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.


Brief chronology

  • 10 Dec 1936: Edward VIII signs the Instrument of Abdication
  • 11 Dec 1936: His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act, 1936 passed in Parliament, is given royal assent.
  • 12 Dec 1936: George VI, before the Privy Council, declares "My first act on succeeding My Brother will be to confer on Him a Dukedom and He will henceforth be known as His Royal Highness The Duke of Windsor."
  • 13 Dec 1936: the Duke of  Windsor arrives in Vienna
  • 8 March 1937 (letters patent dated), the former king is created Duke of Windsor
  • 12 May 1937: George VI crowned
  • 27 May 1937 (letters patent dated), confer the style of HRH to the Duke of Windsor and exclude his wife and descendants if any
  • 28 May 1937: Stanley Baldwin resigns as Prime Minister; the letters patent are gazetted
  • 3 June 1937: the Duke of Windsor and Mrs. Wallis Warfield married at Candé, France.

Cast of Characters

  • Baldwin, Stanley (1867-1947), later Earl Baldwin of Bewdley, Prime Minister from 7 June 1935 to 28 May 1937
  • Boyd, Sir Harry Robert (1874-1940), KCVO 1935, assistant private secretary at the Home Office in 1919, later made ceremonial secretary (in 1926) and registrar of the baronetage (1932)
  • Cleverly, C. S.: ?
  • Ellis, Geoffrey (1874-1956), MP, Counsel to the Crown in Peerage and Honours claims from 1922 to 1954
  • Hardinge, Alexander Henry Louis (1894-1960), later second Baron Hardinge of Penhurst, assistant private secretary to the King 1920-36, private secretary 1936-43
  • Monckton, Walter, later Viscount Monckton of Brenchley (1891-1965), confidant of Edward VIII
  • Ram, Sir Granville (1885-1952) parliamentary counsel to the Treasury (in charge of drafting all government legislation), 1st counsel 1937-47.
  • Schuster, Claud (1869-1956): clerk of the crown in chancery and permanent secretary in the Lord Chancellor's Office 1915-44.
  • Simon, Sir John (1873-1954), later Viscount Simon, Home Secretary from 7 June 1935 to 28 May 1937
  • Somervell, Sir Donald Bradley (1889-1960), later baron Somervell of Harrow, attorney general 1936-45
  • Wigram, Clive (1873-1960), Lord Wigram, private secretary to the king 1931-36, permanent lord in waiting 1937-45
  • Wollaston, Sir Gerald Woods (1874-1957), Garter King of Arms 1930-44

The File (HO 144/22945)

Description of the file

This file, one of several collected under the shelf mark HO 144/22945, was made available to the public  in January 2003.  Its contents are described by the following handwritten note.

Style and Title of "Royal Highness'
memo by ???
Very Secret

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).

??? 1/6/37

Seen by Sir R. Scott, Mr Dawson, & Mr. Stoutt
    JMR 4-6-37

For the formal step in connection with the Letters Patent  - see ./25

Additional material was included, presumably at a later date:
  • an exchange of letters between Ram and Wigram
  • letters, a note and revised draft from Geoffrey Ellis

The documents

Sir Granville Ram to Lord Wigram (21 Jan 1937)

The Parliamentary Councel,
Treasury Chambers.
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.

Yours sincerely,

(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.,
Buckingham Palace.

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:-

  1. The lady who lawfully marries a “Royal Highness” becomes, in accordance with the settled general rule, herself a “Royal Highness”.  This is merely a particular application of the general principle that a wife takes the status of her husband, e.g. if Miss X marries Sir Y.Z. she automatically becomes Lady Z.  The rule is emphasised in the case of  a lady who before her marriage was a commoner and marries a peer, for she becomes a peeress of the appropriate rank and acquires the privilege of peerage by the simple fact of marriage. As a result she is liable, and entitled, to be tried before the House of Lords whereas before her marriage she would have been tried in the ordinary criminal courts.  I might add that I have not overlooked the announcement made in the “Times” of April 28th, 1923, that the lady who had become the Duchess of York had become a “Royal Highness”.  But this was only stated for information and did not depend on any ruling of the Sovereign.  Indeed, so far as I can trace, no similar announcement was made when the Duchess of Kent was married or the Duchess of Gloucester.

  2. It follows that the only way in which the lady in question could fail to become a “Royal Highness” would be if her future husband ceased to be a “Royal Highness”.  I do not say that this could not come about, for the Sovereign is the Fountain of Honour and could deprive anybody of this style and title.  But I imagine that the point is not a practical one.

  3. I recollect that His Majesty gave me express directions immediately after the Abdication that the B.B.C. should announce the broadcast of the former King as being made “by His Royal Highness Prince Edward”.  And by a Royal Warrant of December 11th. 1917, which was published in the London Gazette of December 14th of that year “the Children of any Sovereign of the United Kingdom and the Children of the none of any such Sovereign and the eldest living son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales shall have and at all times hold and enjoy the style, title and attribute of “Royal Highness”, and nobody else is in future to have this title other than the persons thus indicated.  On this basis, therefore, both the Duke of Windsor and any children of his would bear the style and title.  Of course, this Royal Warrant was drawn up without any idea of an abdication arising in the future, but it does not seem to me that the terms of the Abdication Act alter the position thus created.  That position could only be altered by the issue of further Letters Patent reciting that the Duke of Windsor and his descendants are by the Abdication Act, by his own desire, excluded from any  right, title or interest in, or to the, succession to the Throne and that, in these circumstances, notwithstanding the Letters Patent of December 11th, 1917, the King directs that the style and title of “Royal Highness” shall not attach to any descendants of the Duke.  There would be no legal difficulty in doing this; but obviously other considerations would have to be weighed.

  4. All the above propositions have nothing to do with the question of Court Precedence or indeed with admission to the Court.  It is perfectly open to the King to give directions as to the precedence of anyone at the Court whether they are called “Royal Highness” or not.  I understand that directions have already been given putting the Duke of Windsor below the King’s other brothers for this purpose, and, of course, any direction of this sort can be varied at any time.  I should not however have thought it possible in a Table of Joint Precedence to have put the Duke in one position and his wife in another.  At any rate this would be contrary to all precedent and would seem quite impossible for other reasons.

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)

Buckingham Palace
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.

Yours sincerely,


The Right Honble.
The Secretary of State,
Home Office.

A. undated memorandum by Home Secretary (late March 1937)

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
  1. to direct that, notwithstanding the Abdication, the style and title shall continue to be enjoyed personally by his brother the Duke:
  2. but that this shall not confer any right to enjoy or assume the style and title on any other person by derivation due to marriage or descent from the Duke's said style and title:
  3. further directing that the style and title shall continue to be enjoyed by such persons, being in the succession to the Throne, as are covered by the provisions of previous Letters Patent and the wives of such persons.


B. Conference (6 Apr 1937)

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:-
  1. Putting aside all reactions, personal or ceremonial, was anything of the kind adumbrated in the memorandum possible?  And if so –
  2. Was the course indicated wise?
After some discussion of the question whether any precedent could be derived from the case of James II, the Conference agreed that the present situation was without precedent.

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.

C. Attorney General to Home Secretary (14 Apr 1937)

14th April,  1937.

Dear Simon

I have discussed this matter with the Lord Advocate, the Solicitor-General and Ram,  and the following represents our joint views.                                                                                
  1. We incline to   the view that on his abdication the Duke of Windsor could not  have  claimed the right to be described as a Royal Highness.       In other words,  no reasonable objection could have been taken if the King had decided that his  exclusion from the lineal  succession excluded him from the right to this title  as   conferred by the existing Letters Patent.

  2. The question however has to be considered on the basis of the fact that,   for reasons which are readily understandable, he with the express approval of His Majesty  enjoys this title and has been referred to as a Royal Highness on a formal  occasion and in formal  documents.      In the light of precedent it seems clear that the wife of a Royal Highness enjoys the same title unless some appropriate express step can be and is taken to   deprive her of it.

  3. We came to   the  conclusion that the wife could not claim this right on any legal basis.  The right to use this style or title, in our view, is within the prerogative of His Majesty and he has the power to regulate it by Letters Patent generally or in particular circumstances.

    This is in our view a matter on which it is impossible to be dogmatic, and no effectively convincing argument would be available against anyone who asserted that the step under discussion was a somewhat questionable use of the prerogative in that it sought to deprive a particular wife of a right which at any rate under custom if not under law she should be entitled to. 

  4. We enclose a draft [marginal note: the original was given by Sir C. Schuster at a later stage; a copy is attached to D] of Letters Patent for consideration assuming it was thought proper to take this step.  It will be seen that that draft also deals with children, if any.  If it was decided not to deal with the wife’s position, we should ourselves have thought that it would be advisable to leave over the question of children to be dealt with in the event of there being any.

  5. We have considered whether the position of the wife could be dealt with in any other way than by Letters Patent expressly dealing with her position.  We were not able to think of any other method.  Even if some other method were feasible we think it would be impossible having regard to past custom as to wives, to prevent the inference that a special step was being taken because of the particular individual whom the Duke of Windsor is proposing to marry.
The whole question is in an uncharted area but we think the wife of an abdicated King who has allowed himself after abdication to enjoy the title, might reasonably be expected also to enjoy it, whereas we think it would be regarded as wholly reasonable that no such right should be enjoyed by the issue, if any.

DB Somervell

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

D. Home Secretary to Prime Minister (26? Apr 1937)

Prime Minister

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 Patent

Whereas 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.

E. Walter Monckton to Home Secretary (24 May 1937)

                         2 Harcourt Buildings, Temple E.C. 4
                         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.

Yours ever
Walter Monckton

Geoffrey Ellis to Simon (4 May 1937)

note in blue pencil: Put in file about Royal Highness

                10 Kings Bench Walk

                4 May 1937

Dear Simon
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.
    Yours sincerely,
    Geoffrey Ellis



The abdication of King Edward VIII and the Act confirming the same (1 Ed. 8. c.3.) removes the ex-King, as if dead, from the line of succession, and moreover declares his children also, if any, cut out of the succession.  The ex-King is, therefore, simply a private subject of the Crown, who by implication has also lost the right to style himself H.R.H.  His children, if any, being expressly excluded from the succession would not be entitled to the style and title of H.R.H. [added: It may be noted that the original letters patent of Q. Victoria show the royal intent to be for "certain members of the Royal Family being in lineal succession to the Crown."]

The Crown has created him Duke of Windsor, to him and the heirs male of his body, and therefore any woman he may marry would become a duchess and as such a peeress by marriage, with all the rights privileges and precedence thereunto belonging.  The Duke of Windsor is to-day the junior Duke in the peerage of Great Britain. He possesses in Parliament "and in all other assemblies and Conferences of Council" the right as the King's brother (which abdication has not altered) to go before all the great holders of office who (if peers) by virtue of the Offices they hold go before all the Peers (31 Hen.8. c.10.), but this right is personal in such assemblies and confers no similar right on a wife, since the precedence is primarily in respect of office and relates to assemblies in which a woman is incapable of attendance.

The Duke in other places would normally be accorded the precedence to which he was entitled in Parliament and Councils, and his wife would probably claim the like precedence as his lawful spouse.

But since the precedence provided for by 31 Hen .8. c.10. is clearly for the Royal Family only in order of succession, the Duke of Windsor, since he is no longer in the succession, may by implication be regarded as having lost that precedence and to be now a private subject for all purposes.  He ranks, therefore, as the Junior Duke of his order.  He [sic] duchess would share his precedence as a Duke.

Precedence not regulated by law is substantially that granted at Court and this is a question for the Crown.  "Princess Royal" or "Queen Mother" are two examples of strictly personal titles granted by the Crown and these obviously apply only to individuals.  Similarly it would be within the prerogative of the Sovereign to grant any Member of his family the style or title of Royal Highness which, even if granted to one not in the line of succession, might still be based on blood and family claims, and would not be contrary to law.

Here, possibly, the question becomes one of political expediency in relation to general convenience and public opinion; and, therefore, within the province of the Prime Minister to advise the Crown what course may best be taken, rather than by seeking to extract from the law something it does not hold.

Since the Duke of Windsor is a Duke in the peerage of Great Britain, but not a Royal Duke in the sense of being in the succession to the Crown, any grant of the style and title H.R.H. made by the Crown might be regarded as personal.  This grant would not confer any corresponding attribute on a Duchess of Windsor, unless she were expressly named in the Letters Patent conferring the style and title.  On this point any patent should be definite.

The Duke of Windsor, in spite of his elimination from the succession, is still commonly spoken of as H.R.H. and indeed has been so termed by the King.  The question then becomes - is it politically advisable to have the position regularised and made clear in relation to the Duchess also?  She may claim and indeed be accorded in public estimation, the style and title H.R.H. by marriage, as it is now allowed to the wives of all Royal Dukes as a matter of course.  On the other hand if the line of least resistance for the time being be followed, and nothing be done, the difficulty is not solved, since if the Duchess publicly styles herself H.R.H. in virtue of her marriage either official confirmation or denial would be essential, and in any event might create trouble and partisan feeling, all too easily exploitable by the sensational press for purposes of their own profit.

In all circumstances it may be deemed opportune politically to advise the Crown to issue letters patent conferring on the Duke of Windsor the style and title of H.R.H. and, within the intention of the Act of Abdication, restricting the style and title to him exclusively.  If this action be deemed advisable, (and it would in no way conflict with the Act 31 Hen.8. c.10.) then it may be as well to make the terms of the letters patent as brief as possible and leave the obvious implications to be inferred rather than expressed.  In this sense I have ventured to suggest some alterations in the draft of the letters patent should letters patent be contemplated.
             Geoffrey Ellis

Geoffrey Ellis to Simon (undated)

My dear Simon

Many thanks for your letter.  The only thing that occurs to me is really political & it is this:

1. The original letters p. of Q. Victoria were devised with the ? of distinguishing the blood royal - i. e. the blood in the line of succession - from the other Dukes not of the blood - the R.H. was an appanage of the blood royal.

2. The wives of these RHs hold their husbands' precedence because the husband was in the line of succession & because any children would also be in the line of succession & you could not very well give a royal rank to the children & father & leave out the mother - again an appanage of the blood royal in the succession.

3. R.H. may be granted to W. because he is the K's brother & has precedence under 31H8 in Parlt etc as "K's brother" & it would be logical to give him the same precedence outside.

4. If title & precedence of R.H. is allowed to W's wife then it is for the first time being granted to a woman marrying a man not in the line of succession & whose children are also barred from succession.

5. (This is political, but I think sound in view of  what has happened.)
The Act of Abdication was a definite cessation of Royalty, a breach in the line of succession, & a return to private life.  If R.H. is granted to the wife it may well be interpreted that altho' the Act of Abdication is the Law the present K by giving R.H. to the woman as well as the man is thereby expressing his disapproval of what happened & by prerogative as far as he can restoring W. & his wife to a position expressly negatived by the Act.  It would then be easy for the wife to say we are both now R.H. and my children ought to be RH too since they are of the blood royal (altho' not in the succession).
Honestly I do believe people would let (?) very uneasy & one reaction would be "If you now recognise W's wife as fit to have royal precedence why did you refuse him the r.t to make her Queen.  The other reaction would be personal annoyance that a high rank - royal - is to be given to this lady.  You might well have that old demonstration of public dislike which England sometimes does very effectively & very bad for the monarchy.
Yrs ...
Geoffrey Ellis

F. AG Somervell to HS Simon (25 May 1937)

             25th May 1937.

Dear Simon

I had a conference this morning which was attended by the Solicitor General, Geoffrey Ellis, Gwyer, Ram, and Garter.  We considered the two draft Letters Patent, namely that originally submitted to us which is attached to your Minute to the Prime Minister (enclosed), and the alternative form submitted by Geoffrey Ellis.  We all, after consideration, preferred the original form with its express reference to the wife and children.

Gwyer expressed some doubts as to our view that we could do what is proposed.  His doubts were based on the principle that wives take the status etc. of their husbands.  I do not know whether I shook his doubts, but I am clear in my own mind that in the quite unprecedented situation which has arisen the validity of what is proposed could not successfully be questioned.  It was however partly by reason of this line of argument, which you have I know realised the importance of from the outset, that we came to the conclusion that any attempt to avoid a specific reference to the wife might result in ambiguity.  It would also be open to the obvious criticism that we were trying to conceal the real object, and speaking for myself I think there is an advantage to be derived from the express reference to the children.  I enclose the documents which you gave us last night, and I shall be in the House this evening if you wanted to see me.

Donald Somervell

Draft Letters Patent (undated)

handwritten note at the top:
The original dft suggested has I think already gone to you from the AG.  The alterations I suggest come in the last two paragraphs + are inserted in order to be precise as to the personal side. GE.

The draft is the same as before except for the last two paragraphs:

And Whereas We deem it expedient to declare the right of our brother Edward, now Duke of Windsor, shall be entitled personally 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, now Duke of Windsor, 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 for hi sown personal use and enjoyment alone the said style title or attribute of Royal Highness.

G. ? to Cleverly

                25th May 1937.

Dear Cleverly,
I have consulted with our experts and as a result suggest the enclosed for the form of submission about the Duke of Windsor.

Yours sincerely,
C.  S. Clerverly, Esq., C.V.O.

The Prime Minister with his humble duty to Your Majesty has the honour to recommend that steps should be taken for the preparation of Letters Patent authorising the use of the prefix "His Royal Highness" by the duke of Windsor and directing that the style shall not be enjoyed by anyone claiming through him.

H. Home Secretary to Hardinge (25 May 1937)

                   25 May 1937

My dear Hardinge

I enclose a suggestion for the lines of a letter which The King might think well to send to the Duke of Windsor at once.  Obviously, The King will wish to inform His Brother privately and personally in advance of issuing the Letters Patent.  These, however, should not be delayed and I am putting through the necessary formalities.  It occurs to me that if the Letters Patent could be issued on Thursday, they might escape a good deal of public comment in view of the resignation of the Prime Minister and the appointment of a new Government next day.

I will see that the Press is suitably prepared for what is coming.  The points to emphasise are (1) that no
women has ever become a "Royal Highness" by marrying a man who is not within the succession to the Throne, and (2) that the Duke himself only holds this title by the special grant of The King to him personally.

J. S.

undated draft of a letter from the King to the Duke of Windsor

I feel bound to write to you about a matter which has been giving me great trouble and concern.  All sorts of people, both official and private persons, are asking whether, when you marry, your wife will be made a "Royal Highness".  It has never happened in all history that a woman who married a man who cannot succeed to the Throne has been so described; indeed, it is pointed out to me that, strictly speaking, you yourself lost the right to this title by the fact of  abdication.  As long ago as the time of Queen Victoria it was laid down that no one could be a "Royal Highness" who was not in the line of succession.

Now, as you can well believe, I don't want to do anything which would interfere with the continuance of your right to the title though, in order to secure it for you, I am advised that I ought to issue Letters Patent declaring that notwithstanding Queen Victoria's rule etc. you, as my brother and as former occupant of the Throne, are by my express direction to be so styled.

This must be strictly personal to you for the reason that a lady marrying outside the Royal Succession is never so styled and of course the same would apply to any children of the marriage. But I want you to understand that a great deal of trouble has been taken about all this and, apart altogether from the views of the lawyers, there is a great deal of concern that the situation should be made plain before your wedding.  The Dominion Prime Ministers, who are here at the Imperial Conference, have been informally consulted and they all take the strongest view that what I am now advised to do is the proper course and that this is the only way to remove misunderstanding and heartburning hereafter.  The necessary document will be issued later in the week but I am sending you this personal letter at once because of course I want you to understand that I have thought of this matter over from every point of view and I am satisfied that what has been decided is in the best interests of everybody, not forgetting your own future happiness.

I. Attorney General to Home Secretary (26 May 1937)

                26th May 1937.
Dear Simon

I send on a copy of a letter which I have just had from Garter with regard to the matter we were discussing yesterday.  I am also sending a copy to Geoffrey Ellis.  I appreciate the point Garter makes, but unless compelled by precedent, and it is difficult to see how there could be precedents, I should myself have come to the conclusion that he was not a Royal Duke.  On the other hand a strong argument could I supposed be based on the fact that he is described as H.R.H. in the Patent conferring the Dukedom.  Garter sends some precedents of the procedure he refers to, but I do not imagine that this would be politically practicable or desirable at the moment, so I am not troubling you with them.

Donald Somervell

Rt. Hon. Sir John Simon, GCSI, KCVO, OBE, KC, MP.
The Home Secretary.

College of Arms
Queen Victoria St, London E.C. 4

My Dear Attorney,

I feel so strongly that the matters which we discussed this morning may have consequences of the utmost importance, that I venture again to put before you a point which I then made, but the intent of which I did not perhaps adequately explain.

I suggest that before anything further is done the King should refer to the House of Lords the question of the Duke of Windsor's rank in that House.

This would secure a legal decision by the competent Tribunal. It could hardly be given without consideration of almost all the points which we   discussed this morning, and on which we could only   give our individual opinions. It is a procedure for which there are precedents, one at least of which I enclose, though I have not had time to go deeply into the question, for until our meeting this morning I was not aware that it was likely to come under our further consideration.

If, despite events, he so far retains his birthright as to be a Royal Duke, with precedence and rank above other Dukes and the Great Officers, I do not think that it could be denied that his wife would share his rank, for that privilege flows from his Peerage as in the case of all other Peerages: it is a legal right. If she acquires the status of a Royal Duchess, the question of the attribute of Royal Highness seems to me to fade into minor importance and to be hardly worth troubling about.

If, on the other hand, his status is not that of a Royal Duke, and he ranks below all existing Dukes, then we are on firmer ground to resist the attribute of Royal Highness, which in the circumstances would seem to be misapplied.

In any case, as he is described in his Letters Patent of Creation as a Royal Highness, the House of Lords could hardly pass judgment without considering that point.

I may be wrong, but I feel that up to the present all action taken has been without any firm foundation, and that before any further step complicates things still more it would be wise to get to the bed-rock of his a legal position In the House of Lords.

There may be political objections to this which I am not competent to judge; but if we do not do so, In my opinion he will, and his immediate counter to any adverse action will be to demand to take his seat in the House of Lords. The issue will then have to be raised and the result might be inconvenient.

Yours sincerely,


British Heraldry Page | Search Heraldica | Heraldic Glossary | Contact

François Velde

Last modified: Feb 06, 2006