It’s Good to be the Queen or King, Financially Speaking

I don’t have any real reason to be sad about Queen Elizabeth’s passing, but I felt a little down about it anyway.

I’m a little embarrassed to say that I think I just loved the performances of Claire Foy and Oliva Colman in the Crown and Helen Mirren in The Queen, even if the portrayals could be tough.

In any case, I read several articles from our press, but I also get the Economist and Financial Times (FT), which covered her passing in more detail.

I was particularly fascinated by accounts of the royal wealth, most notably from the New York Times and the FT, although there’s also a Wikipedia page dedicated to the finances of the British royal family.

The New York Times says that Forbes valued the British royal wealth at $28 billion, but that estimate includes Buckingham Palace and the Crown Jewels.

Those things are certainly valuable, but the royals couldn’t sell those things, so they aren’t exactly financial assets. (Maybe they could sell a few jewels, but it would be awkward if, say, Elon Musk bought Buckingham Palace.)

But the royals are heavily invested in real estate outside of Buckingham Palace and Balmoral through the Crown Estate.

The Crown Estate is a ‘corporation sole,’ which is a legal entity that consists of a single (sole) incorporated office occupied by a single (sole) natural person. This structure allows for the seamless transition of the monarchy, and the assets aren’t owned by the government or the monarch’s private estate.

While the Crown Estate isn’t owned by either the government or the royals, they do split the income. The Crowne Estate was valued at $17.8 billion in 2021 and had a net income of $312.5 million that year. Seventy-five percent of the income goes to the Treasury, and the remaining 25 percent goes to the monarch.

Charles doesn’t get the $78 million directly (25 percent of $312.5 million), it goes to the royal lifestyle: $57 million in property maintenance, $28 million in payroll costs, $4 million in utilities, etc.

There’s more to the assets than the Crown Estate – there’s also the Duchy of Cornwall, which is another $1.2 billion worth of real estate assets that made $29 million last year, and the Duchy of Lancaster, a $950 million collection of assets that earned $27 million.

If you don’t know what a Duchy is, don’t feel bad, I didn’t either. It’s the territory of a duke or duchess, also known as a dukedom, which does not sound as cool as a kingdom.

One of the benefits of being a royal is that you’re exempt from a lot of taxes, including income tax, capital gains tax, and inheritance taxes.

I read that Charles and other royals have paid taxes in recent years that they didn’t have to pay, but my guess is that part of the reason that their fortune is so vast is that they didn’t have to pay taxes for the last few hundred years (although, I would also suppose that they received more of the taxes personally in the early years).

And if there is a drawback to royal wealth, it’s that it isn’t what it used to be. It appears to me that the outline of the current structure was set forth in 1760 by King George III. But it also appears to me that there has been a lot of legislation in recent decades to tightly regulate royal wealth, most recently with the Sovereign Grant act of 2011.

Still, despite the regulation, I suspect that King Charles III won’t be too worried about his financial circumstances. From here, it looks good to be king, but I could be wrong, and maybe Shakespeare was right: heavy is the head that wears the crown.