. 

Was Edward a traitor? I hold the view that though his actions could be seen and were judged as traitorous, I doubt the thought even entered his head that his behaviour could be viewed as such. He did not have the intelligence or understanding to think that he could be in the wrong. The German high command viewed Edward as a useful tool, knowing his views on the war, and full of confidence that they would prevail, spoke to Edward about his return as King with Wallis as his Queen. They knew his weakness and his longing to have her crowned.  

Murphy spoke to the Duke and Duchess regarding their German visit and they described a call they had made on the Goerings and the afternoon tea they shared with them. The Duchess remarks on how nicely furnished the rooms were, with cretonnes and fine china. Goering showed them a map hanging on his wall which featured the incorporation of Austria into Germany and the response from the Duchess was ‘I told  him we had just been there for our honeymoon and how much we had liked it there’. The Duke then butts in ‘ Goering, was actually the nicest of all of them. He was the only, well, gent you could say’ and the Duchess agreed he had great charm and such a pretty wife. After reading this I found myself totally convinced that my theory on the Duke not being a traitor was confirmed. How could such a vacuous, ill informed man like this be a traitor? 

However, the author is determined to forgive the Duke everything and this is backed up by the inclusion of an interview with the Duchess regarding the general response to the visit:

the strange thing is the British Government. You would have thought they would have wanted to keep the Duke out of the public eye… they knew if he went to Germany he would get into the public eye… they should have sent some official to France and said that this is the situation, because they ought not to have wanted him to get into the public eye in an unfavourable light. Or so, one could have done some long distant advising. You cannot throw a man out of a country, who has been advised by a government all his life, and then expect him to make wise decisions right off the bat.

And there you have it. The Duke is revealed inadvertently by his wife, as having no wisdom, no insight,  and being incapable of independent thinking. All somebody else’s fault.

I think this book fails on all fronts in its determination to rehabilitate Edward VIII. The endless excuses and justifications for his actions and behaviour become boring and repetitive. Through their own words and behaviour, the Windsors are revealed as totally lacking in understanding and empathy and appear as shallow empty people and there is nothing that can be done to hide that. It is all very sad and rather pathetic, and confirms the views I formed on reading Andrew Lownie’s more compelling Traitor King, reviewed here.

Edward himself says of his reign: 

Had I remained my reign might have provided quarrel after quarrel with the government. I would have clashed with them I am sure, over Germany.

I reckon we had a lucky escape.

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Elaine blogs at Random Jottings

Jane Marguerite Tippett, Once a King: The Lost Memoir of Edward VIII (Hodder & Stoughton, 2023). 9781399723930, 384 pp., hardback.

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1 comment

  1. Yeah, dodged that bullet, you did! Good for you for reading it, but I wouldn’t want to know any more than I do about that Nazi lover.

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