Rumour has it that the royal family was thrilled with Donaldson’s book, with Princess Margaret telling a friend: “It was such a relief for all of us to have the true story told at last.” So Larman has big shoes to fill. Sensibly, he doesn’t go in for startling revisions, but instead makes use of the new sources and interpretive lenses that have become available in the intervening four decades. In particular Larman insists on bringing the Germans back into the narrative, reminding us just how badly Hitler wanted to keep Edward on the throne.
The quality of a book with no fresh discoveries of note must depend on its insights. Sadly, Larman gets the wrong end of various sticks. He writes that his book “depicts a time in British history when conventional ideas of regal behaviour and duty were cast aside, and where the resulting moral and social vacuum could have led to disaster”. In fact, the only person to cast aside conventional ideas was the King, and because (as his prime minister indicated to him) the public overwhelmingly sided with convention, he remained alone.
However big a crisis it was compared with others, Larman’s account — rendered with brio and dispatch — proves that the principal actors, from the prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, and his Conservative colleagues, through the powerful press barons, over to the members of the royal family and their households, thought that it was a huge matter. What Larman shows us is that at no time after 1934 was the Prince of Wales, subsequently the King, likely to give up Mrs Simpson.