King's Counsellor, edited by Duff Hart-Davis

Inside the secret world of the royal adviser who wished Edward VIII dead
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The Independent Culture

These diaries of Sir Alan - "Tommy" - Lascelles, private secretary to George VI, are packaged as a book on "Abdication and War". But on the abdication, they are unreliable, judging by the recent release of government records at the National Archives. On war, any secret material has already become public knowledge. Yet they offer genuine insights into the role of the King's adviser.

Lascelles loathed the Duke of Windsor. "I can't help thinking," he reports telling Baldwin in 1927, "that the best thing that could happen to him, and to the country, would be for him to break his neck." Baldwin agreed. This antipathy may have distorted his recollections of the abdication of 1936. There is a glaring omission: he fails to acknowledge that the struggle between Edward VIII and Prime Minister Baldwin was fought not over whether Wallis should be queen, but over Edward's proposal - advocated by Churchill - for a morganatic marriage. Wallis would have been his wife, but not his queen.

Lascelles states that the King's subjects "would not tolerate" as queen "a shop-soiled American, with two living husbands and a voice like a rusty saw". But this is retrospective self-deception, as many people were on the King's side when news broke of his wish to marry Wallis. According to Lascelles, the Dominions were opposed, but this was not the case, as we know from government records. Did he know this?

The diaries reveal that Churchill never ceased urging the King and Queen to "receive" the Duchess of Windsor and let the Duke return to Britain, with a job. Clearly, their refusal distressed him. Lascelles suggests a powerful motive - their fear that if the Duke came home, he might be seen as rightful king and his massive popularity would be renewed. "There is no room for two Kings of England," wrote Lascelles to Churchill in May 1944.

According to Peter Townsend, equerry to George VI (who became romantically involved with Princess Margaret), Lascelles was "cold, rigid and inhibited". There is little here to suggest otherwise. His attitudes were narrow and fixed. "No white man," he observes, "can endure the thought of mixed marriages." He was disgusted when Stafford Cripps removed his shoes before entering Gandhi's house. With such an adviser, it is no wonder the King showed such a harsh attitude towards his abdicated elder brother.

Susan Williams was a consultant for the BBC4 film, 'Abdication: A Very British Coup'

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