King Charles III will inherit the sovereign’s wealth alongside assets belonging to the crown. One of the wealthiest people in the world, Queen Elizabeth II inherited much of her considerable fortune but is credited with having made some astute investments during her long life and reign.
Background – the sovereign’s wealth
The sovereign and the wider royal family have three primary sources of income. The sources include the crown estate, the Duchy of Lancaster and the Duchy of Cornwall. Much of it derived from centuries-long ownership of land and property across the country, amounting to assets with a combined value of more than £17bn.
Crown estate – the sovereign’s wealth
The crown estate manages the monarch’s most extensive land and property holdings. These include sizeable chunks of central London – the monarch is one of the largest property owners in the West End, including St James’s and Regent Street – and farmland, offices and retail parks from Southampton to Newcastle.
In addition, the monarch owns the seabed and half the foreshore around large parts of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This asset has become increasingly lucrative since the North Sea oil boom and, more recently, auctions of plots for offshore wind farms. The crown estate is also responsible for managing the whole of the Windsor estate, which spans nearly 16,000 acres and includes parkland, ancient woodland, and the Ascot racecourse.
The total value of the properties owned by the crown estate was estimated at £15.6bn in the most annual accounts released in June.
The estate describes its role as “generating profit for the Treasury for the benefit of the nation’s finances”. The estate made a profit of almost £318m in the last financial year, which was an increase from the previous year as rent collection rebounded after the pandemic and thanks to the growth in offshore wind.
The monarch’s ownership of the estate’s land dates back as far as 1066 and the Norman conquest of Britain. However, since 1760 the monarch has allowed the estate’s net income to be surrendered to the government. This funding arrangement came about under George III, who agreed to hand over the income in return for a fixed annual payment, now called the sovereign grant.
The sovereign grant
The sovereign grant was set at £86.3m for 2021-22, according to the royal household’s annual financial statement, representing £1.29 per person in the UK. Before 2017, the Queen received 15% of the crown estate profits from the two previous years, while the government kept the remainder. In 2017 this was increased to 25% for the following decade to help pay for the £370m refurbishment of Buckingham Palace.
The sovereign grant funds official travel, property maintenance and the operating costs of the monarch’s household. Security costs are not covered by the sovereign grant and are paid for by the public. The Institute for Government notes that these costs are not discussed publicly by the royals or the police.
The Queen was not considered liable for tax on the sovereign grant but voluntarily paid tax on her private income from land owned by the Duchy of Lancaster and property she owned.
The crown estate belongs to the reigning monarch “in the right of the crown”, meaning that it is owned by the monarch during their reign by virtue of being on the throne but is not their private property. Therefore, King Charles cannot sell any of the crown estate, and revenues from the estate do not belong to him.
The crown estate passed from the Queen to Charles without the requirement to pay inheritance tax. The standard rate is 40%, charged on the part of an estate above a certain threshold to a maximum of £500,000.
Under the Crown Estate Act, responsibility for managing the estate’s assets is given to an independent organisation, led by a board – known as the crown estate commissioners – who hand each year’s surplus revenue to the Treasury. It means the King is not involved in management decisions.
Reform of the funding of the royal family in 2012, with a new sovereign grant, meant the royal household became subject to the same audit scrutiny as other government expenditures by the National Audit Office and parliament’s public accounts committee.
The sovereign’s wealth – other assets
The monarch also has assets in Scotland. Including virtually all the seabed out to 12 nautical miles (22.2km), just under half the foreshore, about 37,000 hectares (91,000 acres) of rural land, rights to fish for wild salmon and sea trout, rights to naturally occurring gold and silver across most of Scotland, and some property – that make up the Scottish crown estate.
However, since the Scotland Act 2016, the profits generated by these assets have been transferred to the Scottish government for public spending.
Duchy of Lancaster
A second, smaller income pool goes to the sovereign from the Duchy of Lancaster. The duchy was established over 700 years ago. Its estates have belonged to the monarch – who carries the title of Duke of Lancaster – since 1399.
The duchy owns more than 18,000 hectares of land in England and Wales, the majority of which is in Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire, Staffordshire and Lincolnshire, including farms, homes and commercial properties. The duchy also has assets, including shops, offices and commercial buildings, many of which are in the Savoy area of central London, alongside some financial investments and homes.
In addition, the duchy owns limestone and sandstone quarries stretching from south Wales to North Yorkshire, which supply material to the UK’s construction industry. Furthermore, the duchy has rights to the foreshore from the midpoint of the River Mersey to Barrow-in-Furness.
The duchy had nearly £653m of net assets under its control at the end of March 2022, which provided a net surplus of £24m to the Queen.
Duchy of Cornwall
At the same time, Charles inherited the Duchy of Lancashire on accession to the throne, so the Duchy of Cornwall passed to his eldest son, William, when he became heir to the throne and the 25th Duke of Cornwall.
The duchy owns more than 52,000 hectares of land across 20 counties in England and Wales, stretching from Devon to Kent and Nottinghamshire to Carmarthenshire. Much of the estate comprises farmland, including homes and commercial properties, forests, rivers and coastline, and the Oval cricket ground in central London and Dartmoor prison.
The duchy’s net assets were valued at more than £1bn at the end of March, and the estate paid Charles an income of £21m for the year ending 31 March 2022, according to the duchy’s annual accounts.
He voluntarily paid the top rate of income tax – 45% – on the duchy’s earnings after the deduction of official expenditure. Still, he was not considered liable for capital gains tax, nor was the duchy considered liable for corporation tax.
Charles’s interests in architecture, sustainability and organic farming shaped the duchy’s work. The question is whether William will follow his path, including ongoing projects such as a residential development at Nansledan, an extension to the town of Newquay in Cornwall, where more than 4,000 homes and a high street are being built over the coming decades.
The Queen also had personal wealth derived from assets, including properties she owned, such as the estates of Sandringham in Norfolk and Balmoral in Aberdeenshire, and her stable of racehorses. Meanwhile, the value of the royal stamp collection has been estimated at £100m.
The royal family’s total wealth is estimated rather than known, as much of the Queen’s wealth is kept private. However, the Queen’s net worth was estimated at £370m on the 2022 Sunday Times Rich List, a £5m increase from the previous year.
The details of many assets passed from one generation of the royal family to another on their death have been concealed, the Guardian has previously revealed, through legal applications that have allowed the Windsors to seal particular family wills.
British wills are typically required by law to be published. Still, sealing the royal wills has prevented the public from seeing what kind of assets – such as property, jewellery and cash – have been passed down the generations.
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