Thanks to 'The Crown' makers 45 years on Duke of Windsor's will to be unsealed
With a scandalous abdication, colourful love life and rift with his relatives, the life of the Duke of Windsor was not short of private information to fascinate the public.
More than 40 years after his death, it appears, there may be more to learn, as a senior judge has ruled that the contents of his will can be unsealed for the first time.
The will of the Duke, who was King Edward VIII until his abdication in December 1936, will be unsealed for the benefit of the Royal Archives, after a keeper applied to the Family Division of the High Court to beg special permission.
Although it will not be made available to the wider public, the contents of the document will have at least one important consequence: paving the way for more accurate biographies and TV dramas to please the interested public.
Historians and researchers, including the team behind The Crown, have until now been left frustrated by a peculiar lack of clarity over copyright of the Duke’s words, with the Royal Archives unable to grant permission to republish them.
Nor have they been able to point researchers in the right direction to a third party, because the name of the initial copyright holder had been sealed away in the will.
Now, following permission from Sir James Munby, the seal of the document will be broken for assistant keeper of the Queen's archives, Oliver Irvine, to study it.
Last month, the makers of Netflix drama The Crown spoke of their frustrations at being unable to use the Duke’s exact words from some of his letters, after failing to track down who owned the copyright.
The copyright of the Duke’s words, even down to his personal notes, will not expire until 2042.
Speaking on October 10 at Cheltenham Literature Festival, the makers of The Crown disclosed the difficulties facing researchers hoping to reproduce the exact words used by the Duke on screen.
Annie Sulzberger said: “For the Duke of Windsor's letters, most of the problems came because reprinting material is copyrighted.
“That was covered by a publisher and it was so complicated to try and track down who owned the copyright to the letters themselves. So we decided that we'd just put it aside and rewrite, very close. We wrote in the same tone but we didn't use the words.”
In a written application submitted by Mr Irvine from Windsor Castle on October 13, he said: “We have previously been approached by researchers seeking permission to publish letters by the Duke of Windsor but have been unable to advise whether copyright is held by Her Majesty The Queen.
“With a copy of the will and codicil, we will be able to determine the identity of his residual beneficiary and begin the process of identifying the current copyright holder.”
Sir James, the most senior family court judge in England and Wales, said disclosure in such circumstances was "quite plainly" justified. "
Mr Irvine identifies two reasons in justification of the application," said Sir James. "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."
Since 1911, wills made by members of the royal family are 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 same.
The procedure came to public attention in 2008, after a man claiming to be Princess Margaret's illegitimate son asked for her will to be unsealed and was denied.
While the seal on the will of the Duke, died on May 28 1972, will now be broken, the details of potentially controversial orders within it will not be made available to researchers or the public.
A spokesman for the Palace said: “The will is to be opened by The Librarian and Assistant Keeper of the Queen's Archives for the reasons set out in the judgement. It will then be resealed, in line with recent practice regarding the wills of members of the Royal Family.”
Sir James said he had "personally examined" the envelope but had not opened the envelope or read the will, not having "any idea" of its contents.
Under a deal brokered painstakingly between brothers after the abdication, King George VI is known to have paid the Duke a £21,000 a year pension.
The Duke had amassed more than £1 million during his time as Duke of Cornwall.
His last will is believed to have been handled by British lawyer Sir Godfrey Morley, and he was survived by his wife, best-known as Wallis Simpson.
Copyright of literary works descend with their creator's estate, unless otherwise assigned, and is in this case likely to have been made more confusing by the Duke's complicated personal life.