17 Carnations: The Royals, the Nazis, and the Biggest Cover-Up in History
by Andrew Morton
This book, with its irresistibly thrilling title, was an impulse buy in the bookstore after I became interested in Wallis Simpson and Edward, Duke of Windsor, and read Anne Sebba's wonderful account, That Woman. I had heard rumors that Edward and Wallis were pro-Nazi and perhaps conspiring with the Nazis against their own government, so this book seemed a goldmine of information to understand the true history behind the rumors. How could I resist, when the book jacket described it as containing a wealth of information derived from classified FBI documents and secret correspondence between British, American, and German leaders, and called it full of "intrigue and startling revelations"? However, after reading it, I was disappointed to find that the title was the most exciting part of the entire book.
This book sorely needed an introduction. It begins abruptly with a mini-biography of Edward, first as Prince of Wales and later as King of England and then as Duke of Windsor. It gave a good overview of his character (although without delving too deeply into his disturbing neuroses made all too clear in That Woman) and his overall lack of desire and ability to rule. Then follows a mini-biography of Wallis Simpson and a play-by-play of her relationship with Edward. If you haven't read anything else about these characters it will be informative, but having read other works about them I found it repetitive with nothing new to offer. Morton covers their relationship before and during the war, focusing on their commentary, their visit to Germany to meet with Hitler, and all the times Duke Edward put his foot in his mouth and was judged for it. Even this far into the book, since there was no introduction to present the thesis, there is no hint as to the organization of the book, how these characters fit into the plot, or what the alleged cover-up was even about.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor with Adolf Hitler in 1937.
The only thing the book makes clear is that there was considerable mistrust of Edward and Wallis and their loyalties during the war, both in Britain and abroad. Unfortunately it's clear because it fills half the book, when it could have fit into a single chapter. The reasons for this mistrust and the rumors fueling the fire are discussed at length, even though it is clear early on that Wallis and Edward are not really guilty of anything serious, even though there were Nazi conspiracies centered on them. At some point in the middle I lost interest and stopped reading for a few days, which I almost never do. Then, finally, after 250 pages Morton finally gets to the cover-up, and the book gets a little more interesting. But calling it "the Biggest Cover-up in History" is a bit of a stretch. It's more like the biggest cover-up in England involving the royal family and the war in that five year period...although maybe not even that.
Morton's writing style is very accessible for the most part; he writes in a conversational tone that attracts your attention, at least for a while. But he has a strange habit of writing incomplete sentences that seem to be there for dramatic effect, which end up just being kind of awkward to read. His tour de force comes at the end of the book, when he spends a paragraph comparing Edward's behavior toward the Nazis with a flirt at a nightclub, teasing them until they become aroused but never having any intention of satisfying them. Yes. He actually said that.
This book is certainly not the Da Vinci Code-style mystery it claims to be. For most of the book it is unclear what is even being covered up, and the pages leading up to the cover-up are not that exciting. That being said, Morton does a good job collating all the letters, telegrams, and official orders relating to Edward and his actions during the war, especially the materials found in the secret German documents that were confiscated by the Allies after the war was over. The description of these German documents and how Britain got their hands on them was interesting and new to me, as well as his evidence for Britain attempting to erase history to protect the reputation of the monarchy, so for that I would say this book is worth reading. But overall it falls short of expectations and I felt disappointed reading it, perhaps as disappointed as the Nazis felt after Edward left them unsatisfied in the night club.