Upon King Edward VIII’s abdication, he immediately became a Prince of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland with the qualification of Royal Highness. On 5 February 1864, Queen Victoria had issued Letters Patent saying, “that besides the Children of Sovereigns of these Realms, the Children of the Sons of any Sovereign of Great Britain and Ireland shall have and at all times hold and enjoy the title, style and attribute of “Royal Highness,” with their titular dignity of Prince or Princess prefixed to their representative Christian names.”1 Queen Victoria’s Letters Patent were later confirmed by King George V in 1917.2 King George VI had even – inadvertently – recognised his brother’s royal rank immediately after his abdication by instructing Sir John Reith to introduce him as His Royal Highness Prince Edward before his speech to the nation.
King George VI informed his brother he would create him a royal duke, and they settled on the name Duke of Windsor. A royal duke could not sit and vote in the House of Lords, and this is exactly what the new King wanted. On 12 December 1936, King George VI read out a declaration at his Accession Council which stated, “My first act upon succeeding my brother will be to confer on him a Dukedom & he will henceforth be known as HRH The Duke of Windsor.”3 This declaration was published in the Gazette that same day.4
The actual creation of the Dukedom of Windsor did not take place until 8 March 19375, but this was not published in the Gazette.6 For example, when Edward’s brother was created Duke of Kent in 1934, the following was published in the Gazette: “The KING has been pleased to direct Letters Patent to be passed under the Great Seal of the Realm granting unto His Majesty’s Son, His Royal Highness Prince George Edward Alexander Edmund, K.G., G.C.M.G., G.C.V.O., and the heirs male of his body lawfully begotten the dignities of Baron Downpatrick, Earl of St. Andrews, and Duke of Kent.7 So, why wasn’t the Windsor Dukedom gazetted? We assume that the dukedom came with the standard “heirs male of his body,” but we cannot say this for sure. The National Archives have items relating to the Duke of Windsor title, though some have been extracted from the main piece because it is subject to extended closure under section 5(1) of the Public Records Act, 1958.8 Could this be the original Letters Patent? And if so, why are they being hidden?
On 27 May 1937, another letters patent was issued to confer the style of HRH to the Duke of Windsor and to exclude his wife and any possible descendants from holding the style of HRH. See this article for a further discussion on why this was illegal. These letters patent were published in the Gazette.9
In any case, the Windsor dukedom went extinct in 1972 upon Edward’s death. Though it is said that the title cannot be used again, this is nonsense as nothing is stopping the sovereign from creating the title again. Whether it is a good idea for it to be revived is a whole other matter!