This month, the campaign group Republic launched the latest of their movements against the British Monarchy, in which they demanded that the Royal Archives be made available to the public and submitted to the National Archives. Led by Robespierre-wannabe Graeme Smith, the CEO of Republic, they have initiated a crowdfunding project to help raise funds necessary to bring the matter to court.
The Royal Archives is a collection of documents, correspondences, diaries, addresses, and records relating specifically to the British monarch and the Royal Family, and are traditionally kept locked away within the Round Tower of Windsor Castle. The Archive’s records start with George III 250 years ago although the Archive itself wasn’t created until 1914 by King George V, and have continued to be maintained on behalf of the Royal Family by the Keeper of the Royal Archives. Before then, royal documents and the like were haphazardly kept in disorganised collections of tin boxes and paper bundles, necessitating the need for more careful preservation.
Since then the Archive has been quietly expanding, collecting the private correspondences of every monarch since.
The Royal Archives are a private collection and are typically not allowed to be viewed by just anyone. Exceptions are made for genuine academics and researchers, who can contact the Archives for assistance and access to the relevant documents. Further, select collections such as letters by Queen Victoria and documents from the reign of King George III have been made available online, and the Round Tower has been renovated to allow greater academic access.
Republic intends to have the entire collection released to the National Archives and made accessible to the nation as a whole. Claiming that the Royal Archives are even more secretive than MI5, Smith states that the British public “have the right to know” the personal correspondences of the Head of State and “their past”. Doing so would also allow them to better judge the monarchy as an institution.
“This secrecy means the official record of Britain’s head of state – evidence of exactly what’s been going on behind closed doors for decades – is kept a closely guarded secret,” Smith says on the Republic website, “These are documents relating to the history and the job of our head of state […] that are completely hidden away.
“The British people have a right to know their past, they have a right to properly judge this institution and the people that serve in it and you can only really do that with full access to all the official records.”
Exactly what Republic expects to find is anyone’s guess — their website gleefully insinuates that they probably expect evidence of everything from Nazi connections to secret human sacrifices in Balmoral.
A Palace spokesperson was quick to point out that there was a vast difference between the Queen’s private and public correspondences. “There is an important distinction here. Papers concerning Her Majesty’s State business are held by the National Archives at Kew and are covered by well-established access provisions,” they said.
“The Royal Archives are the private archive of The Queen, the Royal Family and departments of the Royal Household.”
The Royal Archives are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and its sister Act in Scotland, as the Royal Household is not defined as a public body by it. Further, the documents held by the Archives are not considered to be public records, but private documents held by private individuals and therefore protected by the Royal Family’s right to privacy.
Even if the Archives were to be made public, there are doubts that we’d even see any of The Queen’s private letters anyway. According to Hugo Vickers, a prominent author on the Royal Family, if there were any danger of correspondences between the Royal Family and British civil servants being made public, they simply wouldn’t be placed in the Royal Archive. They’d most likely be destroyed instead.