The drafting of the letters patent of 1937: documents from the National Archives
This page contains transcripts of documents relating to the drafting of the letters patent regulating the styles and titles of the Duke of Windsor, his wife, and his issue (27 May 1937). They come from a file in the National Archives (HO 144/22945) that was only released to the public in January 2003.
Style and Title of "Royal Highness'
memo by ???
The papers within supplement the official record concerning the Letters Patent of 27th May 1937.
The genesis of the matter was a memo then prepared by Sir John Simon (A) wh. was discussed at a conference on 6th April (B) after wh. the Attorney General prepared a draft Letters Patent (see his letter C and copy of draft attached to D).
After seeing the King, Sir John Simon wrote the minute to the PM (D). The matter was before the Cabinet on 26 May, after wh. the P.M. made the formal submission to the King. It was settled that the Letters Patent shd be gazetted on 28th May & arrangements were made for the B.B.C. to be given (for that evening) & the Press to be given (for the following day) a note and inst.
On 25th May Sir J. Simon sent to Buckingham Palace a draft letter (H) for the King to send out an advance intimation to the Duke. I understand that some such letter was in fact sent about 27th May. The other documents within are - a letter of 24th May from Sir A. Monckton (E), a letter of 25 May from the AG about the drafting of the Patent (F), a draft submission to ?? (G), a letter of 26 May from the AG covering a copy of a letter from Garter about the Duke's precedence (I), the final copy of the Warrant wh. was redrafted by Sir C. Schuster after consultation I understand with the AG (J) & a copy of the draft Gazette announcement (K).
Seen by Sir R. Scott, Mr Dawson, & Mr. Stoutt
For the formal step in connection with the Letters Patent - see ./25
Additional material was included, presumably at a later date:
Sir Granville Ram to Lord Wigram (21 Jan 1937)The Parliamentary Councel,
21st January 1937.
My dear Wigram,
I have looked further into the question raised in your letter of 15th January and as a result I cannot escape the conclusion that if the Duke of Windsor marries Mrs. Simpson she will automatically become Her Royal Highness.
For practical purposes it seems to me that the question is settled by an announcement which was made at the time of the marriage of His present Majesty. “The Times” of 28th April 1923, contains the following:-
“HRH the Duchess of York.
Status of Princess.
It is officially announced that, in accordance with the settled general rule that a wife takes the status of her husband, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon on her marriage has become Her Royal Highness the Duchess of York, with the status of a Princess.”
I have not been able to discover from what quarter this announcement was given to the press, but from the fact that it appears to be based on a letter from Boyd to Stamfordham it seems likely that the announcement was made from the palace.
When I first got your letter I thought that the well settled legal rule that a woman on marriage takes rank and precedence according to those of her husband might not necessarily apply with regard to the style of “Royal Highness”, because I know that the use of that style had on several occasions been regulated separately by the Sovereign. In view, however, of the way in which successive Letters Patent have dealt with this matter it seems clear that they must have been framed upon the assumption that the same rules would apply as in the case of peerages. The use of the style “Royal Highness” is now governed by Letters Patent / dated 30th November 1917, and I enclose a copy of the notice in the London Gazette of the 14th December, 1917, which summarizes the effect of these Letters Patent: from this you will see that they (like former ones on the same subject) made no mention of the wives of any of the sons, grandsons and greatgrandsons of the Sovereign who were thereby declared to be entitled to by styled “Royal Highness”, so that, except upon the assumption that a wife would automatically derive from her husband the right to be so styled, none of them would be entitled to that attribute. Obviously that result cannot have been intended.
Unless, therefore, the King’s eldest brother is willing himself to relinquish the style of Royal Highness when he is created the Duke of Windsor, as was done by Lady Patricia Ramsay on her marriage, it seems to me that his wife must automatically become Her Royal Highness.
No doubt you will regard this letter as being entirely unofficial. If any official, or even semi-official opinion is to be given the Home Secretary will presumably consider that it ought to be given by him.
(sgd.) J. Granville Ram
P.S. It is interesting to note the cases of the two brothers of George III who married outside the Royal Family. Both Maria Countess Dowager Waldegrave who became duchess of Gloucester and Mrs. Horton who became Duchess of Cumberland seem to have been styled Royal Highness, for both are so described in their obituary notices in the Times (25.8.1807 Duchess of Gloucester and 10.3.1809 Duchess of Cumberland). The Annual Register for 1807 entered the Duchess of Gloucester as H.H. but seems to have no entry for the Duchess of Cumberland. The Gentleman’s Magazine for 1807 entered the Duchess of Gloucester as H.R.H., and the Gentleman’s Magazine for 1809 entered the Duchess of Cumberland as H.R.H.
I have not found any trace of the style H.R.H. having been conferred on either of these two ladies, and I imagine it is unlikely that George III would have consented to confer it on them.
The Right Hon.
The Lord Wigram, P.C., G.C.B., G.C.V.O., C.S.I.,
Home Secretary to Lord Wigram (23 Mar 1937)23d March, 1937.
My dear Wigram,
I have been spending more time in looking into the “Royal Highness” question, and the conclusions which I should be disposed to reach are as follows:-
I am sorry not to be more helpful on this troublesome point, but I have tried to state the position as clearly as I can for the King’s information.
I will write you a separate letter about “Cavalcade”.
The Lord Wigram, G.C.B., G.C.V.O., C.S.I.
Lord Wigram to Home Secretary (24 Mar 1937)
24th March, 1937.
My dear Home Secretary,
I have laid your letter of March 23d., regarding the “Royal Highness” title, before The King, who wishes to thank you for all the trouble that you have taken in this matter.
I am afraid that, as the only means of depriving the lady in question of the title “Royal Highness” would be depriving the Duke of Windsor of this styling, the point is not a practical one.
However there is a gleam of hope that, by substituting new Letters Patent for those of December 11th, 1917, any children of the Duke of Windsor could be deprived of this style and title.
I mentioned to the King our talk about “Cavalcade” and your intention of speaking to the Prime Minister about it, and I hope that your joint efforts will put a stop to these malicious insinuations.
The Right Honble.
The Secretary of State,
Style and Title of Royal Highness
1. The question has been raised if the Duke of Windsor should marry, his wife would necessarily become a Royal Highness. The answer hitherto given has been that this result would automatically follow by the application of the principle that a lady of lower degree acquires by the fact of marriage the style and title corresponding to the rank of her husband. But it still remains to be considered whether a different consequence could be secured by any form of express action by the Sovereign.
2. The abdication of Edward VIII creates a condition of things entirely without precedent, for the Duke of Windsor by his own declaration, confirmed by Statute, has not only himself renounced the Throne but has barred his descendants from the succession. The eldest son of George V is neither Sovereign nor Prince of Wales - a situation hitherto never conceived of as possible and never contemplated in the Letters Patent of 1917. As the style and title of Royal Highness has hitherto invariably attached to members of the Royal Family who were within the line of succession, or their wives, there would be a remarkable anomaly if persons outside the succession equally enjoyed it. Even if the Duke, in view of his former position, retained the title by express direction from the King as the fountain of honour, it is presumably within the legal powers of the Sovereign to direct that no other person shall derive such style and title from the Duke, whether by tie of marriage or descent. Why should ladies curtsey to a Duchess who cannot possibly be Queen? And unless the matter is dealt with now, the status of possible children may give rise to difficulties hereafter.
3. While the rule that the wife of a Royal Highness is herself a Royal Highness is generally applicable, it seems not to be incapable of express exception. (The position of a morganatic wife in certain foreign countries is an example of variance from the regular rule). If the Sovereign as fountain of honour expressly confers the style and title upon X, why may he not limit the concession to X personally?
4. I should therefore like the following scheme to be considered. Could not the King by appropriate instrument - presumably by Letters Patent - lay down revised rules for the enjoyment of the style and title, justifying the revision by reference to the Abdication Act? The Letters Patent would recite that it is the custom of the realm for the style and title of Royal Highness to be enjoyed by members of the Royal Family who are in the succession to the Throne within limits laid down from time to time, and that King George V by Letters Patent of 30th November, 1917, directed that these limits should be so and so, and that the present Duke of Windsor by the instrument of Abdication signed by him on 10th December, 1936, and confirmed by the Abdication Act, irrevocably renounced the Throne for himself and his successors, and that in these circumstances it seems to the King expedient further to define the limits within which the style and title may be enjoyed - and then
Note of Conference held in the Home Secretary’s Room at the House of Commons at 5.0 p.m. on Tuesday, 6th April, 1937.
The Rt. Hon.
Sir John Simon, GCSI, KCVO, CBE, KC, MP (Home Secretary) (in the Chair).
The Earl of Cromer, GCB. GCIE, GCVO (Lord Chamberlain).
The Lord Wigram, GCB, GCVO, CSI (Permanent Lord in Waiting).
Sir Donald Somervell, CBE, KC, MP (Attorney General).
Sir T. O’Connor, KC, MP (Solicitor General).
The Rt. Hon.
T.M. Cooper, KC, MP (Lord Advocate).
Sir G. Wollaston, KCVO (Garter Principal King at Arms).
Mr. L.A.J. Granville Ram, CB (Parliamentary Draftsman)
Sir H. Boyd, KCVO, CBE (Ceremonial Secretary, Home Office)
Mr. A.S. Hutchinson, C.V.O. (Private Secretary to the Home Secretary)
The Home Secretary said that he understood that Their Majesties felt strongly on the question whether, if the Duke of Windsor married Mrs. Simpson, she would necessarily become “Her Royal Highness”, and he had therefore prepared the memorandum which had been circulated as a basis for discussion. He invited the Conference to consider the matter from two aspects, viz:-
The Attorney General said that it appeared to him that a point worth considering was this:- Assuming that it was agreed that the Duke had been a Royal Highness under the Letters Patent of 1917 while he was on the Throne, but had been put outside the line of succession by his abdication and the consequent Act of Parliament, then would it be right to say that he continued to be a Royal Highness under the 1917 Letters Patent, or that those Letters Patent only intended to apply to persons in the line of succession? If he ceased to be a Royal Highness, but the King desired that he should continue to enjoy that style and title, it could be argued that it would be necessary to have new Letters Patent to remove doubts. Any such instrument instead of depriving the wife of something might take the form of conferring something on the Duke. It seemed to him that there was a good deal to be said for this line of argument.
The Home Secretary said that it had occurred to him that there would have to be supplementary Letters Patent and he wanted the instrument to begin not by taking away but by giving.
The Lord Chamberlain said that one question was whether on abdication the Duke became “Prince Edward” or “Edward Windsor”.
The Attorney General said that there were different views on this point, but he himself was inclined to the view that the effect of the abdication was that the Duke was turned into a private citizen.
The Lord Chamberlain said the further question arose whether, if the Duke had become "Prince Edward" on abdication, he was also correctly described as "His Royal Highness Prince Edward".
The Home Secretary said that Sir Harry Boyd had drawn his attention to the terms of the Letters Patent of 1864, the preamble of which appeared to confirm the view that the style and title of Royal Highness is limited to persons in the line of succession to the Crown.
Garter pointed out that the operative part of the 1864 Letters Patent gave the style and title of Royal Highness to certain defined classes (and said nothing about lineal succession) though, in fact, the persons concerned were in the line of succession.
The Solicitor General suggested that analogous questions would arise in the event of a person who was a Royal Highness marrying a Roman Catholic. In that event would such a person lose the right to the title?
The Lord Chamberlain added that the same point would arise if a person who was a Royal Highness became a Roman Catholic.
Garter said that, if it were assumed that on abdication the Duke became "Mr. Windsor", it would then be open to the King to confer on him the title of "Royal Highness" with limitations, but was it not now too late, since at the accession the King had announced that he intended to confer a Dukedom on his brother and that he would henceforth be known as His Royal Highness the Duke of Windsor?
The Lord Advocate said that this might preclude the use of the argument that the new Letters Patent contemplated would be conferring something rather than taking something away.
Garter added that all Warrants and other formal instruments used since the abdication had described the Duke as His Royal Highness, including the Letters Patent creating him Duke of Windsor.
The Home Secretary said that it did not seem to him to follow that the method suggested by the Attorney General and himself was impossible. The argument might be that the King's intention from the moment of accession had been that, notwithstanding that his brother was outside the succession, he should enjoy the title of Royal Highness and that he was now revising the Letters Patent of 1917 in order to validate the position. There might, for example, be children and in the absence of express provision to the contrary it would appear that any such children would he Royal Highnesses.
The Lord Chamberlain inquired whether it would be possible to start from the premise that it was within the Royal prerogative to confer the title of Royal Highness on a non-Royal person.
Garter expressed, doubt as to this.
The Lord Chamberlain proceeded that, if the Sovereign had the power of creating (on advice of course; a person Royal Highness he could also withhold the title.
Sir Harry Boyd pointed out that Queen Victoria had exercised the prerogative in the case of Prince Henry of Battenberg, who was not in the line of succession, on his marriage to the Queen's daughter.
Garter suggested that this was not wholly relevant as recipient of the title in that case was a Prince, to which the Attorney General added that he might also have become the Husband of the reigning Queen.
The Home Secretary suggested that it might be possible, without going so far as the lord Chamberlain had indicated, to say that it was only within the prerogative to confer the title of Royal Highness on a person not in the line of succession if he or she were of Royal descent.
He suggested that it might be possible to get over Garter's difficulty by reciting that, from the moment of his accession, the King had intended to confer this title and that it was desirable to regularise the position by a formal document.
Garter quoted the case of Princess Arthur of Connaught and said that at the last Coronation the question had arisen whether she and her sister were entitled to the privileges of Princesses of the Blood Royal. The question had been referred to his predecessor who had advised that, as King Edward had given them the style and title of "Highness" and "Princess", this converted them into Princesses of the Blood Royal. King George, however, did not accept this view and they had not been accorded those privileges. Later, upon her marriage to Prince Arthur, the King had said to Garter that this made her "Her Royal Highness".
The Home Secretary thought it did not follow that if His Majesty was engaged in reaffirming the grant of the title to a person who would not have been entitled to it but for that grant, he could not then impose conditions on its grant.
The Attorney General said that all persons who had been called “Royal Highness” in the past either could have succeeded to the Throne or were the husbands or wives of persons who could have succeeded. The Home Secretary’s suggestion would therefore appear merely to be a reaffirmation of the old principle, and it was not possible to challenge the right of the King to say that the Duke of Windsor should be a Royal Highness, but that his wife and children were not.
Mr. Ham suggested that there was a distinction between the children and the wife. It was a matter of common law that a wife takes the status of her husband. All previous Letters Patent on the subject had been silent about wives and all ladies who had married Princes had become Royal Highnesses thereby. He feared that it might be said that the matter was not one of prerogative but of law and quoted Coke upon Littleton I.I. s.I. section 9, 16(e) in support of this view.
The Attorney General suggested, however, that “Her Royal Highness” was not a status and the Home Secretary pointed out in this connection that if a Duke married a commoner, she became a Duchess with a consequent change of status (e.g. the right of trial by Peers) whereas no such consequences followed on marriage to a Royal Highness.
The Lord Chamberlain thought that Royal Highness was nothing more than a courtesy prefix.
Mr. Ham agreed that the argument only rested on analogy.
The Lord Advocate suggested that “Royal Highness” meant exactly what the Sovereign for the time being wished it to mean.
The Attorney General agreed, unless it was correct to say that a wife takes the status, attributes, etc.
The Home Secretary suggested that if the law Officers agreed, the best course would be to prepare, as the basis for further discussion, a draft Letters Patent which should begin by reciting the undoubted powers of the Sovereign from time to time to determine the ambit within which the style and title of Royal Highness should be enjoyed; that by custom the title Royal Highness attaches to those persons who are in the line of succession to the Throne and has been further limited from time to time by Letters Patent by his Royal Predecessors; that his Royal Brother had, by his abdication, passed out of the succession, but that nevertheless the King desired that his brother should enjoy the style and title of Royal Highness.
The Lord Chamberlain suggested that any such document might be drafted in general terms to apply to the future.
The Attorney General doubted whether this could be done. He pointed out that the difficulty about the status of a wife remained.
The Lord Advocate said that the simple point was whether even an attribute could be conferred on a man and not on his wife.
The Attorney General suggested that perhaps the recital might refer not only to “those in succession to the Throne” but also to the wives of those in succession.
Garter said that, if it were admitted that the King could confer the title Royal Highness at his discretion, the question remained what formality was necessary.
Sir Harry Boyd said that in the case of Prince Henry of Battenberg it was done by Royal Warrant.
The Solicitor General pointed out that the Letters Patent of 1864 and 1917 were in general terms which might appear to support the view that no formality was necessary to establish the grant.
The Home Secretary said that, if the Letters Patent of 1917 were treated as involving the condition that the individuals concerned should all be in the line of succession, it might be agreed that within those limited the title of Royal Highness was enjoyed automatically, but if the King chose to go outside the limits it might be argued that some form of document was required.
The Attorney General said that if it were the case that abdications were not unusual there would surely be no objection to the King saying that, in the case of those who abdicate and cut themselves out of the line of succession, His Majesty's desire was that they should still retain the title Royal Highness together with those persons who were their wives at the time of abdication, but that in the event of their marrying after abdication neither wives nor children should enjoy the title.
The Solicitor General agreed, but suggested that the course proposed might be held impliedly to revoke the Letters patent of 1864 and 1917.
The Home Secretary said that it was plain that hitherto the Letters Patent had only dealt with persons in the line of succession.
The Solicitor General suggested that it would be easier if it were made clear that the grant was a new grant and not according to custom.
The Lord Advocate inquired what was the risk which was anticipated. Normally it would be challenged in the Courts, but here it appeared to him that the only risk was that of public criticism.
The Home Secretary inquired whether it would he possible for a lady to bring an action for a declaration that she was entitled to a particular style.
Garter said that he thought not.
The Home Secretary suggested that the Law Officers and Mr. Ram might draft a skeleton Letters Patent on the lines of the Attorney General's last suggestion and it was agreed that this should be done.
The Home Secretary then invited the Conference to consider whether, assuming that the course proposed was free from legal objection, it was a desirable course.
Lord Wigram said that so long as the Duke of Windsor remained out of the country he agreed that the matter was not one of practical importance but, if he came here, the fact that his wife was "Her Royal Highness" would put the King in a difficult position. The Duke and Duchess would start a clique of their own with what would amount to a second Court and this would be bad for the Monarchy.
Other members of the Conference were disposed to doubt whether this particular risk would be increased by the mere question of the possession of the title of Royal Highness and some were inclined to think that the course proposed would be: considered by large sections of the public as vindictive and would do more harm than good.
It was generally agreed that the question of expediency would have to be carefully weighed.
14th April, 1937.
I have discussed this matter with the Lord Advocate, the Solicitor-General and Ram, and the following represents our joint views.
P.S. I think you suggested at the meeting that we might show any suggested draft to `Garter’. I have been rather pressed and have thought it better to send it along to you at once. DBS.
The Rt. Hon. Sir John Simon, G.C.S.I., K.C.V.O., O.B.E., K.C., M.P.,
The Home Secretary
I attach a draft of Letters Patent which, if issued by The King, would have the effect of securing that, upon the marriage of Mrs. Simpson to the Duke of Windsor, the new Duchess would not become "Her Royal Highness". You will see that the document is so drawn as to confirm, or reaffirm, the right of the Duke to be a Royal Highness; the effect of his abdication was to remove him from the line of Royal succession and, therefore, he might have been regarded as himself losing the title. The King in this document formally authorises the title so far as His Brother is concerned and, at the same time, expressly directs that it will not be enjoyed by anyone claiming through him.
You are aware how strongly The King and Queen desire this situation to be established; I believe Queen Mary also has strong views that it should, if possible, be done.
I told The King, when I was at Windsor on Monday, that it could be done and I left a copy of the draft Letters Patent with Hardinge to show how it could be done. But I added that the important question remained whether it would be politic to do this, pointing out some of the possible objections. I also expressed the opinion that, at the same time, The King ought not to act upon his own judgment but should be advised and that no doubt, if he wished for such advice, he would ask to see the Prime Minister about it.
My own view, after a good deal of reflection, is that on balance it should be done - it would be possible to do it after the Coronation. No doubt there is a certain risk that the action would be exploited by critics who would suggest that it was not treating the Duke fairly, was putting a slight on his wife etc. But the alternative of leaving things alone is likely to prove exceedingly awkward. Even if the couple remained abroad, the question of the Duchess's style and title will at once arise at any official party, e.g. should the wife of a British ambassador curtsey to her? If the Duke and Duchess ever came over here the position would be worse still, for I feel pretty sure that a good many ladies would refuse to curtsey to her whatever her style and title might be. If the marriage was not a happy one and she appeared in American society separate from the Duke, it would be ludicrous to treat her as a Royal Highness, and, in any event, if there were children they could hardly inherit the distinction.
A great many people imagine that she would only become a Royal Highness if The King conferred this distinction upon her by a positive action. The Attorney-General and I, however, think this is not the correct view. She would acquire it by marrying the Duke unless something is done to prevent it. What would have to be done is certainly very unusual, but then it is very unusual for a man to be called Royal Highness who can never succeed to The Throne.
Draft Letters PatentWhereas Her late Majesty Queen Victoria by Her Letters Patent dated the thirtieth day of January in the twenty-fourth [sic] year of Her reign did declare Her Royal Pleasure that certain members of the Royal Family being in lineal succession to the Crown, namely, the children of the Sovereigns of these Realms and the children of the sons of any Sovereign should have the style title or attribute of Royal Highness
And Whereas His late Majesty King George the Fifth by Letters Patent dated the thirtieth day of November in the eighth year of His reign did extend and amend the said Letters Patent by declaring that as well as those hereinbefore mentioned the eldest living son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales should have the style title or attribute of Royal Highness
And Whereas Our Brother Edward by His Instrument of Abdication executed on the tenth day of December 1936 and by His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act, 1 Edward VIII, chapter 3, ceased to be together with His issue, if any, in the lineal succession to the Crown:
And Whereas We deem it expedient to declare the right of Our Brother Edward shall be entitled to the said style title and attribute of Royal Highness:
Now Know Ye that We of our especial grace certain knowledge and mere motion Do hereby declare Our Royal Will and Pleasure that Our Brother Edward having been born in the lineal succession to the Crown shall, notwithstanding his exclusion from the succession as aforesaid, be entitled to hold and enjoy the said style title or attribute of Royal Highness and that by reason of the said exclusion His Wife and Children, if any, and the Children of His Sons, if any, shall not have the said style title or attribute.
24th May 1937.
My dear Simon
I have been thinking a good deal about our conversation on Friday evening. The more I think of it the less I like the idea of H.M. taking any active step. I think there would be a real risk of a complete family rift and it might not be easy to damp it down or keep it hidden. And however few they are who already feel that W. has had too hard treatment, their number, their temper and their clamour would surely increase if the contemplated public step were taken by H.M. Some will feel the weight of the argument used against a morganatic marriage last winter, that a wife inevitably takes the rank and position of her husband. Does not a vital change take place when the lady becomes his wife so that thereafter a blow aimed at her is necessarily a blow at him? I quite see the difficulties which will arise if no action is taken. No doubt they may add to the undesirability of a return. But are they not perhaps outweighed by the points I have taken?
I hope you will forgive me for writing this letter. You will know that on such a subject my opinion needs discounting! But I didn't want to stay silent and misunderstood.
Whatever is decided I shall do my level best to prevent friction.
Geoffrey Ellis to Simon (4 May 1937)note in blue pencil: Put in file about Royal Highness
10 Kings Bench Walk
4 May 1937
Herewith the note I spoke of to you in the House. It embodies the view I have already expressed together with one or two additions ? by the Law Officers note which I have read & which I understand you already have. The original view I gave then is unaltered = there is really very little law in the problem, but a good deal of delicate politics.