Britain’s royals used obscure legal procedure to hide distant relatives’ wills | Monarchy

Wills detailing the assets of distant relatives of the royal family have been kept secret through an obscure legal procedure, a court document has revealed.

The Windsor family has over the last century managed to exempt itself from a law requiring the wills of British citizens to ordinarily be made public.

The identities of the more than 30 royal wills that were sealed over that period had not been formally made public.

That changed on Wednesday when a senior judge published the list of royals whose sealed wills are stored in a locked safe. The contents of the wills themselves remain secret.

One name on the original list released by the court was Leopold de Rothschild, Edward VII’s close friend, suggesting his will was made secret in 1917. It is unclear how the British banker would have been able to achieve this, given the exemption was supposed to apply to senior royals.

Hours after publishing its original list on Wednesday the court issued a new list, with Leopold de Rothschild’s name removed. A spokesperson for the court said the inclusion of Rothschild’s name on the original list was “an error” as he was not a member of the royal family.

The official publication of the list discloses for the first time the extent to which the secret legal procedure has been used – without the knowledge of the public – to conceal the wills of even minor members of the royal family.

Another name on the list is Prince George Valdemar Carl Axel, who died in 1986. A member of the Danish royal family, he was only distantly connected to the Windsor line by virtue of being a second cousin to the late Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

He was born and died in Denmark, and it is not clear why an application to seal his will was made in London.

Other names on the list include the Duke of Windsor, who was King Edward VIII until he abdicated the throne in 1936, as well as more obscure minor members of the Windsor family, such as grandchildren of Queen Victoria and various children of George V and Queen Mary.

David McClure, a royal finance expert and author of the book The Queen’s True Worth, said the contents of the list demonstrated how the sealing of wills, supposedly only for the highest-ranking members of the royal family, was in fact much more widely applied.

“If you were a royal of any European royal house you could, if you made enough of a song and dance about it, have your will sealed. It does slightly make a mockery of the whole process that this should be for more senior royals.”

Norman Baker, a former Liberal Democrat minister who has also written a book about the royals, suggested some wills may have been sealed to cover up “just how much money they have accumulated from public funds”. A Buckingham Palace spokesperson said the royal family did not wish to comment.

For decades, lawyers for the royal family have successfully submitted legal applications to the high court to have wills kept secret after the deaths of family members. But the use of this procedure has drawn criticism, as it gives the royal family a right that is not granted to other British citizens.

The latest will to be sealed belonged to Prince Philip, who died this year. At a secret hearing in July, the president of the family division of the high court, Sir Andrew McFarlane, approved an application from the Queen’s private lawyers and the attorney general to keep his will secret for at least 90 years.

McFarlane said senior members of the royal family had to be exempted from the law requiring the publication of wills. This was “necessary to enhance the protection afforded to the private lives of this unique group of individuals, in order to protect the dignity and standing of the public role of the sovereign and other close members of her family”.

He published his ruling in September – the first time that a judgment ordering the sealing of a will of a member of the royal family had been made public. McFarlane ruled that “a level of transparency” had been established, adding that the list of the sealed wills should be made public – an instruction that was realised on Wednesday.

However, the small number of parties permitted to attend the court hearing, including the attorney general, successfully persuaded the judge to exclude the media from the hearing.

The Guardian is taking legal action to challenge the decision to exclude the media from the hearing. Its lawyers are seeking permission to argue that the high court’s failure to properly consider whether the press should be allowed to attend the hearing or make representations constitutes such a serious interference with the principle of open justice that the case should be reheard.


Royal wills sealed by order of the president of the family division of the high court


1

Prince Francis Joseph Leopold Frederick of Teck

Prince Francis circa 1892

Probate London 17 February 1911
The younger brother of Queen Mary of Teck, wife of George V. Seeking to cover up a sex scandal, Mary persuaded a judge to keep it closed as it is reported to have shown that he had bequeathed prized family jewels to a mistress.


2

Alexander William George, Duke of Fife

Duke Of Fife circa 1896

Probate London 24 May 1912
A Scottish peer who married Princess Louise, the third and eldest child of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.


3

Prince Maurice Victor Donald of Battenberg

Prince Maurice of Battenberg

Probate London 1 May 1917
The youngest grandchild of Queen Victoria. Killed in action in WWI, before the British royal family relinquished their German titles and the Battenbergs changed their name to Mountbatten.


1917
Was a British banker, a thoroughbred horse breeder, and a member of the prominent Rothschild family. He was a close friend of Edward VII.


5

Dowager Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

Augusta Carolinecirca 1880: Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Augusta Caroline of England (1822 - 1916), daughter of the Duke of Cambridge. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Administration (with Will) London 13 December 1920
A granddaughter of George III, Princess Augusta of Cambridge married into the Grand Ducal House of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. She was an aunt of Queen Mary.


6

Lord Leopold Louis Mountbatten

Lord Leopold Louis Mountbatten

Probate London 15 June 1922
A grandson of Queen Victoria, known as Prince Leopold of Battenberg, later changed to Mountbatten.


7

Helen Frederica Augusta, Duchess of Albany

The Duchess of Albany, c1900s

Probate London 29 December 1922
A member of the British royal family by marriage to Prince Leopold, youngest son of Queen Victoria.


8

Princess Helena Augusta Victoria, Princess Christian

Princess Christian,Princess Christian - Woodbury Princess Helena (Helena Augusta Victoria, Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein by marriage 25 May 1846 - 9 June 1923) was a member of the British Royal Family, the third daughter and fifth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. (Photo by Universal History Archive/UIG/Getty Images)

The third daughter and fifth child of Queen Victoria. She married Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein.


9

Princess Frederica Sophia Maria Henrietta Amelia Theresa of Great Britain

Princess Frederica Sophia Maria Henrietta Amelia Theresa of Great Britain

Probate London 25 May 1927
Born in Hanover, the elder daughter of the Hereditary Prince of Hanover (later King George V of Hanover), in the UK she held the title of princess as a male-line great-granddaughter of King George III.


10

Princess Louise Victoria Dagmar, Princess Royal

Princess Louise Victoria Alexandra Dagmar, Princess Royal

Probate 13 April 1931
Probate London 5 June 1934

The third child and eldest daughter of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, and a younger sister of King George V. Given the title Princess Royal in 1905.


11

Princess Victoria Alexandra Olga Mary

Princess Victoria Alexandra Olga Mary

Probate London 11 March 1936
The fourth child and second daughter of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, and a younger sister of King George V.


12

Queen Maud Charlotte Mary Victoria of Norway

Maud of Wales.Photographic portrait of Maud of Wales (1869-1928) was Queen of Norway as spouse of King Haakon VII. Dated 20th Century. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Administration (with Will) London 16 February 1939
She was the wife of King Haakon VII of Norway, and the youngest daughter of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.


13

Prince Arthur of Connaught

Prince Arthurcirca 1910: Prince Arthur of Connaught (1883 - 1938), son of the Duke of Connaught who was the third son of Queen Victoria. He was Governor-General of South Africa from 1920 - 1923. (Photo by W. & D. Downey/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Probate London 1 March 1939
A grandson of Queen Victoria, he was a British military officer and served as governor general of the Union of South Africa. He undertook a wide variety of royal duties on behalf of George V, his cousin.


14

Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, Duchess of Argyll

Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, sixth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and wife of John Campbell, Duke of Argyll. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Probate London 7 February 1940
The sixth child and fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. In public life a strong proponent of the arts, higher education and the feminist cause.


15

Prince Arthur William Patrick Albert, Duke of Connaught

Arthur, duke of ConnaughtPrince Arthur, duke of Connaught and Strathearn (1850-1942) son of queenVictoria of England, c. 1900. (Photo by APIC/Getty Images)

Probate Llandudno 10 March 1942
The seventh child and third son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, he served as governor-general of Canada and later represented the monarchy throughout the Empire.


16

Prince George Edward Alexander Edmund, Duke of Kent

Duke Of Kentcirca 1920: His Royal Highness George Edward Alexander Edmund (1902 - 1942), the Duke of Kent. (Photo by Edward Gooch Collection/Getty Images)

Probate Llandudno 27 January 1943
Fourth son of George V and Queen Mary, and a younger brother of kings Edward VIII and George VI.


17

Princess Beatrice Mary Victoria Feodore of Battenberg

Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom, later Princess Henry of Battenberg, 1857 – 1944Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom, later Princess Henry of Battenberg, 1857 – 1944. Fifth daughter and youngest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Seen here aged 34. From The Strand Magazine, Vol I January to June, 1891. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Probate Llandudno 14 May 1943
Fifth daughter and youngest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.


18

Maud Alexandra Victoria Georgina Berth, Countess of Southesk

Princess Maud of Fife as an adult Maud Carnegie, Countess of Southesk

Probate Llandudno 22 March 1946
Princess Maud was a granddaughter of Edward VII.


19

Princess Louise Sophia Augusta Amelia Helena

Princess Louise Sophia Augusta Amelia Helena

Probate London 20 May 1948
A granddaughter of Queen Victoria.


Durbar Emeraldscirca 1912: Mary of Teck (1867 - 1953), queen-consort to George V, wearing the Durbar Emeralds presented to her by India following the Delhi Durbar ceremony. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Probate London 5 August 1953
British Queen and wife of George V. Grandmother to the Queen Elizabeth II.


21

Princess Franziska Josepha Louise Augusta Maria Christiane

Date: 1910-1915 - Princess Louise Auguste of Schleswig HolsteinDate: 1910-1915 - Princess Louise Auguste of Schleswig Holstein Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein VA, CI, GCVO, GBE, RRC (Franziska Josepha Louise Augusta Marie Christina Helena; 12 August 1872 – 8 December 1956)

Probate London 12 March 1957
A granddaughter of Queen Victoria.


22

Princess Alexandra Victoria Alberta Ediwina Louise, Princess Arthur of Connaught

‘HRH Princess Arthur of Connaught’, 1937. Artist: Unknown.Princess Alexandra, 2nd Duchess of Fife, 2nd Duchess of Fife (1891-1959), 1937. She was married to her cousin Prince Arthur of Connaught, grandson of Queen Victoria. Card No 17 of 48 from Coronation Souvenir cigarette cards produced for Tournament Cigarettes. [RJ Lea Ltd, Manchester, 1937] (Photo by The Print Collector/Getty Images) (Alexandra Victoria Alberta Edwina Louise Duff; 17 May 1891 – 26 February 1959)

Probate London 23 April 1959
The eldest grandchild of King Edward VII and a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria.


23

Princess Victoria Alexandra Alice Mary, Princess Royal

HRH Princess MaryH.R.H. Princess Mary’, circa 1920. Mary, Princess Royal (1897-1965), daughter of King George V and Queen Mary of Teck, wearing a fur stole. [J. Beagles & Co., Ltd., London, circa 1920]. Artist Unknown. (Photo by The Print Collector/Getty Images) (Victoria Alexandra Alice Mary; 25 April 1897 – 28 March 1965)

Probate London 22 December 1965
Daughter of George V and Queen Mary. Attended at her wedding by Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.


24

Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent

Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, August 1934. She became Duchess of Kent in November 1934 on her marriage to Prince George, Duke of Kent. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Probate London 11 October 1968
A Greek princess who married Prince George, the Duke of Kent and the fourth son of King George V and Queen Mary. She was the mother of Prince Michael of Kent.


25

Prince William of Gloucester

William of GloucesterPrince William of Gloucester (1941 - 1972), 17th December 1962. Photo by Tom Hustler/Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images Prince William Henry Andrew Frederick of Gloucester

Probate London 24 October 1972
A grandson of George V and a cousin of Elizabeth II. He died aged just 30 in an air crash.


King Edward VIII (1894 - 1972) in his naval uniform before his abdication from the throne. He succeeded to the throne in January 1936 and abdicated in December 1936 to marry Mrs Wallis Simpson. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images) Prince Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, Duke of Windsor

Administration (with Will) London 17 November 1972
Better known as Edward VIII, the former king who abdicated the throne in 1936 in order to marry an American divorcee, Wallis Simpson.


27

Lady Victoria Patricia Helena Elizabeth Ramsay

Princess Patricia of Connaught, c1900s-c1910s(?). Princess Patricia of Connaught (1886-1974) was the third and youngest child of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, the third son of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, and Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia. In 1919 she relinquished her royal status when she married a commoner, Alexander Ramsay, a Commander in the Royal Navy. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images) Lady Victoria Patricia Helena Elizabeth Ramsay

Probate London 17 April 1974
A granddaughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.


28

Prince Henry William Frederick Albert, Duke of Gloucester

Prince Henry1935: Henry, Duke of Gloucester (1900 - 1974), third son of George V, at the time of the announcement of his engagement to Lady Alice Montague-Douglas-Scott. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images) Prince Henry William Frederick Albert, Duke of Gloucester

Probate London 9 September 1974
The third son of George V and Queen Mary, and governor-general of Australia from 1945 and 1947.


29

Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas, Earl Mountbatten of Burma

Admiral Louis Mountbatten(Original Caption) Photograph of Earl Mountbatten wearing his naval uniform, 1950.

Probate London 27 February 1980
Uncle of Prince Philip and second cousin once removed of Elizabeth II. He served as the last Viceroy of India.


30

Princess Mary Victoria Augusta Pauline, Countess of Athlone

Criana Arrivals -- H.R.H. Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone. April 07, 1962. (Photo by Barry James Gilmour/Fairfax Media via Getty Images) Princess Mary Victoria Augusta Pauline, Countess of Athlone

Probate London 30 June 1981
The last surviving grandchild of Queen Victoria.


31

Prince George Valdemar Carl Axel of Denmark

George Valdemar, 16.4.1920 - 29.9.1986, Prince of Denmark, half length, as Danish military attache in London, circa 1950,. Image shot 1948. Exact date unknown.BHKARN George Valdemar, 16.4.1920 - 29.9.1986, Prince of Denmark, half length, as Danish military attache in London, circa 1950,. Image shot 1948. Exact date unknown.

Probate London 20 May 1987
Eldest son of Prince Axel of Denmark and second cousin of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.


Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon (1930 - 2002), London, UK, circa 1990. (Photo by Kypros/Getty Images)

Probate London 24 June 2002
The youngest daughter of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and the younger sister of Elizabeth II.


33

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother

Queen MotherThe Queen Mother (1900 - 2002) visiting Ronald Gibson House, a nursing home in Tooting, London, England, Great Britain, 2 June 1992. (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)

Probate London 15 April 2002
Wife of King George VI and mother to the current queen, Elizabeth II.


* A spokesperson for the court said the inclusion of Rothschild’s name on the original list was “an error” as he was not a member of the royal family.

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