Royal archivist cleared to see Duke of Windsor’s will

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Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 and lived in exile as the Duke of Windsor.

The Duke of Windsor, in 1935 as the Prince of Wales, making a broadcast on behalf of the King George V Jubilee Trust (PA)

A senior judge has given a royal archivist permission to see the will of the Duke of Windsor, who died in 1972 and was King Edward VIII until his abdication in December 1936.

Sir James Munby decided that the seal on the envelope containing the will can be broken and a copy made for Oliver Irvine, assistant keeper of the Queen’s archives.

The judge, president of the Family Division of the High Court, announced his decision in a written ruling published on Wednesday.

ROYAL Monckton/Windsors 2
Edward VIII abdicated over his love for American divorcee Wallis Simpson (PA)

The case feature on listings of High Court cases as: “In the matter of His Royal Highness the Duke of Windsor (deceased).”

Judges in Sir James’ position have responsibilities for the sealing and unsealing of royal wills.

Ten years ago Sir Mark Potter, the then President of the Family Division of the High Court, explained how wills made by members of the royal family were normally sealed on the order of the President of the Family Division of the High Court and could only be unsealed by order of the President of the Family Division of the High Court.

He explained the procedure after a man claimed to be Princess Margaret’s illegitimate son and asked for her will to be unsealed. Sir Mark dismissed the application.


George III Project launch – Windsor
Assistant keeper of the Queen’s archives Oliver Irvine with the Queen in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Mr Irvine had said he wanted a copy of the Duke of Windsor’s will for “research purposes”.

Sir James, the most senior family court judge in England and Wales, said disclosure in such circumstances was “quite plainly” justified.

Royalty – Duke of Windsor Death – RAF Benson
The coffin of the Duke of Windsor, draped in his personal standard, seen resting on the catafalque in the Church of the Ascension in 1972


“First, the desire of the Queen’s Archives to fill a gap in its holdings.

“Second, the practical need for the Queen’s Archives to identify those who currently hold the copyright in literary works created by the Duke of Windsor.

“Each of these two reasons is compelling.

“Either alone would, in my judgment, quite plainly justify the disclosure which is sought.

“It would be absurd to deny the Royal Archives copies of the will … of one who was born a Royal Prince, died a Royal Duke and was in his time His Majesty the King.”

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