The Duke and Duchess of Windsor are pictured above in 1937, after his abdication
When they were first published in 1967, the diaries of MP Sir Henry ‘Chips’ Channon enthralled and appalled the nation in equal measure.
Malicious and delicious, the diaries skewered some of the grandest names in society and politics.
What no one realised was that the diaries had been heavily censored. Now, they are being published for the first time in their full, outrageous glory.
American-born Chips, as he was known, settled in Britain after graduating from Oxford and became a social climber on a grand scale, becoming friendly with the future Edward VIII — the then Prince of Wales — in 1920.
He went on to become a close friend of Edward’s brother, the Duke of Kent, and mixed with the grandest families in the land (and indeed married into one of them when he wed Lady Honor Guinness in 1933).
He was bisexual but at one time thought he was in love with Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon as she then was (later the Queen Mother) and was shocked when her engagement to Edward’s brother, Albert (who went on to become George VI), was announced.
In today’s first extract he gives us a ringside seat as the drama of the Abdication unfolded. He was a friend of both Edward and Mrs Simpson and believed that the whole tragedy, as he saw it, could have been avoided — and that Wallis would have made an excellent Queen.
Tuesday, July 7, 1936
The Simpson scandal is growing, and poor Wallis looks unhappy. The world is closing in around her, the flatterers, the sycophants and the malice.
No wonder she sometimes steals to Hove for three or four days under an assumed name and just sleeps and listens to the sea. I long sometimes to do the same.
It is a curious social juxtaposition that casts me in the role of Defender of the King. But I do, and very strongly in society, not for loyalty to him, so much as for admiration and affection for Wallis, and indignation against those who attack her like that wild virago Lady Astor [Britain’s first woman MP], who is now really unbalanced mentally.
She is a menace to the House of Commons (although often funny) and a trial to public life. Her vulgarity, priggishness and narrow outlook are sickening.
American-born Chips, as he was known, settled in Britain after graduating from Oxford and became a social climber on a grand scale, becoming friendly with the future Edward VIII — the then Prince of Wales — in 1920
Monday, November 16
After dinner I sat on a sofa with Princess Olga [of Greece and Denmark, married to Prince Paul of Yugoslavia], Prince Paul and Mrs Simpson, who looked lovely tonight, like a Vermeer in a Dutch way.
We got on to jewels and tiaras: Princess Olga said that hers gave her a headache etc, etc. Wallis Simpson laughingly added: ‘Well, a tiara is one of the things I shall never have anyway.’
There was an embarrassed pause for a single second… the future Queen Empress without a crown? Diana [Cooper, wife of Secretary of State for War Duff Cooper] is convinced that Wallis and the King will marry in secret immediately after the Coronation. I half hope so; half believe it to be fated.
Dinner was interminable. Home at 6am.
Saturday, November 28
The battle for the throne has begun. On Wednesday evening (I know all that follows to be true; not six people in the Kingdom are so informed), Mr Baldwin [Prime Minister] spent 1 hr 40 minutes at Buckingham Palace with the King and gave him information that the govt would resign, and that the Press could no longer be restrained from attacking the King, if he did not abandon all idea of marrying Mrs Simpson.
Mr Baldwin hoped and thought to frighten the monarch; but he is obstinate, in love and rather more than a little mad, and he refused point-blank.
Monday, November 30
There is no hope for the King, none!
The Yorks [Prince Albert — Bertie, who married Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon] will probably succeed and we shall have a dowdy dull reign. [My wife] Honor and I will be out of the royal racket having backed the wrong horse — but I don’t much mind. So dull a court offers few temptations or regrets …
The Duke of Windsor is pictured above with Stanley Baldwin
Wednesday, December 2
This afternoon I saw Baldwin frowning and puffing at his pipe in the Smoking Room.
Only a little later, he was hectoring the King for 1 hr 50 minutes. The King, who is half-demented, and in a corner, lost all control and threw books and anything he could lay his hands on at the Prime Minister.
Thursday, December 3
The country and the Empire, one quarter of the population of the globe, now know that their monarch, their young King-Emperor, their adored Apollo, is in love and has been for some time with an American twice-divorced, whom they believe to be an adventuress.
There is talk of abdication; of the King sticking to his guns, marrying her and getting away with it; of morganatic compromise [meaning that Wallis would not be given a royal title]. The Queen [Edward’s mother, Mary, widow of the late George V] — the Duke of Kent [Edward’s younger brother George] knows this for a fact it seems — twice warned Mr Baldwin, once in February and again in July, that she feared for the future, and hinted that the King was bewitched and wanted marriage.
The D of Kent went on, quoting his late father that ‘David [as the royal family all called Edward] will let the whole show down, you’ll see’ — and he has. He, the Duke, is wildly indiscreet and I call him the BBC.
She [Edward’s mother] it seems, favours abdication. The royal family are behaving as royal families always do in history, they are aghast, leaderless and ineffectual.
The King ignores them and he is driving straight to the precipice from which there is no retreat; if he defies the government and persists with this marriage plan the Cabinet will resign, and there is no alternative government, as the Socialists have refused office under the present circumstances.
There is only Winston Churchill [then a senior Conservative MP, whose hardline attitude to Germany meant he fell out with Baldwin] and his handful of adventurers, and he in power means War with Germany. But his numbers are growing.
Friday, December 4
Mr Baldwin in stentorian voice, unsmiling, ungracious, I thought, announced flatly that there was no middle course, that morganatic marriage was not to be considered, that none of the Dominions would agree, and even if they did, the present government was not prepared to introduce such legislation.
He was greeted with cheers, but they were more for the man who has been through an appalling few days than for the pronouncement, which slams the door to any possible compromise.
Those grim, duty-bound, unimaginative men whose names must stink in history, how dare they condemn their young and valiant sovereign to such a choice, the woman or the throne.
London is now properly divided and the King’s faction grows; people process the streets singing ‘God Save the King’, they assemble outside Buckingham Palace, they paraded all night.
After the first shock the country is now reacting and demanding that their King be left in peace.
Saturday, December 5
He is 43 [Edward was actually 42] and friendless but that is because he has always been selfish and pig-headed, yet he must be saved from himself and for us.
The King, like the poor Tsar and Louis XVI, will listen to no advice and is running straight to his doom.
And how bored and lonely he will be when he is married to Wallis and living in Belgium or Holland or Cannes, with the Empire closed to him.
The Duke of York [Edward’s brother Bertie who became George VI] is miserable, and does not want the throne and is imploring his brother to stay on.
Edward hounded Wallis’s husband in his own bathroom
After the abdication, a friend of Channon managed to loosen the tongue of Ernest Simpson’s new lover Mary Raffray, over a bottle of Château d’Yquem.
Two nights later, the diarist recorded her indiscretions.) [Ernest] said that he was obliged to conclude that Wallis and the late King first began to have an affair in the full sense of the word in about March 1935.
He, Ernest, never wanted a divorce, but the late King followed him about in his own house, at meals, came to even his bathroom begging, imploring Ernest for Wallis’s sake, to get her a divorce.
Life for Ernest S became unendurable. For months he resisted, now he wished he had refused, and had gone abroad forever.
She could then have never married the King. It was in June and July that Wallis changed: gradually she decided that she had better be Queen-Empress.
Before then she had worked only for the King’s welfare: Probably she believed that once married to him, she could continue to mould him and make him into an excellent King.
Simpson, who has throughout behaved well, is distraught by the sad events.
Tuesday, December 8
Dinner dragged on, and at the end of it Victor Cazalet [Conservative MP] and I hurried to the H of C to vote. Victor brings his black tie and short coat with him and changes in the vestibule, as he will never be seen in a white tie in the House.
He is, I fear, hopelessly middle class, and so is the H of C, and hence their antagonism to Mrs Simpson, the double-divorced foreigner.
My fingers itch to choke Lady Astor and one day I shall tell her a few home truths…
Bed at three, nervously racked. The country thinks that we shall hear the decision tomorrow, but I know better: on Thursday the 10th his abdication will be announced to a horrified world.
Wednesday, December 9
The D of Kent, who had only just returned after two days at the Fort [Fort Belvedere, a country house in Windsor Great Park and home to Edward VIII], said that there was nothing to be done. The King’s mind was made up, and no one on this earth could stop him.
The Duke of Kent said that he was in good spirits, even cheerful, and this corroborates an account given by Tom Dugdale, [MP for Richmond and Baldwin’s Parliamentary Private Secretary] here in this house, that dinner last night at the Fort was almost a festive occasion.
It was the only dinner table probably in the Empire where ‘Topic A’ was not under discussion. Present were the King, his brothers of York and Kent, Monckton [Walter Monckton, Edward’s solicitor] and Peacock [Edward Peacock, a director of the Bank of England who also managed the finances the Duchy of Cornwall], Mr Baldwin and Tom Dugdale himself.
‘Very lazy’…’banal’, his savaging of the Windsors
The diaries contain an undated memorandum Channon wrote about the personalities of Edward, Mrs Simpson, Queen Elizabeth and George VI.
I also have always thought that Edward VIII suffers from sexual repression of another nature.
His horror of anything even savouring of homosexuality was exaggerated, especially in a world where it is far from unknown; and at the same time there are tales (I have heard them all my life and some I believe to be half true) which reveal him in quite another light.
Certainly, too, he has always surrounded himself with extremely attractive men. One knows almost in advance the type of man he would like — Fruity Metcalfe [Major Dudley Metcalfe, confidant and equerry to Edward VIII], Dicky [Lord Louis] Mountbatten, Sefton [Hugh Molyneux, Earl of Sefton], Mike Wardell [Chairman of the Evening Standard], Bruce Ogilvy [Earl of Airlie’s son], and even these he dropped as they aged.
Yet this infatuation for Wallis is almost dementia. I only pray that it lasts. But he takes up other things with violence — golf, hunting, flying, drink, and latterly gardening, and since Wallis’s influence, society and food. His amazing energy makes him indulge frantically in exercise and sit up all night.
This is typical of his one-track mind, his complete absorption in the interest of the moment. Perhaps — my God! — perhaps by May he will have lost interest in the woman for whom he has sacrificed the world.
Wallis is a woman of charm, sense, balance, and great wit. She has dignity and taste; she has always been an excellent influence on the King who has loved her openly, and honestly. She would have been an excellent Queen.
We are far from being done with her yet. There is, too, a kernel of bitterness in her character which will always make her turn against her enemies and possibly revenge herself — certainly pour ridicule on them.
I have known Queen Elizabeth for 17 years, and at times, well.
She is well bred, kind, gentle and slack. She may have deep-rooted ambition, but no surface trace of it.
She is fundamentally lazy, very lazy and charming, always charming, always gay and pleasant and smiling.
She has some intelligence and reads a lot, but she is devoid of all eye, and her houses have always been banal and hideous.
She can never resist a slightly spiky remark about the person she has just left; but it means nothing, and in the long run she is loyal and kind.
She will never be a great Queen for she will never be up in time! And also she is on too small a scale, and has little interest in human nature or anything else!
She has enormously improved her husband and has him completely under her thumb.
All his mature life he has been entirely under the dominion of his wife. He is good, he is dull, he is dutiful and good-natured. He is completely uninteresting, undistinguished and a godawful bore!
He stutters, tries hard to overcome this defect, and is devoted to his children whom he adores. He likes shooting and hates society and people, particularly witty or elegant or fashionable people who bring out his dullness.
So does she, but she is mildly flirtatious. I was once a little in love with her.
She makes every man feel chivalrous and gallant towards her but, of late, she has been growing much too fat.
Thursday, December 10
The dreadful day has dawned coldly, and my limbs are numb and chilled.
The House was very full, for there has not been an abdication since 1399, 537 years ago. I thought everyone subdued, but surprisingly unmoved.
Baldwin was greeted with cheers and sat down on the front bench gravely. At last he went to the Bar, bowed twice, ‘A message from the King,’ and he presented a paper to the Speaker, who proceeded to read it out. At the words ‘renounce the throne’ his voice broke and there were stifled sobs in the House.
The Chamber has witnessed yet again a famous scene that will always live in history.
Winston C sat doubled up throughout the speech. As I walked to my locker to fetch this diary, Lady Astor sang out to me,
‘People who have been licking Mrs Simpson’s boots ought to be shot.’ I was too tired to retort and pretended I did not hear.
Saturday, December 12
We woke this morning in the new reign, the third in 1936, the Year of the Three Kings.
The ex-King left Portsmouth at 1.45 this morning, after his broadcast speech [and] heartbreaking farewell to his distracted family.
Secretly he boarded a destroyer and left the country where he was so much loved, and where he has ruled for ten months. I have been in tears all day, the emotions are so racked.
Monday, December 21
Perry [Brownlow, Edward’s former Lord in Waiting] thinks he [the Duke of Windsor] is more than half mad. He has not yet the vaguest realisation of what he has surrendered.
Only once apparently has he panicked and that was when he heard that the Home Office wishes to remove the detectives from the Villa Lou Viei [house in Cannes where Wallis was staying] where they are guarding Wallis. Then he realised for the first time that he is no longer in a position to command.
[Walter] Monckton’s description of the last family farewell is poignant. It took place at Royal Lodge Windsor, and there the ex-King said ‘goodbye’ to his family.
At last he left, and bowing over his brother’s hand, the brother whom he had made King, he said ‘God bless you, sir. I hope you will be happier than your predecessor,’ and he disappeared into the night… leaving the royal family speechless and distraught.
Friday, December 25, 1936, Elveden
A day of cards, we must have had nearly 300 from all over the earth, but none from either poor Wallis Simpson nor the Duke of Windsor.
5, Belgrave Square
January 21st, 1937.
I am now convinced that Edward VIII from the very beginning was determined to abdicate and, indeed, never wished to reign at all. He had, as he told his intimates, worked over-strenuously for twenty-six years for the Empire and he was nearly worn out.
Also, as he told his family and others, he knew that he was a wonderful Prince of Wales — the country may perhaps never know one like him again — but, on the other hand, he fully realised that he would be a bad king in that he was convivial, unconventional, modern and impetuous and he could not stand the strain of his loneliness.
Throughout the whole ten months of his reign he was probably seeking an opportunity to abdicate.
However, I believe that he was determined in his mind to marry — at whatever cost — Mrs Simpson, who is the only human being that he has ever trusted and completely loved.
The whole affair could not have been more bungled. The King, had he wished to go through with it, had only one course to pursue — he had only to keep still and exercise a little more discretion until after the Coronation. Next August when Parliament had dispersed and Mr Baldwin had gone to Aix-les-Bains, [French resort where Baldwin and his wife went for an annual holiday] the King could have quietly married her in the Chapel at Windsor.
He then would have informed his government what had happened and probably made a broadcast, as he confided in someone was his intention. There would have been nothing whatsoever to be done. The fait accompli would have had to have been accepted and we should have had Mrs Simpson as Queen Wallis.
I have put this question to several members of the Cabinet: ‘What would you have done?’ They have all replied: ‘Nothing.’ There would have been some resentment in the country, but it would have passed.
In this house on the evening of November 19, when they dined here, Duff Cooper said to Mrs Simpson in my hearing: ‘If only you would leave this matter for ten months we shall make you Queen.’ She refused to enter into any discussion.
In conclusion it is my conviction that the action taken by the Conservative Party in the Houses of Parliament in regard to the contemplated marriage between the King and Mrs Simpson was, or will be in the long run, a serious mistake.
Already the new King and Queen are going back to the habits of the last long reign and are identifying themselves with the traditions and mode of life of the territorial aristocracy which, for all its great qualities and traditions, is nevertheless out of date.
I do not think that the Socialists nor — say — the miners in South Wales will ever have the same great affection for the present monarchs, or would refer to George VI as ‘Our King’ as they did Edward VIII, during his short reign.
I sincerely hope that I am wrong and that the present King and Queen will eventually be as loved as George V. But the spirit of the world is changing and I much doubt whether they are strong enough.
They are [a] very earnest, honest, upright couple, imbued with the highest ideals of kindliness and sense of duty, but on the other hand, they are unimaginative and have no real flair or energy.
Until the crisis arose the King was loved by every section of the community and I repeat that I fear the present people will allow themselves to become puppets of a class whose importance is every day lessened.
Time alone will tell.
Extracted from Henry ‘Chips’ Channon: The Diaries 1918-38 (Volume 1) by Chips Channon, to be published on March 4 by Hutchinson at £35. © Georgia Fanshawe, Henry Channon and Robin Howard as Trustees of the diaries and personal papers of Sir Henry Channon 2021. Introduction and notes © Simon Heffer 2021.
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