Questions and answers about this release

Questions and answers about this release


When were the files be released to the public?

The files were made available to the public on Thursday 30 January.

Anyone with a National Archives reader's ticket will be able to consult them on microfilm at the reading rooms in Kew. Selected images from the files are available online.

What do the files tell us?

These files are government records relating to the Abdication, including full minutes of Cabinet meetings, letters from the King, as well as a letter from George Bernard Shaw and many from individual members of the public. They also include papers on Mrs Simpson's divorce and Special Branch reports on her behaviour.

Philip Ziegler had access to government records for his official biography of Edward VIII and made full use of them. A list of those documents consulted by Ziegler is listed on this website. Two Special Branch files which were not made available to Ziegler are included in the release.

Why were the records closed for such a long period?

In 1967, the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, agreed that the most important government records relating to the Abdication would be closed for 100 years. Since then, there has been a major change in policy relating to government records.

The 1993 White Paper on Open Government was followed, in 1999, by the publication of guidance on the release of records relating to the Royal Family. This established the principle that records relating to the Royal Family would be treated in the same way as all other records and only closed for longer than 30 years if they fall into one or more of the criteria governing closure.

These criteria cover:

  • National interest (defence, international relations, national security and economic interests)
  • Documents containing information supplied in confidence which it might be a breach of confidence to reveal
  • Documents containing information about individuals, the disclosure of which would cause either substantial distress or endangerment from a third party

These particular records relating to the Abdication have now been released because they do not fall into any of the categories for extended closure and the release reflects the implementation of the guidelines.

What about the role of the Queen Mother?

There have been some stories in the press that these records might contain material relating to the Queen Mother.

Our initial impression is that there is little material here which relates to her role, if any, in the Abdication. There is some material about her involvement in subsequent events such as the question of an HRH title for the Duchess of Windsor and the question of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor returning to Britain.

The Queen Mother's personal papers are not held by government. Questions relating to access to her personal papers should be directed to the Royal Archives at Windsor.

Are the papers on Mrs Simpson's divorce being released?

The King's Proctor, as part of his official duties under the divorce laws which were in force in 1936 - 37, conducted exhaustive investigations into the legality of the Simpson divorce. These papers are included in the release.

What about the "China Dossier"?

There has been some discussion in the press about the so-called China Dossier which, it is claimed, Baldwin had compiled on Mrs Simpson.

In his biography of Edward VIII, Philip Ziegler wrote: "As with all the best ghosts, everyone had a friend, who had a friend, who had read the dossier, yet no one seems actually to have read it himself. No copy or reference to a copy exists in any official archive." We share Ziegler's view of the dossier.

What about links between Mrs Simpson and the Nazis?

These files contain a few occasional assertions, such as that by Horace Wilson (Chief Industrial Adviser to the government) in a 1936 note to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that "she has been in touch with the Nazis." However, there is no evidence to substantiate such assertions in these files.

Philip Ziegler said in an interview with The Guardian on 29 June 2002 that reports that either Edward or Mrs Simpson were traitors was "complete nonsense based on flimsy evidence." He added that there is nothing in the German archives which could remotely be called evidence that either of them was passing on information.