In 1903 Roosevelt graduated from Harvard with a BA degree; it took him just three years to earn. Thirty years later he was starting his astonishing career on the world stage. He had only his undergraduate degree to prepare him, but then it was from Harvard and came with unlimited charm and the flexibility
of a Renaissance Master.
He makes his debut in Canada. O Canada.
In 1936 came the staggering abdication of King-Emperor Edward VIII, an event so unheard of no novelist would spin a plot on it. Two masters saw not the crash of the dynasty and the insolence of the “King’s Moll“ (Mrs. Simpsons). No indeed. That was for sitting under the hairdresser. Much much more was at stake than an errant curl or imperfect color.
John Buchan thought far beyond the icy vastness of the dominion he now governed as first Baron Tweedsmuir, first Governor General of Canada. He was a suitably ingenious partner for President Roosevelt, as he then was. The game was worthy of them.
Buchan needed to raise the stature and prestige of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. He devised a monumental plan that would take his untried sovereigns to every nook and cranny of the dominion, forging lifetime links in what was now called the Crown of Canada, a nation not just “40 acres of snow”, and ready for Roosevelt.
Roosevelt watched the Royal Tour of 1936 with the greatest interest. It had multiple purposes, all significant. First, it must showcase the hitherto untrained sovereigns as worthy of the dominion of Canada and the world-wide empire of which it was a crucial part.
It must also show President Roosevelt that what he was being asked to give namely dozens of ships and planes would not present a security breach for the United States. In other words, it would not do what the French Republic was soon to do, namely scuttled its ships and caused terrible loss and confusion.
George VI, Mrs. Roosevelt and Queen Elizabeth (L-R)
The two junior sovereigns took their lessons admirably. So much so that at the end of one evening at Hyde Park when Roosevelt slapped him on the knee and said it is time to go to bed young man which horrified the King’s prickly spouse; to remind her husband that he was the king and Roosevelt was simply an elected figure.
“Why don’t my ministers speak to me like you do?”
Roosevelt loved playing this game and delighted in puckish comments. Nowhere was this more clear than the “hot dog incident.”
The picnic hotdog at Hyde Park
He invited the King and Queen to an American hot dog style picnic. Hot dogs were the prime course. Queen Elizabeth was horrified but no more so than President Roosevelt’s mother, who was a stickler for the punctilios.
But, Roosevelt knew what he was doing. He wanted the world to see and chuckle that the King came to his residence and not to eat caviar and drink champagne. No indeed. And so Roosevelt showed the world and England that he was, in the subtlest way, sovereign to the sovereigns. Thus, when the bombs commenced in September 1939 his work amidst the throne paid off. Canada entered the war without cavil or obstacles.
Perhaps the biggest plum was the fifty World War 1 destroyers that Roosevelt swapped for naval bases in the Caribbean. No wonder that FDR had a notable grin. The swap he made was highly beneficial to the United States, though he must not say so to anyone. Yes, he played the game well.
Honi soit qui mal y pense The Duke of Windsor (shame on him who thinks evil of it).
The acme of the Duke’s long life was the evening of date when he as “Prince Edward” had spoken to his empire and every romantic everywhere on Earth about “the woman he loved.” It was all downhill after that… and in this decline, Roosevelt had an important role to play.
The important document is in the papers of the Foreign Relations of the United States, The Conferences at Washington, 1941-1942. Roosevelt-Churchill-Duke of Windsor meeting., 5 p.m. (Document 282)
June 23, 1940
The best historians are the lucky historians, the ones who know where a vital clue may be found and where in due course it is. I have been the recipient of such buena fortuna from time to time and I felt sure upon discovering this one that I had paydirt again… until I read the editorial note “No official record of the substance of the discussion at this meeting has been found. The information set forth above is derived from the President’s appointment calendar (Roosevelt Papers).” The substance of the message had not come. Only the headline was left, and this was so telling that my damn was involuntary.
You see, this was the only file where the contents had been removed. The rest had them intact. Never mind each one was “Top Secret.” consigned by Churchill and Roosevelt to win the war as soon as possible.
What then was the Duke of Windsor (as he then was and so remained) doing there? And why were there no notes? Here, gentle reader, you have to rely on me and the most likely clues, the ones that can solve the puzzle, opening doors, not closing them.
After the heady business of the Abdication passed from history to gossip commentator Westbrook Pegler’s trenchant description of the sad couple reigned supreme. The Windsors needed something substantive to do, but were too proud to do such work. Hitler and the Nazis helped pass the time. Why shouldn’t the Windsor come back to England as sovereigns, helped by Herr Hitler and his cauldron of dark possibilities? Hitler, you see, could make kings too.
Now we must imagine what Roosevelt and Churchill have said in this meeting where there were no notes and no restrictions.
The Duke of Windsor wanted this meeting to make his case for undertaking an honorable war role. Roosevelt would have been as charming as ever and as noncommittal. Poor Winnie had given in time after time to the Duke.
He had put his own important projects on hold and caused his judgment to be threatened when he asked the House of Commons to do what was necessary to avoid Abdication. He had given the Windsors a plane during the Battle of Britain to fly to London with their personal possessions. Around the Duke Churchill looked like a star-struck and befuddled old gentleman. It was illuminating; it was humiliating, and no doubt convinced Roosevelt that old gentleman was ga-ga. This, of course, was fine with him.
And so the meeting played out, Roosevelt bemused, glad he had done so little. Churchill embarrassed
And H.R.H. of Windsor trying to explain away the many messes on the carpet; promising better conduct, while absolutely no one believed he could rise higher than the martini glasses he hoisted promptly every day. Honi soit indeed…
And so President Roosevelt put the former King and Emperor, begging for positions he could not handle, on the bottom of the heap. Roosevelt had long cherished the near-secret desire to chop the empire down a peg or two; trading 50 obsolete destroyers was part of his plan; downgrading Windsor further and further still and belittling his once near God-like status was another
Roosevelt wanted to keep the British Empire as a (much diminished) player; in the game but never on top. Thus he was happy to see the Duke of Windsor and King George VI up close. Neither held a candle to the grand seigneurie of Hyde Park. As for the Duchess, her selfish lifestyle constantly in the press, she made it easy to dislike her by such thoughtless behavior as flying her laundry to the mainland. She was always note perfect when it came to her clueless and selfish behavior.
Roosevelt’s parlor games were coming along very well. The key was doing much, saying little. Never complain, never explain, and keep in mind that he was a son of the America Revolution and what that could lead to. For America, for FDR, and for the lives of the many princes who never knew what this organization could come to. He knew, and he remembered…
Bill and Otto
No President (including Woodrow Wilson) played the great Game of Thrones as often and as well as Franklin Roosevelt. He was not burdened by Woodrow Wilson and his fourteen points. He quickly made everyone despise him. Roosevelt’s ideology was simple and profound: “America First. Just don’t let everyone know it”, all the rest was balderdash, pure and simple. What could he get; what would it cost to get it? It was a Philosophy any horse trader could understand.
He knew, as who did not, that the legacy of World War I was an unprecedented power vacuum that someone was doing to fill. In Roosevelt’s world that meant The United States.
And so he began to see what his nimble fingers could grab. In due course he arrived at the shambles which were once the Imperial German Empire. It would be good and useful to see what they could contribute.
First, keep in mind that the German Imperial army was never defeated. By the time the Great War ended in 1918 not a single enemy soldier had set on foot, much less remained on German soil. That ”honor” was due to the French. Thus Germany remained at the end what it was at the beginning: the leading power among Continental nations. Now…What could be done with that?
Germany’s strong card was Russia, or rather fear of the Red Menace. Perhaps the greatest event of World War I was the fall of Russia and the possibility of the bacillus of Russia becoming the bacillus of the entire continent. This possibility could be stopped by the German Army.
This caused the President to establish friendly relations with the young Hohenzollern Prince Louis Ferdinand (born 1907). The unacceptability of older more senior Hohenzollerns (including Kaiser Wilhelm II and his son the Crown Prince) caused them to be removed from the succession. Prince Louis Ferdinand was the best of the remainder. As such he was what Roosevelt wanted; a solution to the German problem.
It is easy today to misunderstand this matter. But it was sufficiently important to reserve some presidential gamesmanship. First, the matter of the German army was paramount. The army that existed was the army that became Hitler’s. That made it very important indeed.
Roosevelt would far rather have a German prince beholden to Washington than a wobbly and uncertain army of the Weimar Republic which was never in any condition to stabilize Europe provide a meaningful counterpoise to Russia
In the event, by the time Roosevelt came into office (1933) Hitler was Chancellor, and though he played games with the Hohenzollerns, a restoration was never in the cards. Hitler made sure of that. Thus when Prince Louis Ferdinand got to visit, he was little more than a jumped-up tourist, and one of the great might have been had disappeared. The President, however, stayed in touch with the Prince. You Never knew…
Austria and its millennial princes, potentates, too, of Hungary, Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia and dozens more had stumbled into a war for which it was unready. They fought ineptly and threw away the successful work of centuries to obtain oblivion. Austrian royal History at the end of the 19th century makes consistently painful reading; everyone despised the hapless Habsburgs. When the war ended, and Woodrow Wilson started to fish for advantages in what had once been an empire, the German-speaking Austrians gave way to shame, for they had lost everything… everything but Otto van Hapsburg, the man who might have been.
The tragedies of Crown Prince Otto were clearly visible in the catalog. Emperor Franz Josef was the longest-serving sovereign in the history of Europe. Had he lived longer he might have negotiated peace; had he died earlier his successor, Charles I, might have received some of the badly training he needed.
They got even worse when the Emperor Charles botched two coup attempts (both 1921) which, if successful, might have enabled him to take back the Kingdom of Hungary, where he was still the rightful king.
His father then suffered a heart attack, leaving a teenager as head of the Imperial house. It could hardly be worse; no longer the symbol of legitimacy, but theembodiment of bumbling and instability. Everything was plucked away, easy pickens for the other nations which played their cards better and with thick sanctimoniousness.
Thus was the studious prince with perfect manners made welcome when came to see the President from time to time where Roosevelt’s romantic visions helped feed the lost imperial vistas of Otto of Austria.
Otto liked to talk, and when he had the President’s ear, he made the most of it. Sadly his proposals were often trifling; he had designed a new postage featuring the dynasty. Even this was the thin edge of the wedge; who could tell where such boldness might lead? Not back to Schonbrunn.
And so Otto became a ghostly presence in the days when the Socialists took over Austria. Then the Anschluss with Nazi Germany, then the Communist Party. It was daunting to keep a chin up against so much so burdensome. But he was Otto scion of greatness. We must always remember who he was.
President Roosevelt saw this and helped him in small ways. If he could not regain the throne, he could at least engender respect. And this is what he did until 2011 when his heart was buried in Pannonhalma Archabbey in Hungary. There it shall reside for the numerous ages, a vital memento of what might have been.
The author is Harvard trained Dr. Jeffrey Lant. See his many books and articles at www.drjeffreylant.com
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