Queen Elizabeth secretly re-enforced an old law to keep Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother’s wills sealed.
The queen’s lawyers, solicitors for the British Treasury and the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith conducted a secret review of the rules governing the publication of royal wills “before and after the death of the Queen Mother” in 2002, the Daily Telegraph has revealed.
The undisclosed agreement has only come to light because it has been challenged at London’s Appeal Court by Robert Brown, who claims to be the illegitimate son of Princess Margaret and her one-time lover Group Captain Peter Townsend.
The secret pact was unknown to the government as well as the public, and brought the convention for royal wills not to be made public knowledge back into practice.
The law was established in 1911, when Queen Mary applied to have the will of her younger brother Prince Francis of Teck sealed to prevent the revelation that he left jewellery to a mistress being made public. The law had not been used since.
However, when the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret died in 2002 – the first major deaths in the royal family since the death of the queen’s father George VI in 1952 – the queen made covert arrangements to bring the rules back into force.
Her lawyers’ secret meeting made plans to formalise the sealing of all future royal wills. This was agreed privately in a lower court, before Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, the then-president of the Family Division, approved the procedure a few months later.
A transcript from the appeal court hearing last month revealed the procedure was so secret it was unknown to Dame Elizabeth’s successor Sir Mark Potter. Sir Potter threw out Brown’s attempt to see the will of Princess Margaret last summer.
During the appeal hearing, Geoffrey Robertson QC, who was representing Brown, claimed his client’s human rights as a member of the public outweighed any right to privacy claimed by the royal family.
But the executors of the royal wills opposed the application claiming Brown had no right to see them. They said: “It is a fraudulent claim. It is a scandalous claim that he is the son of the sister of the sovereign without any factual basis.”