World War II: Nazi Plot With British Royals Revealed in Secret Memo Churchill Wrote to Eisenhower

Winston Churchill
A statue of Winston Churchill is seen in front of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in London on March 29. Hannah McKay/Reuters

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill asked U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower to suppress a British royal's desire for peace with Adolf Hitler, newly published papers reveal.

A secret memo sent from Churchill to Eisenhower in 1953, now published under British transparency rules, details the existence of documents noting that in 1936, after his abdication from the British throne, the former King Edward VIII was a supporter of a peace deal between Britain and Germany, Bloomberg reported.

Churchill wrote to Eisenhower to inform him that telegrams outlining this opinion and its outcome still existed.

"He is convinced that had he remained on throne, war would have been avoided and describes himself as [a] firm supporter of a peaceful compromise with Germany," read one of the telegrams from July 1940 from Lisbon in neutral Portugal, where the former king, by that point known as the Duke of Windsor, was staying. "Duke believes with certainty that continued heavy bombing will make England ready for peace."

After finding out about the duke's views, Hitler's foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, made plans to use the information to his advantage. He asked the Spanish government—neutral but Nazi-sympathetic—to ensure the royal couple returned to Spain. He then planned to offer "the granting of any wish," to the Duke up to "the ascension of the English throne."

There then followed a game of cat and mouse, as Churchill sought to extract the duke from Europe, appointing him governor of the Bahamas, while the Nazis sought to keep him in Spain, via kidnapping if necessary. In the event, the Nazis failed.

When the telegrams revealing this information were discovered after the war, Churchill and his successor as prime minister, Clement Attlee, agreed they should remain secret. But Attlee subsequently changed his mind, and Churchill learned that American historians planned to publish them.

Churchill wrote to Eisenhower to inform him of this and express his concern that the documents "might leave the impression that the duke was in close touch with German agents and was listening to suggestions that were disloyal."

The men were unable to prevent the documents from emerging; they were eventually published in 1957.