Wills detailing the holdings of distant relatives of the royal family have been kept secret thanks to obscure legal proceedings, a court document has revealed.
The Windsor family has managed over the past century to exempt themselves from a law requiring that the wills of British citizens be normally made public.
The identity of the more than 30 royal wills sealed during this period had not been officially made public.
That changed on Wednesday when a senior judge released the list of royals whose sealed wills are kept in a locked safe. The contents of the wills themselves remain secret.
One name on the original list released by the court was Léopold de Rothschild, a close friend of Edward VII, suggesting that his will had been made secret in 1917. It is not known how the British banker could have achieved this, given that the exemption was supposed to apply to members of the royal family.
Hours after the publication of its original list on Wednesday, the court released a new list, with Leopold de Rothschild’s name deleted. A court spokesperson said the inclusion of Rothschild’s name on the original list was “a mistake” because he was not a member of the royal family.
The official publication of the list reveals for the first time to what extent secret legal process has been used – unbeknownst to the public – to cover up the wills of even minor members of the royal family.
Another name on the list is Prince Georg Valdemar Carl Axel, who died in 1986. A member of the Danish royal family, he was only distantly related to the Windsor line as a first cousin of the late Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
He was born and died in Denmark, and it is not clear why a request 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, royal finance expert and author of The Queen’s True Worth, said the contents of the list showed how the sealing of wills, supposedly reserved for the most senior 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 were enough of singing and dancing about it, have your will sealed.” It makes a little mockery of the whole process it should be for older royals. “
Norman Baker, a former Liberal Democrat minister who also wrote a book on members of the royal family, has suggested that some wills may have been sealed to cover “just how much money they have amassed in public funds.” A spokesperson for Buckingham Palace said the royals were unwilling to comment.
For decades, lawyers for the royal family have successfully submitted legal requests to the High Court to keep wills secret after the death of family members. But the use of this procedure has drawn criticism, as it gives the Royal Family a right that is not accorded to other British citizens.
The last will to be sealed belonged to Prince Philip, who died this year. In a secret hearing in July, the President of the High Court’s Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, approved a request by the Queen’s private lawyers and the Attorney General to keep her will secret for at least 90 years.
McFarlane said senior royals should be exempt from the law requiring publication of wills. This was “necessary to strengthen the protection afforded to the privacy of this unique group of individuals, in order to protect the dignity and importance of the public role of the Sovereign and other close members of her family.”
He released his decision in September – the first time a judgment ordering the sealing of a royal family member’s will has been made public. McFarlane ruled “a level of transparency” had been set, adding that the list of sealed wills should be made public – an instruction which was carried out on Wednesday.
However, the small number of parties allowed to attend the hearing, including the attorney general, succeeded in persuading the judge to exclude the media from the hearing.
The Guardian is taking legal action to challenge the decision to exclude media from the hearing. His lawyers seek leave to argue that the failure of the High Court to properly consider whether the press should be allowed to attend the hearing or to make representations constitutes such a serious interference with the principle of open justice that the matter should be reconsidered.