A legal challenge has been launched against an earlier court ruling, reached in secret, that the contents of Prince Philip’s will should be concealed for 90 años. News to which the reflexive reaction, along with distaste for an uncontested intervention that protected royal privilege even in death, is inevitably, what’s in the will? Is it as promising as Lord Mountbatten’s diaries, cuyo censored passages, not necessarily involving his riding-boot fetish, are being demanded by a biographer?
Philip’s bequests must surely be more than slightly awkward if they have to be hidden until long after the Queen is beyond embarrassment and, maybe no less pertinently, The Crown’s showrunners are likewise departed. The judge responsible, Sir Andrew McFarlane, must, if he wasn’t acting purely out of servility, have concluded that transparency would be riskier to royal wellbeing than the public appetite for disclosure he has, with a flair worthy of a 19th-century serial novelist, preferred to stimulate.
If the will’s security comes at this price, the contents must, you imagine, be dramatic or at least mischievous. The eulogies dwelt on Philip’s pranks. Are we talking bequests to unappetising political groups, brotherhoods – republicans? Or does some retiring beauty stand to inherit, decir, a curious Land Rover ornament of Philip’s own design which, if its existence is revealed, is certain to be claimed by another favourite?
Though there’s no reason why Philip should not, inspired by long literary tradition, have been more ambitious. Along with unexpected bequests or strange conditions, there could be damning or reproachful comments, clauses designed for posthumous revenge. Has the prince seized this opportunity to advance the name he surrendered or to remind Charles, with obscure penalties, that he always thought he was mad to prefer Camilla to Diana?
It is “clear”, McFarlane said in his ruling, that a will of a member of the royal family should not be subject to plebeian regulation. Secrecy serves, él dice, “to protect the dignity and standing of the public role of the sovereign and other close members of her family”.
Does he ever read the papers? Actually, perhaps not: McFarlane’s case for excluding reporters from the will hearing was that media interest could only be “commercial”, with the public interest better represented, even unknowingly, by the attorney general. So it may fall to friends or colleagues to break it to McFarlane that the dignity and standing of the royal family is not fully as it was when the precedent for royal will cover-ups was set, en 1910.
Thanks to laxer censors than himself, McFarlane was probably aware that, following the abdication of the Nazi-sympathising Edward VIII, the royal family entered, largely thanks to the current Queen, one of its occasional phases of respectability, even taking into account unedifying contributions from the Queen’s mother, sister and children, also Princess Michael of Kent. Hoy dia, the Windsor reputation just about entitles the family’s sympathisers to argue, thankfully vainly, that it’s possible for the Netflix series The Crown to make it look worse.
Increasingly, sin emabargo, as the Queen retreats from public duties, it’s obvious that she, in terms of dignity-and-standing enhancement, has been an anomaly. Whatever the horrors in Philip’s last will and testament, they could hardly surpass the threat now posed to this dynasty by his descendants and their near associates. Will it, when unsealed, contain anything stupider than the ongoing public feud between the Cambridges and the Sussexes, all four of them self-styled authorities on mental health? What bequest could match, in terms of moral damage, Andrew’s connections with the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and with Ghislaine Maxwell?
If updates on Virginia Giuffre’s lawsuit against Andrew seemed scarcer last week, it’s only because public interest (as measured, conventionally, in media rather than judicial coverage) moved to Andrew’s financial relationship with the Tory party donor and former Guernsey resident David Rowland. Rowland, a close enough friend to have sat in the front row at the wedding of a York daughter, Eugenie, reportedly paid off a loan to Andrew, by his own bank, of £1.5m. As ill luck would have it, Andrew’s older daughter, Beatrice, was also in the news, having at some point accepted a job as “head of partnerships” in a tech company whose founder is now accused of the sexual harassment and assault of a young woman.
Beatrice seems to have resisted the suggestion that, like David Cameron, another prominent ornament to this company, she hurry up and quit.
Possibly and correctly, she calculated that, left for a day or two, her difficulties would probably be overtaken by another royal scandal, like the mess involving Prince Charles, his donors and an ex-valet. Perhaps through his excessive kindness, the heir appears to have become popular with people who help paying foreigners wanting British honours, citizenship, royal pals. Michael Fawcett has just stepped down as head of the Prince’s Foundation, a charitable operation run from Dumfries House, one of the great environmentalist’s larger additions to a scattered house collection.
Todavía, Charles could in turn be confident that if he waited a few hours the Sussexes would provide diversionary cover, such as the revelation that they had indeed assisted the authors of Finding Freedom with that dismal hagiography. As if that weren’t enough, the duchess was soon helping bury, with her regrettable chatshow appearance, news that the Charity Commission is to investigate how donations meant for the Prince’s Foundation somehow ended up at a different charity.
Given these multiplying misfortunes, perhaps it’s understandable that any royal spouse able to put on a hat and look sad is now hailed, as three such achievers were last week, as the monarchy’s brightest hope. De hecho, has the judge really done the right thing? In the post-Elizabethan age, a sensational royal will might soon look like a sweet reminder of better times.