- Duke of Windsor
The title Duke of Windsor was created in the Peerage of the United Kingdom in 1937 for Prince Edward, the former King Edward VIII, following his abdication in December 1936. The dukedom takes its name from the town where Windsor Castle, a residence of English monarchs since the Norman Conquest, is situated. Windsor had been the surname of the Royal Family since 1917.
Edward had abdicated on 11 December 1936 so that he could marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson, who became upon their marriage The Duchess of Windsor.
At the time of the abdication there was controversy as to how the ex-King should be titled – other possibilities were the Dukedoms of Cambridge or Connaught, though neither was likely because the Marquessate of Cambridge and the Dukedom of Connaught were both extant at the time. One of George III's younger sons had borne the title Duke of Sussex, but for unknown reasons that specific title has never been resurrected and, so far as is known, no consideration was given to conferring it upon the abdicated king in 1936. Although the Duke of Connaught was also Earl of Sussex, that title was not in active use as his heir Prince Arthur of Connaught was known as that. Nor do other available titles with Royal connections such as Kendal, Ross or Clarence appear to have been considered. One theory is that it was Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin's idea to create the title Duke of Windsor. Another is that the new King George VI brought up the idea of a title just after the abdication instrument was signed, and suggested using "the family name".
Neither the Instrument of Abdication signed by Edward VIII on 10 December 1936, nor the Abdication Act of 11 December 1936, indicated whether the king was renouncing the privileges of royal birth as well as relinquishing the throne. In retrospect this was a serious oversight, and it is unclear why no one realised the implications of the omission. As recounted in Lady Frances Donaldson's biography of the Duke of Windsor, even before the formalities of abdication had been completed, some observers were of the opinion that the former king would be simply "Mr. Edward Windsor." But when consulted the future George VI gave sound reasons why his brother must remain a Royal Highness: the Duke had been born the son of a (royal) duke – their father George V was Duke of York at the time of Edward VIII's birth. Therefore after the abdication, the former king would be at least Lord Edward Windsor, as a duke's son is known. George VI then pointed out that as Mr Windsor or Lord Edward Windsor, his brother could sit in the House of Commons. His advisors at once agreed that to make it impossible for that to happen, the ex-king must remain "His Royal Highness" (HRH). At the new king's order, Sir John Reith, head of the BBC, introduced the former king as "His Royal Highness, Prince Edward" when the latter broadcast from Windsor Castle on the evening of 11 December 1936. Thus at the time of Edward VIII's Abdication, the prevailing view – formulated by George VI himself – was that the former king had reverted to the rank of HRH, his right as the son of a British sovereign. Since neither the Instrument nor the Act of Abdication explicitly stated otherwise, this was a reasonable conclusion.
At his Accession Council on 12 December 1936, moreover, King George VI announced, in the allocution usually given by the monarch just before taking the oath relating to the security of the Church of Scotland, that he would create his brother Duke of Windsor, and that he wished him to be known as His Royal Highness the Duke of Windsor. That declaration is recorded in the London Gazette.
The Duchess of Windsor
Although George VI's accession allocution had already declared that his first act was to create his elder brother Duke of Windsor, and that he willed his brother to be styled His Royal Highness the Duke of Windsor, Letters Patent were issued in 1937 to formalise the creation of the Dukedom, and further Letters Patent were issued in May of that year to regulate the Duke's right to the attribute of Royal Highness – although the pretext of the Letters Patent was the confirmation of the style of Royal Highness upon the Duke, its actual purpose was to restrict the title to the Duke alone, so as to exclude any future wife from sharing in it.
Thus letters patent creating the title in May 1937 restricted the attribute of Royal Highness to the Duke of Windsor alone, denying it to the woman for whom he had given up the throne. This denial became the focus of constitutional debate for the rest of the duke's life. The most easily understood notice of the issues involved is found in Lady Donaldson's book, published in the United States as Edward and Mrs Simpson. A detailed review of the original documents which record the discussions between the Crown's advisors on the topic, and the considerations which led to the letters patent of 1937, has been produced by Francois Velde from documents released into the public domain in 2003.
Letters patent issued by Queen Victoria in 1864 provided that the children and male-line grandchildren of a British Sovereign bear the attribute of Royal Highness by right of birth. Victoria made no provision for an abdicated Sovereign since in 1864 that possibility was virtually unimaginable. A straightforward construction of those letters patent leads to the conclusion that the Duke of Windsor reverted to Royal Highness on his abdication, since the language of the Instrument and Act of Abdication can only be construed to mean that he relinquished the throne, but not his status as a Sovereign's son. Given the general rule in British law that a wife automatically takes her husband's rank upon marriage, Mrs Simpson consequently should have been addressed, upon marriage to the duke, as Her Royal Highness.
Queen Victoria's Letters Patent, however, made reference to birth in the "lineal succession to the Crown", and the Duke of Windsor, although born in the line of succession, had succeeded to the Crown and then relinquished it. Furthermore, the Act that gave effect to the abdication excluded the Duke's potential descendants from the line of succession established by the Act of Settlement. George VI's Letters Patent interpretively declared that the intention of Queen Victoria's Letters Patent was only to grant the style of Royal Highness to children and grandchildren of the monarch who were in lineal succession to the Crown, a situation which no longer held for the Duke. There was, consequently, the possibility of conflicting interpretations of Queen Victoria's letters patent. A meeting of high-ranking royal advisors concluded that resolution of the matter rested with the Sovereign, who as the fount of honour was alone empowered to decide who could and could not bear the attribute of Royal Highness. George VI then granted the attribute of Royal Highness to the Duke as a matter of royal favour, but restricted the use of the style so as not to include its enjoyment by a wife.
As Lady Donaldson explains, moreover, the Royal Family and ranking members of the Establishment were unwilling for the former Wallis Simpson to receive the HRH because no one believed that the Windsors' marriage would endure. In the event of divorce, there was then no mechanism in place to deprive the duchess of the attribute of Royal Highness; such provision came about only in 1996 before the divorce of the current Duke of York and Sarah Ferguson, when Elizabeth II issued Letters Patent providing that divorced wives of Princes of the United Kingdom lose the royal attribute. Thus at the time the Duke of Windsor married Mrs Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor would remain HRH for life even if she and the Duke divorced, no matter whom else she might marry. The duke, moreover, might marry again – for which he no longer needed the Sovereign's assent – and in that case another new HRH would come into existence, perhaps even less suitable than Mrs Simpson was judged to be.
The only solution was for George VI to proceed as if the Duke of Windsor had to be re-created HRH, and that creation was framed so as to restrict the HRH to him and deny it to his wife and future offspring. With the deaths of the Duke in 1972 and of the Duchess in 1986, without issue, the matter has become purely academic.
As the royal arms go hand-in-hand with the crown, the undifferentiated royal arms passed to George VI. It was and is common heraldic practice for the eldest son to differentiate his arms in his father's lifetime, but the Duke of Windsor was left in the unusual position of an eldest son needing to difference his arms after his father's death. This was done by means of a label argent of three points, bearing on the middle point an imperial crown proper.
On the death of the Duke in 1972 the title became extinct and has not been bestowed upon anyone since by the Crown.
- The Duke & Duchess of Windsor Society: an international affinity group dedicated to recognising and recording the historical importance of the lives of the Duke & Duchess. See the Society's official Bibliography of works by or about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
British royal titles Inactive titles
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