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Princes at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britain’s Royal Family in the Darkest Days of World War II, by Deborah Cadbury, PublicAffairs, 2015, 400 pages, $28.99 (Hardcover)
When Edward VIII abdicated his throne for Wallis Simpson, the woman he loved, it was supposed to be part of the love story of the century.
Princes at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britain’s Royal Family in the Darkest Days of World War II, by Deborah Cadbury, reveals the reality behind the fairy tale romance. It proves to be a grim story.
The book examines the lives of King George V’s four sons, from Edward’s abdication to the death of Edward’s successor, King George VI. In addition to the Duke of Windsor (as Edward became following abdication) and King George VI, it describes the careers of Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Prince George, Duke of Kent.
The book reads like a cross between one of Shakespeare’s histories and tragedies. Each brother seem a characters from his plays.
George VI, the reluctant king, accepts responsibilities he never desired, even changing his name from Albert to George to underscore continuity with his father. Henry emerges as a nobler Falstaff, more interested in drinking and his army career than affairs of state. Yet he manfully shoulders responsibilities when the monarchy is threatened. Prince George is Prince Hal, a glamorous playboy who becomes a warrior when World War II starts. Edward is almost a Richard III, scheming ways to give his bride denied royal honors, and even regain his throne.
The book presents George VI’s feelings of inadequacy to fill the role he was thrust into, and his fears he might destroy the monarchy if he did fail. It also shows how the king mastered his limitations to become a symbol of British resilience during World War II.
It reveals Edward’s unfitness for the role he abdicated, showing his total focus on himself, to the point of signaling willingness to reclaim his throne through the assistance of Nazi Germany. It also shows George VI’s other brothers rallying to George VI as the crisis of war broke over Britain.
Princes at War is a fascinating look at the British monarchy over two decades, creating moving personal portraits of four men during a time of great challenge.
This article originally appeared in the Daily News of Galveston County.