The princess kisses the frog - and behold a glamorous prince. That's how it happens in fairy tales. But history has a very different story to tell about King Edward VIII (the Duke of Windsor) who gave up the throne of England to marry Mrs. Wallis Simpson. It was the glamorous prince who did the kissing and was revealed, well, not exactly as a frog, but certainly as a self-centered playboy.
Michael Bloch doesn't agree with history's version. He is frankly pro-Windsor. A former assistant to the Duchess of Windsor's Paris lawyer, he was given access to the Windsor private papers, and his account, The Duke of Windsor's War: From Europe to the Bahamas, 1939-1945 (Coward-McCann, $17.95), becomes a kind of history-through-the-eyes-of-the-duke-and-duchess.
He shows us the duke as a man with a love for the people, full of zeal to serve his country in time of war. By contrast, his brother, George VI, who had royalty thrust upon him, emerges as a spiteful character, jealous of the duke's popularity and constantly thwarting him. The author, as he doles out blame to the palace and the government, takes little account of the harm a glamorous exmonarch could do to a country at war ruled by a shy, untrained King. Even a hint of divided loyalty could have meant disaster to Britain.
Nor does he concede that at a time when kings were as expendable as pawns, it had seemed only too likely that the abdication and its aftermath would crack the whole empire.
No wonder the British establishment was alarmed when the duke proved such a popular figure with both British soldiers and the French officers in wartime France. No wonder they preferred him to be miles away in the Bahamas.
But it is also obvious from this book that if you want to render a man unfit to govern the Bahamas, then train him to be king of England. Royalty must be a mere figurehead, must have no political views, and reign but not govern. It was a tough job indeed for the former Edward VIII. Moreover, when the duke needed help or advice from London, he got none. He and the duchess and author Bloch see it as spite. But with its life on the line, London could have had other worries.
Maybe I am prejudiced against the author's viewpoint by my childhood disappointment over what seemed a fairytale prince's rejection of his people - me among them. If so, my prejudice was strengthened by a reference to Queen Mary in this book. History records that her well-known sense of duty dated back to the days when royalty was expected to submit to arranged marriages. So, as Princess Mary of Teck, she dutifully agreed to become engaged to the heir to the British throne, the Duke of Clarence. When the duke died, the hand of this ever-obedient princess was handed on to the next heir, the future George V.
In the eyes of author Bloch this strict, selfless sense of duty becomes ''the determined desire to be Queen which (she) so vigorously demonstrated by her rapid change of fiance in the early 1890s.''
It seems to me that when author Bloch interprets Queen Mary's motives in this way, he unconsciously puts his finger on the key to the Windsor tragedy - the concept of duty. To Buckingham Palace the issue was clear: it was the King's duty to practice Queen Mary's brand of loyalty. As King, Emperor, and head of the Church of England, he had no right to put the monarchy at risk by marrying a divorced woman. But to Edward VIII, duty took second place - he made the mistake of thinking he had the same rights as his subjects.