Past historic 2: Prince Albert and the etchings

Prince Albert:
consort and litigant
The second item in the little bundle of photocopied articles on IP history which this Kat researched and wrote back in the 1980s, when he was still a full-time academic, deals with the background to a seminal case in English IP history: Prince Albert v Strange (1849), the judicial ruling which provided the basis upon which equitable relief for breach of confidence grew into what has subsequently become a highly-developed and sophisticated body of case law on what is now an equitable tort.

The confidential subject matter in this case was the information concerning a set of etchings which the young Queen Victoria and her artistically-inclined husband Prince Albert had executed over a period of years. In the course of conducting this research this Kat had to gain permission to view the etchings, which are held in Windsor Castle. More revealing than the etchings themselves, or the reasoning of the court, was the fact that investigative and intrusive news reporting was capable of causing annoyance and distress to a journalist's royal quarry in the mid-19th century just as it is today.

The article, "Prince Albert and the Etchings", was originally published in [1984] 12 European Intellectual Property Review 344 to 349. You can read it in full here.

For "Past historic 1: how patents for invention came from Venice to England", click here
Past historic 2: Prince Albert and the etchings Past historic 2: Prince Albert and the etchings Reviewed by Jeremy on Thursday, November 03, 2011 Rating: 5


  1. And of course Albert originally invited Victoria up to see his etchings

  2. --- ".... all unpurrforated ...."

    What delightful texts! Thank you, J-Kat.

    George Brock-Nannestad

  3. Thank you for the article Jeremy. While reading I was struck by the similarities between this case and that of HRH Prince of Wales V Associated Newspapers, although in the latter the element of copyright was more significant.
    On the subject of the unresolved issue of Prince Albert's locus standi (top of column 2 on page 346) was it not the case that in the mid nineteenth century a married woman had few if any property rights and thus if one assumes Queen Victoria was involved in her private capacity, Prince Albert would have been entitled to bring a suit on her behalf also. I pray in aid of this contention, part of a speech made by Russell Gurney QC MP in moving the second reading of the Married Women's Property Bill of 1870: "Up to this time the property of a wife had had no protection from the law, or rather, he should say, in the eye of the law it had no existence. From the moment of her marriage the wife, in fact, possessed no property; whatever she might up to that time have possessed by the very act of marriage passed from her, and [...] became at once the property of her husband."
    If I may make one final, impertinent, comment, it is good to see that your prose style now has a much lighter touch!


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