Will Secret British Royal Wills Be Unsealed?
The BBC reports that the question of the legality of sealing of royal wills, which has been raised several times over recent years, is being considered by a panel of judges. The privilege is unique to the royals — normally British wills are a matter of public record.
The practice of sealing the wills was brought to public attention by Robert Brown (pictured at right), a man who claims that he is the secret love-child of HRH The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon and Group Captain Peter Townsend. He has been attempting for several years to have the wills of both Princess Margaret and HM The Queen Mother unsealed because he believes they may contain evidence that he is the late princess’s son.
Royal wills have been sealed since the early twentieth century, and it was indeed first done to conceal a family secret. In 1911, HM Queen Mary asked the courts to seal the will of her brother, Prince Francis of Teck, to keep confidential the fact that he had left the Cambridge emeralds (pictured at left) to Lady Kilmorey, his mistress. She later quietly purchased the emeralds back for several times their value so that she could wear her family’s jewels to her coronation, and they have since been incorporated in many pieces of royal jewelry.
All royal wills since then have been sealed, a privilege that historian Hugo Vickers tells the BBC has been afforded to “all sorts of obscure people.” The only exception to the rule has been the will of Diana, Princess of Wales, which was revealed after her death in 1997.
Vickers believes that “while the covenant was introduced to cover-up impropriety, it [is] wrong to assume the wills of more recent royals might reveal similarly lurid details,” adding, “The Royal Family have so little privacy as it is, I don’t think we should be able to see the details.”
But if the panel decides that it is unlawful to allow royals to have their wills sealed, there may still be a way for the royals to keep their last wishes private in the future. Vickers explains that “the Royal Family might opt, like a number of famous people, to leave a letter for their executors, which does not have to be published.”
If the royal wills are unsealed, most believe that they will provide no evidence that Mr. Brown is the secret child of a princess. Even so, we will have to wait for the panel’s verdict, scheduled for late 2010, to see if we do become privy to any real secrets lurking in royal estate papers.Historical Royals, The United Kingdom
Tagged Jewellery, Legal Matters, Mary of Teck, Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon.