Since the early 1900s, the British royal family's connection to Germany has been called into question.

Arguably no other monarch, however, was tied to the Third Reich in the same ways as the Duke of Windsor, Edward VIII.

The former king gave up the crown 83 years ago this week, in order to marry his American mistress Wallis Simpson — a woman who would set off a chain of events, altering the British monarchy forever, reports News.com.au.

To most British politicians, and the Church of England, a twice-divorced American woman was unacceptable as queen of England.

Advertisement

So less than a year after he was crowned king on December 10, 1936, Edward made history when he abdicated the throne.

"I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love," he announced in a public address.

Now demoted to Duke of Windsor, he and Simpson married on June 3, 1937 in France, where the pair "lived in virtual self-exile from Britain".

And while the Duke and Duchess of Windsor's complicated love story is often held responsible for the rift driven between Edward and the rest of the royal family, the true reason is a lot more sinister, filled with pro-Nazi sympathies and ties to Hitler.

'THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG'

Hitler planned to reinstate the Duke and Duchess as Britain's monarchs. Photo / Supplied
Hitler planned to reinstate the Duke and Duchess as Britain's monarchs. Photo / Supplied

Following their marriage, Wallis and Edward embarked on a jetsetting lifestyle that attracted wide publicity.

No trip, however, was more controversial than the one the newlyweds took to Germany in 1937, a mere two years before Britain declared war.

It was "the tip of the iceberg": the first in a long string of incidents that linked the couple to Adolf Hitler, causing rumours to run rampant around the world that the former king was a Nazi sympathiser and his wife a Nazi spy.

The motives behind the now-notorious visit to Hitler at his holiday spot, Berchtesgaden, were "peaceful", royal historian Carolyn Harris told the BBC, and led to a gaining acceptance of Wallis, whose treatment in Britain had been icy at best.

Advertisement

Harris said the Duke was "eager to carve out a new role for himself and ensure that his wife was treated as a full member of the Royal Family even though she had not received the title of Her Royal Highness – an issue that was of great concern to the duke".

The Duchess was well and truly treated like royalty during the two-week trip — met by massive, cheering crowds and the curtsies and bows she had been denied elsewhere.

But reports of the Duke's actions while there — meeting with a series of high-profile Nazi figures and photographed returning the Nazi salutes of Germans — caused the monarchy and British government great embarrassment.

Following their meeting with Hitler, the dictator reportedly stated that "Simpson would have made a good queen."

While the Duchess denied he had ever said such a thing, the damage had already been done.

By the time WWII officially began in 1939, the Duke had become a liability to his family, and, in the eyes of Hitler, an advocate of the Nazi cause.

DAMNING DOCUMENTS

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor pose after their wedding at the Chateau de Cande in France. Photo / Getty Images
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor pose after their wedding at the Chateau de Cande in France. Photo / Getty Images

While the visit heightened public and government fear about the couple's loyalties, it wouldn't be until years later that the true extent of Edward's ties to Hitler were revealed.

The outbreak of war in 1939 only heightened tensions between the British government and its former monarch.

Still unwelcome in England, the Duke was offered the governorship of the Bahamas by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, anxious to keep the Windsors "out of Hitler's grasp".

As Churchill explained to US President Franklin Roosevelt: "there are personal and family difficulties about his return to this country."

When France fell under Nazi control in 1940, the Duke and Duchess travelled to Madrid, where the Germans attempted to use them as pawns in an ill-fated plan to gain control of the British government.

Details of the ploy — and the true extent of the Duke's ties to Nazi Germany — were revealed in 1945, when British, French and American forces uncovered tons of Foreign Ministry archives following the collapse of Nazi Germany.

Among the papers and telegrams were roughly 60 pages of material that contained information about and correspondences between the Duke and Nazi Germany, which consequently became known as the Windsor File.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor are greeted by German leader Adolf Hitler. Photo / Supplied
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor are greeted by German leader Adolf Hitler. Photo / Supplied

Increasing suspicion of the Duke's Nazi sympathies, the most shocking piece of information to come to light was the details of a German plan, known as Operation Willi.

While unsuccessful, the Nazis had plotted to lure the ostracised former monarch over to the enemy side – even attempting to convince the Duke that his brother, the King, planned to assassinate him – and reinstate him as king in exchange for his support.

"The Germans propose to form an opposition government with the Duke of Windsor, having first changed public opinion by propaganda," the memo of a Foreign Office informant read.

According to the Windsor File, the Duke and Duchess did not dismiss the plan — nor did they inform British authorities of the conversation, with the Duchess reportedly "desiring at any price to become Queen".

Churchill pleaded with the other governments to suppress the telegrams, claiming that the information they contained was "unreliable" — but they eventually came to light in 1957.

Years later, the Duke quashed the rumours of his support to the Nazi regime, publicly calling Hitler "a somewhat ridiculous figure".

But in a private statement about his relationship with the Fuhrer, in many ways he confirmed his reputation as a Nazi sympathiser, saying, "I never thought Hitler was such a bad chap".