After 70 years on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II died last week and was succeeded by her eldest son, King Charles III. Unsurprisingly, the Queen’s death was met with an outpouring of grief. The monarch was loved by millions in Britain and beyond.
But whatever your feelings towards Elizabeth, it is clear that the attitude of the British monarchy is far from benevolent. There are many important pieces about the global legacy of monarchy colonialism. The ascension of the new King of Great Britain was also a good opportunity to talk about the socio-economic influence and impact of the monarchy.
The ascension of Britain’s new king is a good opportunity to talk about the socio-economic impact of the monarchy.
Today, socio-economic instability in Britain is inevitable. The new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, was at her post just three days before the Queen’s death. But she faces a growing crisis as energy bills rise, the use of the food bank is doubled the past ten years and the economic effects of Brexit are still felt.
Meanwhile, the exact value of the British monarchy is very difficult to calculate. The Sunday Times rich list calculated the Queen’s personal fortune at 370 million pounds (more than $420 million), while the author and royal expert David McClure estimated it at 400 million pounds (about $460 million). Other estimates are closer to a billion. Brand financinga leading brand valuation consultancy, estimates the capital value of the monarchy at 67.5 billion pounds (more than $77 billion).
Calculating an accurate net worth is so difficult because the royal finances are a closely guarded secret. Any inheritance transferred “sovereign to sovereign” – from Elizabeth to Charles, for example – is exempt from inheritance tax, because of a unique arrangement approved by the United Kingdom government in 1993 to preserve the royal wealth. This includes the Crown Estate, a comprehensive portfolio of land and real estate with a reported £15.2 billion in assets, which is held by the monarch “in the right of the crown.” That means it is not personally owned by Elizabeth or Charles, but rather owned by the crown as an institution. The estate consists of prime real estate in central London, shopping centres, woodlands, foreshores and wind farms.
The numbers we do know are huge. The monarchy is officially funded by a taxpayer funded payment, Sovereign Grant, an amount calculated from 15%-25% of the Crown Estate’s profits. In 2021-2022, the financial report of the royal household calculated this as 86.3 million pounds ($98.5 million). But more importantly, the Sovereign Grant is not all the money the monarchy receives. Security is usually: paid by the Metropolitan Policeand the Duke of Cornwall (formerly Charles, now Prince William) receives funds from the Duchy of Cornwall, another huge portfolio of land and property estimated to worth more than 1 billion pounds. (According to the BBC, this portfolio generates about £20 million a year in profit.)
The monarch also administers the Duchy of Lancaster, 71 square miles of land and property with assets of approximately £652 million. (This portfolio also generates about £20 million a year.) Taking all this into consideration, the anti-monarchy campaign group Republic suggested the “true cost” of the monarchy £345 million annually. While the official royal website suggests that the monarchy “costs £1.29 per person in the UK”, if we consider the broader picture, the British taxpayer is making and supporting the monarchy in many more ways.
Charles was reportedly heavily involved in turning the Duchy of Cornwall into a billion-pound real estate empire.
Recently we caught a glimpse of how the monarchy manages its money — and those glimpses have sparked renewed calls for reform from critics. 2017, “the Paradise Papers” – a leaked series of documents about how wealthy people and companies used offshore investment as tax havens – revealed that the Duchy of Lancaster (owned by the monarch, then Elizabeth) had millions of pounds invested in a fund in the Cayman Islands.
Journalists also discovered that the Duchy of Cornwall (owned by Charles, then the heir apparent) invested in an offshore company that lobbied against climate change deals.
These revelations raise serious questions about a lack of transparency and the ethics of some financial decisions in the monarchy.
As a prince, Charles was reportedly heavily involved in turning the Duchy of Cornwall into a billion-pound real estate empire. Under his ownership, the Duchy hired teams of professional managers who: increased portfolio value and profit by a reported 50%. It generates millions of pounds a year in rental income.
Charles has also been involved in the construction of Poundburya 400-acre “urban extension” of the town of Dorchester, built on the land of the Duchy of Cornwall and designed according to his vision of attractive architecture. The community is home to about 4,000 people. Despite operating as a business, the Duchy of Cornwall pays no corporate tax.
In addition, Charles has been embroiled in several controversies in recent years over donations to the charitable foundation that operates in his name. In June, the Sunday Times reported that Charles had taken 3 million euros in cash in shopping bags and suitcases from former Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, which was to be given to his foundation. (A spokesperson said at the time that all proper philanthropic procedures were followed.)
There also is a ongoing story about an alleged “cash for honors” scandal, in which a Saudi businessman allegedly made donations to Charles’s charities in exchange for a knighthood and citizenship. Charles has denied that he was aware of this. (“The Prince of Wales had no knowledge of the alleged offer of awards or British citizenship on the basis of donations to his charities,” said a spokesperson earlier this year.) knighthood are awards given in the UK and British Overseas Territories for merit or achievement.
In the end, it’s not surprising that the royal family managed to keep a huge fortune. Britain’s museums, towns and ceremonies bear witness to the royal family’s sparkling wealth. But like in other countries in Europe, that sparkle can fade. Charles doesn’t like the the same public affection like his mother did. Will his government finally open the door to a much-anticipated discussion about the financial inequalities inherent in the monarchy?