Court case to challenge secrecy around royal wills

A court case begins this week (Wednesday 20 July) which will see the Guardian newspaper challenge the decision to prevent the media attending a hearing about the late Prince Philip’s will where his lawyers argued the case for the will be kept secret.

The long-standing tradition of not revealing the contents of royal family wills—many of them made by minor members of the family—is at odds with the rules for the public. The contents of wills are generally available for anyone to read to ensure the properly implementation of what the will sets out and to prevent fraud.

In 1911, Queen Mary of Teck and the wife of George V persuaded a judge to seal the will of her brother, Prince Francis Joseph Leopold Frederick as it was alleged that he had left valuable family jewels to his mistress. His estate at the time was worth £23,154 or £1.9 million in today’s money.

Distribution of assets

The sealing of the wills has allowed the Windsors to avoid public scrutiny by keeping secret their accumulation of property, jewels and cash and the subsequent distribution of those assets.

The Guardian has calculated the overall size of the wealth of 33 royals passed down as the value of the estates has been published in public registers and declassified government files. The assets stack up to £187 million in today’s figures, though some assets may have appeared in multiple wills and will have been counted more than once.

In the legal challenge that will take place over the Wednesday and Thursday, the Guardian is to argue that the high court did not properly consider whether the press should attend the hearing where it was decided to seal Prince Philip’s will and that the failure to allow the media to make representations is “such a serious interference with the principle of open justice that the case should be reheard”.

Executors of the estate

The attorney general’s department is opposing the application. A spokesperson for Buckingham Palace said the treatment of wills was a matter for the executors of the estate and that any executor of an estate could apply to have a will sealed.

In the case of Prince Philip and the Queen Mother, the royal family applied to have the value as well as the contents kept secret.

Royal family top 10 value estates

The Guardian calculates the top 10 value estates as follows:

  1. The Duke of Fife, who married Princess Louise, a daughter of King Edward VII. When the duke died in 1912, his estate was worth the equivalent of £79 million in today’s money.
  2. Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister who died in 2002, left behind an estate worth £7,700,176 (£11.5 million).
  3. Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, Duchess of Argyll, and a daughter of Queen Victoria. Value of estate £239,260 (£9.3 million).
  4. Queen Mary of Teck, wife of George V, and grandmother of the Queen. Value of estate £406,407 (£7.9 million).
  5. Admiral Louis Mountbatten, the uncle of Prince Philip and the last viceroy of India. His estate was worth £2,196,494 (£7.6 million).
  6. Lady Victoria Patricia Helena Elizabeth Ramsay, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Estate worth £917,199 (£7 million).
  7. Prince Henry William Frederick Albert, Duke of Gloucester, third son of George V, and governor general of Australia in the 1940s. Value of estate £734, 262 (£5.6 million).
  8. Prince George Edward Alexander Edmund, Duke of Kent, and son of George V. Value of estate £157,735 (£5 million).
  9. Prince Arthur William Patrick Albert, Duke of Connaught, son of Queen Victoria and a governor general of Canada. Value of estate £150,677 (£4.9 million).
  10. Prince Arthur of Connaught, grandson of Queen Victoria and governor general of South Africa. Value of estate: £109,418 (£4.9 million).


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