Edward VIII’s will ‘can be opened’ says President

wills and probate

The envelope containing the will of late monarch Edward VIII can be unsealed, Family Division President Sir James Munby has ruled.

Edward VIII was King of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth for less than a year before famously abdicating in December 1936. His desire to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson was considered unacceptable according to the mores of the time.

He spent much of the remainder of his life as a wealthy and sometimes controversial Duke in exile with Wallis, before his eventual death in France in 1972 at the age of 77. His will was sealed after his death in accordance with standard practice regarding royal wills.

Sir James said it would “absurd” to deny a request from a librarian of the Queen’s Archives for a copy of the Duke’s will, given Edward’s status as a former monarch.

He was, said the President, someone who “who was born a royal prince, died a royal duke and was in his time His Majesty the King”.

Librarian Oliver Urquhart Irvine had explained that the archives hold an extensive collection of royal wills and probate records, but Edward’s still represented a gap “in our holdings and therefore in our knowledge.”

The principal question at issue was who held the copyright to the Duke’s written works – for example, his correspondence. The copyright itself will not expire until 2042, 70 years after his death. Researchers frequently approach the Royal Archives for permission to publish royal correspondence, explained Mr Irvine, but in Edward’s case it remained uncertain whether the Queen held the copyright as reigning monarch.

A copy of the will would be delivered to the Archives, ruled Sir James, before it is once again sealed. The President stressed that he had not himself opened the envelope containing the will while making his ruling.

Photo by BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

Stowe Family Law Web Team

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