How the royal family used obscure legal procedures to keep wills of distant relatives sealed
The royal family has used an obscure legal process for the past century to keep the wills of distant relatives secret, a court document shows.
Under the law, the wills of British citizens are expected to be made public. Senior royals are exempt, however, and the royal family used this exemption to seal the wills of several distant relatives over the past hundred years.
The wills of more than 30 members of the royal family were kept secret and even their identities were sealed.
But on Wednesday, a senior judge released the list of names – though the contents of the wills themselves remain secret and under lock and key.
It revealed that the convention of sealing royal wills, which is believed to be used only for senior members, is in fact much more widespread and used for distant relatives.
Among the names revealed was Prince George Valdemar Carl Axel, who died in 1986 and was a great-nephew of Prince Philip. The Danish royal was born in Denmark and died there too, although his will was sealed in London.
Among the names revealed was Prince George Valdemar Carl Axel, who died in 1986 and was a great-nephew of Prince Philip
Prince William of Gloucester (right in 1958), a grandson of George V and a cousin of Elizabeth II who died aged 30 in a plane crash is on the list
The Queen Mother is also on the list. The wills of more than 30 royals were kept secret and even their identities were sealed until Wednesday
The first name on the list was Prince Francis Joseph Leopold Frederick of Teck, younger brother of Queen Mary of Teck, wife of George V.
It is said that Mary persuaded a judge to seal her brother’s will to cover up a sex scandal after he prized family jewelry to a mistress.
Others who had their wills sealed include the Duke of Windsor, who was King Edward VIII until he abdicated in 1936.
Several more obscure members of the family including Queen Victoria’s grandchildren such as Lady Victoria Patricia Helena Elizabeth Ramsay are also on the list.
Prince William of Gloucester, a grandson of George V and a cousin of Elizabeth II who died in a plane crash at just 30 years old, is on the list, along with more recognizable recent members such as Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother.
Curiously, there was also a non-royal on the original list, banker Leopold de Rothschild, a close fried of Edward VII.
The exemption would only apply to royals and a court spokesman later said: the inclusion of Rothschild’s name on the original list was ‘a mistake’. They confirmed that Rothschild’s will was never sealed and are currently trying to figure out how the mistake arose.
How jewelry scandal led to Queen Mary sealing her brother’s will
Queen Mary’s brother Prince Francis of Teck
The practice of sealing royal wills began when Queen Mary’s brother, Prince Francis of Teck, died of pneumonia in 1910 at the age of 39.
Known for womanizing and gambling, he left prized family jewels known as the Cambridge Emeralds to a mistress, Ellen Constance, the Countess of Kilmorey.
There was also a suggestion that he fathered an illegitimate child.
Fearing a scandal just before her coronation, Mary had the will sealed.
The jewels were bought back from the Countess by Mary, who wore them when her husband George V was crowned.
The emeralds have also been worn by the Queen and Princess Diana.
The last will to be sealed belonged to Prince Philip, who died in April this year at the age of 99.
David McClure, an expert on royal finances and author of the book The Queen’s True Worth, told the Guardian the list showed the exemption was more widespread than intended.
He said: ‘If you were a royal of a European royal family, if you had made enough of a song and danced about it, you could have your will sealed. It kind of makes the whole process a bit ridiculous that this should be for more senior royals.”
Norman Baker, a former Liberal Democrat minister, suggested some wills may have been sealed to cover up “how much money they’ve collected from public funds.”
At a secret hearing in July, the president of the Supreme Court’s family division approved a request by the Queen’s private lawyers and the Attorney General to keep Prince Philip’s will secret for at least 90 years.
Sir Andrew McFarlane said senior members of the royal family should be exempted from the law requiring the publication of wills.
Sir Andrew has ordered that Philip’s will must remain sealed for 90 years from the grant of an estate – the formal process confirming an executor’s authority to administer a deceased person’s estate – and that it can be kept even after that date. can only be opened privately.
The judge said: “I have held that, given the constitutional position of the Sovereign, it is appropriate to have a special practice with regard to royal wills.
“It is necessary to improve the protection afforded to truly personal aspects of the lives of this limited group of individuals in order to preserve the dignity of the Sovereign and close members of her family.”
He said the ruling was to make as many details public as possible without “compromising the conventional privacy afforded to communications from the Sovereign.”
The judge said it was in the public interest for him to clarify that he had neither seen nor been told the contents of Philip’s will, other than the date of execution and the identity of the named executor.
Sir Andrew said he had decided to keep the earlier hearing private because a series of announcements, hearings and then a verdict would likely have “generated very significant publicity and guesswork.”
He concluded that this would “completely run counter to the need to preserve the Sovereign’s dignity and protect privacy around truly private matters.”
He added: “The publicity would therefore partially defeat the core purpose of the application.”
The judge said: “I accepted the proposition that while there may be public curiosity about the private arrangements a member of the royal family can choose in their will, there is no real public interest in the public knowing that this is completely private.” is. information.
‘The media attention for this is commercial. The amount of publicity this publication could attract would be very extensive and completely contrary to the aim of preserving the dignity of the Sovereign.’
Sir Andrew said that as the Attorney General was present to represent the public interest at the hearing, there was no legal reason for further representations by media organisations.
Princess Margaret is also on the list. Despite the names being revealed, the contents of the will remain secret
Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, uncle of Prince Philip and great-nephew once removed from Elizabeth II, is on the list
Several more obscure members of the family including Queen Victoria’s grandchildren such as Lady Victoria Patricia Helena Elizabeth Ramsay are also on the list
Comes after it was ruled Prince Philip’s will to remain a secret for 90 years to protect the Queen’s ‘dignity’ and ‘close members of her family’
Lawyers representing Philip’s estate had argued at the closed hearing that news of that hearing and the filing could “generate a wholly unfounded suspicion” that would be “very drastic” for the Queen and the Royal Family.
Sir Andrew outlined the history of previous similar decisions and said the first member of the royal family whose will was sealed at the direction of the court’s president was Prince Francis of Teck.
He was the younger brother of Queen Mary and after his death in 1910 a request to have his will sealed and unpublished was granted.
Sir Andrew said that, as president of the Family Division of the High Court, he is the keeper of a safe containing 30 envelopes – each containing the sealed will of a deceased member of the royal family.
He said the earliest envelope contains Prince Francis of Teck’s will, and the most recent additions include the wills of the late Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister.
In 2007, Sir Mark Potter, then President of the Family Department, turned down a request from Robert Andrew Brown for the wills of the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret to be unsealed.
Mr Brown claimed to be the illegitimate child of Princess Margaret and claimed he had an interest in unsealing and inspecting the wills to establish that claim.
However, his claim was not accepted by the court and was labeled ‘annoying and a process abuse’ – a decision that was upheld by the Court of Appeal.