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On December 12, 1936, at the accession meeting of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, the new king, George VI, announced he was to create his brother the “Duke of Windsor” with the style of Royal Highness. He wanted this to be the first act of his reign, although the formal documents were not signed until March 8, 1937 that following year. During the interim, Edward was universally known as the Duke of Windsor. George VI’s decision to create Edward a royal duke ensured that he could neither stand for election to the House of Commons nor speak on political subjects in the House of Lords.

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King George VI of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Emperor of India.

Letters Patent dated May 27, 1937 re-conferred the “title, style, or attribute of Royal Highness” upon the Duke of Windsor, but specifically stated that “his wife and descendants, if any, shall not hold said title or attribute”. Some British ministers advised that the reconfirmation was unnecessary since Edward had retained the style automatically, and further that Simpson would automatically obtain the rank of wife of a prince with the style Her Royal Highness; others maintained that he had lost all royal rank and should no longer carry any royal title or style as an abdicated king, and be referred to simply as “Mr Edward Windsor”. Personally, I am not aware of the precedent for lowering Edward VIII’s titles to either a Royal Highness or simply as “Mr Edward Windsor”.

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HRH The Duke of Windsor

On April 14, 1937, Attorney General Sir Donald Somervell submitted to Home Secretary Sir John Simona memorandum summarising the views of Lord Advocate T. M. Cooper, Parliamentary Counsel Sir Granville Ram, and himself:

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.

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Wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor

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 circumstance.