£187m of Windsor family wealth hidden in secret royal wills | Monarchy | The Guardian Skip to main contentSkip to navigation

£187m of Windsor family wealth hidden in secret royal wills

This article is more than 2 months old
Left to right; King Edward VIII, Duke of Windsor; Alexander William George Duff, Duke of Fife; Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh; and Princess Margaret.
Left to right; King Edward VIII, Duke of Windsor; Alexander William George Duff, Duke of Fife; Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh; and Princess Margaret. Composite: Hulton Archive/W and D Downey/Tim Graham Photo Library/Kypros/Getty ImagesGetty Images
Left to right; King Edward VIII, Duke of Windsor; Alexander William George Duff, Duke of Fife; Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh; and Princess Margaret. Composite: Hulton Archive/W and D Downey/Tim Graham Photo Library/Kypros/Getty ImagesGetty Images

Contents of dozens of royal wills have been kept private by judges in special hearings closed to the public

Generations of the royal family have concealed details of assets worth more than £180m through a series of legal applications that have been granted in total secrecy.

The assets are outlined in 33 wills that were drawn up by members of the Windsor family over more than a century.

The family have been able to keep secret the contents of the wills by securing a special carve-out from a law that normally requires British wills to be published.

The sealing of the wills has enabled the Windsors to avoid the public seeing what kinds of assets – such as property, jewels and cash – have been accumulated by members of the royal family and how these were then distributed to, for example, relatives, friends or staff.

However, the Guardian has been able to calculate the overall size of the wealth passed down by many members of the family, as the value of their estates has been published in public registers and declassified government files.

This shows that the Windsor family, whose wealth is opaque, have been able to keep secret wills that contain assets totalling – at today’s figures – £187m. Because the contents remain secret, some assets may have appeared in multiple wills and been counted more than once.

At the top of the league is the Duke of Fife, who married Princess Louise, a daughter of King Edward VII. When the duke died in 1912, he left behind a fortune that is worth the equivalent today of £79m.

Nine other wills contain assets worth between £5m and £11.7m if translated into today’s figures. They include Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister, who left £7.7m (£11.5m at today’s prices) when she died in 2002.

Wills drawn up by a succession of minor royals including grandchildren of Queen Victoria have been kept secret. One of the more remote relatives was a member of the Danish royal family, Prince George Valdemar Carl Axel, who was born in Denmark and was a second cousin to Prince Philip. He lived in Britain and married a viscountess who was a distant relative of the royal family.

His will was sealed in London after his death in 1986. His estate was valued at £785,000 (£1.8m at today’s prices).

The arcane practice of keeping secret the wills of members of the royal family is due to come under scrutiny in a court case that starts on Wednesday. The Guardian is taking legal action to challenge a decision to exclude the media from a court hearing that resulted last year in a ruling that kept secret the Duke of Edinburgh’s will.

Sign up to First Edition, our free daily newsletter – every weekday morning at 7am BST

For decades, lawyers for the royal family have obtained legal orders from high court judges to have the contents of wills kept confidential after relatives have died. Since 1911, all the court hearings in which senior judges granted these orders have been held behind closed doors.

This practice has been controversial, since wills belonging to members of the general public are ordinarily made public after they die. They are generally published in order to ensure that they are correctly implemented and are not subjected to any fraud. Legislation from the 1800s bans the publication of the monarch’s will.

For more than a century, high court judges who decided that the wills should be kept secret also concluded that their judgments explaining their rulings should not be published.

The first judgment to be made public was last September, when a high court judge – Sir Andrew McFarlane, the president of the family division – published his ruling that Prince Philip’s will should not be made public.

He decided that the wills of senior royals should be confidential as it was “necessary to enhance the protection afforded to the private lives of this unique group of individuals, in order to protect the dignity and standing of the public role of the sovereign and other close members of her family”.

Lawyers for Philip also successfully applied to keep secret the value of the assets contained within his will.

As with all the other hearings, the media were prevented from attending or even being allowed to argue why they should be able to attend.

In its legal challenge to be heard over two days, the Guardian is arguing that the high court failed to properly consider whether the press should be allowed to attend the hearing, and that its failure to allow the media to make representations constitutes such a serious interference with the principle of open justice that the case should be reheard.

The application is being opposed by the attorney general’s department, which declined to comment as the legal case was being heard.

Buckingham Palace declined to comment in detail. A spokesperson said: “The treatment of wills is a matter for the executors of estates.” The spokesperson added that the executors of any Briton could apply to have a will sealed. It is not known how many wills of Britons – outside of the royal family – have been closed after legal applications.

Wills of members of the royal family that have been sealed


  • The values of their estates (total wealth when they died) is given where known, along with the equivalent value at today’s prices, using the Bank of England inflation calculator. The dates of probate have been published by the president of the family division of the high court.


1

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

Anwar Hussein CollectionPUNE - NOVEMBER 21: Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh watches a military parade at the Indian National Defence Academy on November 21, 1983 in Pune, India. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)

Date of probate unknown

Husband of Elizabeth II. His family applied not only to seal his will but also to keep secret the value of his wealth.
Value of estate: confidential


2

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother

Queen MotherThe Queen Mother (1900 - 2002) visiting Ronald Gibson House, a nursing home in Tooting, London, England, Great Britain, 2 June 1992. (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)

Probate London 15 April 2002

Wife of King George VI and mother to the current queen, Elizabeth II. The royal family chose not to publish the value of her wealth after her death.
Value of estate: confidential


3

Princess Margaret

Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon (1930 - 2002), London, UK, circa 1990. (Photo by Kypros/Getty Images)

Probate London 24 June 2002

Younger daughter of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and younger sister of Elizabeth II. Her family announced the value of her wealth.
Value of estate: £7,700,176 (£11.5m)


4

Prince George Valdemar Carl Axel of Denmark

George Valdemar, 16.4.1920 - 29.9.1986, Prince of Denmark, half length, as Danish military attache in London, circa 1950,. Image shot 1948. Exact date unknown.BHKARN George Valdemar, 16.4.1920 - 29.9.1986, Prince of Denmark, half length, as Danish military attache in London, circa 1950,. Image shot 1948. Exact date unknown.

Probate London 20 May 1987

Danish prince who was the second cousin of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. He lived in Britain for some time and married a viscountess who was a remote relative of the royal family.
Value of estate: £785, 236 (£1.8m)


5

Princess Alice Mary Victoria Augusta Pauline, Countess of Athlone

Criana Arrivals -- H.R.H. Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone. April 07, 1962. (Photo by Barry James Gilmour/Fairfax Media via Getty Images) Princess Mary Victoria Augusta Pauline, Countess of Athlone

Probate London 30 June 1981

Last surviving grandchild of Queen Victoria.
Value of estate: £182, 185 (£567,100)


6

Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas, Earl Mountbatten of Burma

Admiral Louis Mountbatten(Original Caption) Photograph of Earl Mountbatten wearing his naval uniform, 1950.

Probate London 27 February 1980

Uncle of Prince Philip and second cousin once removed of Elizabeth II. He was the last viceroy of India.
Value of estate: £2,196, 494 (£7.6m)


7

Prince Henry William Frederick Albert, Duke of Gloucester

Prince Henry1935: Henry, Duke of Gloucester (1900 - 1974), third son of George V, at the time of the announcement of his engagement to Lady Alice Montague-Douglas-Scott. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images) Prince Henry William Frederick Albert, Duke of Gloucester

Probate London 9 September 1974

Son of George V who was governor general of Australia in the 1940s.
Value of estate: £734, 262 (£5.6m)


8

Lady Victoria Patricia Helena Elizabeth Ramsay

Princess Patricia of Connaught, c1900s-c1910s(?). Princess Patricia of Connaught (1886-1974) was the third and youngest child of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, the third son of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, and Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia. In 1919 she relinquished her royal status when she married a commoner, Alexander Ramsay, a Commander in the Royal Navy. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images) Lady Victoria Patricia Helena Elizabeth Ramsay

Probate London 17 April 1974

Granddaughter of Queen Victoria.
Value of estate: £917,199 (£7m)


9

Duke of Windsor

King Edward VIII (1894 - 1972) in his naval uniform before his abdication from the throne. He succeeded to the throne in January 1936 and abdicated in December 1936 to marry Mrs Wallis Simpson. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images) Prince Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, Duke of Windsor

Administration (with will) London 17 November 1972

As Edward VIII, he abdicated the throne in 1936 to marry an American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. Afterwards they lived abroad and accrued millions. This figure represents only his wealth based in England and Wales.
Value of estate: £7,845 (£75,000)


10

Prince William of Gloucester

William of GloucesterPrince William of Gloucester (1941 - 1972), 17th December 1962. Photo by Tom Hustler/Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images Prince William Henry Andrew Frederick of Gloucester

Probate London 24 October 1972

Grandson of George V and cousin of Elizabeth II who died in an air crash at the age of 30.
Value of estate: £416,001 (£3.9m)


11

Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent

Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, August 1934. She became Duchess of Kent in November 1934 on her marriage to Prince George, Duke of Kent. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Probate London 11 October 1968

Greek princess who married Prince George, the fourth son of King George V.
Value of estate: £76,166 (£940,600)


12

Princess Victoria Alexandra Alice Mary, Princess Royal

HRH Princess MaryH.R.H. Princess Mary’, circa 1920. Mary, Princess Royal (1897-1965), daughter of King George V and Queen Mary of Teck, wearing a fur stole. [J. Beagles & Co., Ltd., London, circa 1920]. Artist Unknown. (Photo by The Print Collector/Getty Images) (Victoria Alexandra Alice Mary; 25 April 1897 – 28 March 1965)

Probate London 22 December 1965

Daughter of George V. According to declassified documents, the current Queen – her niece – specifically asked for her will to be sealed.
Value of estate: £347, 626 (£4.7m)


13

Princess Alexandra Victoria Alberta Edwina Louise, Princess Arthur of Connaught

‘HRH Princess Arthur of Connaught’, 1937. Artist: Unknown.Princess Alexandra, 2nd Duchess of Fife, 2nd Duchess of Fife (1891-1959), 1937. She was married to her cousin Prince Arthur of Connaught, grandson of Queen Victoria. Card No 17 of 48 from Coronation Souvenir cigarette cards produced for Tournament Cigarettes. [RJ Lea Ltd, Manchester, 1937] (Photo by The Print Collector/Getty Images) (Alexandra Victoria Alberta Edwina Louise Duff; 17 May 1891 – 26 February 1959)

Probate London 23 April 1959

Eldest grandchild of King Edward VII

According to an official account, the high court judge who allowed this will to be sealed accepted that there was no special justification but decided “it was desirable”.
Value of estate: £86,217 (£1.4m)


14

Princess Franziska Josepha Louise Augusta Maria Christiane Helena

Date: 1910-1915 - Princess Louise Auguste of Schleswig HolsteinDate: 1910-1915 - Princess Louise Auguste of Schleswig Holstein Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein VA, CI, GCVO, GBE, RRC (Franziska Josepha Louise Augusta Marie Christina Helena; 12 August 1872 – 8 December 1956)

Probate London 12 March 1957

Granddaughter of Queen Victoria.
Value of estate: £107,644 (£1.8m)


15

Queen Mary

Durbar Emeraldscirca 1912: Mary of Teck (1867 - 1953), queen-consort to George V, wearing the Durbar Emeralds presented to her by India following the Delhi Durbar ceremony. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Probate London 5 August 1953

Queen and wife of George V. Grandmother to Queen Elizabeth II.
Value of estate: £406, 407 (£7.9m)


16

Princess Louise Sophia Augusta Amelia Helena

Princess Louise Sophia Augusta Amelia Helena

Probate London 20 May 1948

Granddaughter of Queen Victoria.
Value of estate: £52,435 (£1.3m)


17

Maud Alexandra Victoria Georgina Bertha, Countess of Southesk

Princess Maud of Fife as an adult Maud Carnegie, Countess of Southesk

Probate Llandudno 22 March 1946

Granddaughter of Edward VII.
Value of estate: £44,008 (£1.2m)


18

Princess Beatrice Mary Victoria Feodore of Battenberg

Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom, later Princess Henry of Battenberg, 1857 – 1944Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom, later Princess Henry of Battenberg, 1857 – 1944. Fifth daughter and youngest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Seen here aged 34. From The Strand Magazine, Vol I January to June, 1891. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Probate Llandudno 14 May 1943. This appears to be an error in the list of wills published by the high court in November 2021, as she died in 1944.

Daughter of Queen Victoria.
Value of estate: unknown


19

Prince George Edward Alexander Edmund, Duke of Kent

Duke Of Kent circa 1920: His Royal Highness George Edward Alexander Edmund (1902 - 1942), the Duke of Kent. (Photo by Edward Gooch Collection/Getty Images)

Probate Llandudno 27 January 1943

Son of George V. He was killed in a military air crash in 1942.
Value of estate: £157,735 (£5m)


20

Prince Arthur William Patrick Albert, Duke of Connaught

Arthur, duke of Connaught Prince Arthur, duke of Connaught and Strathearn (1850-1942) son of queenVictoria of England, c. 1900. (Photo by APIC/Getty Images)

Probate Llandudno 10 March 1942

Son of Queen Victoria. He was appointed Canada’s governor general.
Value of estate: £150,677 (£4.9m)


21

Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, Duchess of Argyll

Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, sixth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and wife of John Campbell, Duke of Argyll. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Probate London 7 February 1940

Daughter of Queen Victoria.
Value of estate: £239, 260 (£9.3m)


22

Prince Arthur of Connaught

Prince Arthur circa 1910: Prince Arthur of Connaught (1883 - 1938), son of the Duke of Connaught who was the third son of Queen Victoria. He was Governor-General of South Africa from 1920 - 1923. (Photo by W. & D. Downey/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Probate London 1 March 1939

Grandson of Queen Victoria. He was a British military officer and the governor general of South Africa.
Value of estate: £109,418 (£4.9m)


23

Queen Maud Charlotte Mary Victoria of Norway

Maud of Wales.Photographic portrait of Maud of Wales (1869-1928) was Queen of Norway as spouse of King Haakon VII. Dated 20th Century. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Administration (with will) London 16 February 1939

Wife of King Haakon VII of Norway, and youngest daughter of King Edward VII.
Value of estate: £7,941 (£362,400)


24

Princess Victoria Alexandra Olga Mary

Princess Victoria Alexandra Olga Mary

Probate London 11 March 1936

Daughter of King Edward VII.
Value of estate: £237,455 (£11.7m)


25

Princess Louise Victoria Alexandra Dagmar, Princess Royal

Princess Louise Victoria Alexandra Dagmar, Princess Royal

Probate 13 April 1931 and London 5 June 1934

Eldest daughter of King Edward VII. Given the title Princess Royal in 1905.
Value of estate: £46, 383 (£2.2m)


26

Princess Frederica Sophia Maria Henrietta Amelia Theresa of Great Britain

Princess Frederica Sophia Maria Henrietta Amelia Theresa of Great Britain

Probate London 25 May 1927

Born in Hanover, the elder daughter of a German prince. In the UK she held the title of princess as a male-line great-granddaughter of King George III.
Value of estate: £ 85 (£3,700)


27

Princess Helena Augusta Victoria, Princess Christian

Princess Christian,Princess Christian - Woodbury Princess Helena (Helena Augusta Victoria, Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein by marriage 25 May 1846 - 9 June 1923) was a member of the British Royal Family, the third daughter and fifth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. (Photo by Universal History Archive/UIG/Getty Images)

Daughter of Queen Victoria. She married Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein.

Newly declassified documents show that after she died in 1923, her executors attempted to convince tax inspectors that there was no requirement to pay death duties – an opinion apparently supported by King George V. The inspectors rejected their argument. At the time of her death, she was receiving the equivalent today of £250,000 a year from the public purse tax-free. The executors did not apply for probate.
Value of estate: unknown


28

Helen Frederica Augusta, Duchess of Albany

The Duchess of Albany, c1900s

Probate London 29 December 1922

Wife of Prince Leopold, youngest son of Queen Victoria.
Value of estate £177,312 (resworn £183,053) (£7.2m)


29

Lord Leopold Louis Mountbatten

Lord Leopold Louis Mountbatten

Probate London 15 June 1922

Grandson of Queen Victoria. Originally known as Prince Leopold of Battenberg.
Value of estate: £4,049 (£160,600)


30

Dowager Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

Augusta Carolinecirca 1880: Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Augusta Caroline of England (1822 - 1916), daughter of the Duke of Cambridge. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Administration (with will) London 13 December 1920

Granddaughter of George III. She married into the Grand Ducal House of Mecklenburg-Strelitz before returning to Britain in later life.
Value of estate: £57,282 (£1.7m)


31

Prince Maurice Victor Donald of Battenberg

Prince Maurice of Battenberg

Probate London 1 May 1917
Youngest grandchild of Queen Victoria. He was killed in action in 1914.
Value of estate: £3,147 (£152,400)


32

Alexander William George, Duke of Fife

Duke Of Fife circa 1896

Probate London 24 May 1912

Wealthy Scottish landowner who married Princess Louise, a daughter of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.
Value of estate: £1m (£79.7m)


33

Prince Francis Joseph Leopold Frederick of Teck

Prince Francis circa 1892

Probate London 17 February 1911

Brother of Queen Mary of Teck, wife of George V. Mary persuaded a judge to keep his will closed to head off a scandal as it was alleged that he had left valuable family jewels to a mistress.
Value of estate: £23,154 (£1.9m)

More on this story

More on this story

  • Judge was right to ban media from Prince Philip will hearing, court rules

  • Barring media from hearing on Prince Philip’s will ‘did not harm public interest’, court hears

  • Judge acted unlawfully over hearing on Prince Philip’s will, court told

  • Court of appeal to hear challenge over media ban from Prince Philip’s will court case

  • BBC defends coverage of Prince Philip funeral after complaints

  • Prince Philip funeral: all eyes on William and Harry and the Queen

  • Prince Philip: William and Harry to walk apart as Queen sits alone at funeral

  • Funeral rehearsal gives first sighting of Land Rover Prince Philip helped design

Most viewed

Most viewed