Down the generations, our royal family has basked in riches most of us can only dream of, surrounded by palaces, jewels and precious art purchased with public funds.
And that’s before you get to their annual income courtesy of the Sovereign Grant – money paid to the royals by the government, which today has risen to a whopping £82.8 million a year, up from just £7.9 million in 2010.
It’s a vast sum, but as I discovered when I set out to write a book scrutinising both the finances and the conduct of the Windsors, it is a drop in the ocean of the bulging royal bank accounts.
Aided not just by lavish state subsidies but by breath-taking – and unique – tax breaks, over the years not just the Queen but members of her extended family have managed to amass extraordinary personal fortunes.
Exactly how rich are they though? Here we take a look.
She may be much-loved by the public – but Her Majesty’s enormous wealth largely comes from the taxpayer.
Then there’s the queen’s investment portfolio, which is worth at least £500 million and on which, thanks to legislation passed by Winston Churchill, she paid no tax on for 40 years – costing the taxpayer an estimated £900 million.
Those investments are supplemented by all manner of valuables, from Faberge eggs, a string of racehorses, paintings and jewellery, not to mention a stamp collection valued at £100 million in 2001.
Nonetheless the Queen is famously thrifty, gifting loyal staff items like jam from the Palace shop as Christmas presents – sometimes close to the sell-by date which means she gets it discounted.
It helps that the Duchy of Lancaster, the private estate owned by the sovereign and which owns 10 castles and land across the country, has an estimated worth of £534 million. Last year it brought in a £20 million income.
Prince Philip was born penniless on a Corfu kitchen table and slept in an orange box. When he married the Queen in 1947 the Duke of Edinburgh’s naval income was just £11 a week.
In 1969 he went onto US television to plead poverty for the royals, saying they might have to sell a polo pony or two.
Today, more than 70 years later, he receives £359,000 a year from the Sovereign Grant – a rise that far surpasses wage inflation for the rest of us, even though he no longer carries out any duties.
Nonetheless, a palace insider recently revealed it ‘wasn’t enough’ and that the queen now has to supplement it.
Quite how he has managed to amass £28 million is mystery, although the fact he doesn’t pay for much probably helps, a pattern set as far back as 1956, when an extended trip on the Royal yacht Britannia cost the public purse £2 million.
Courtesy of the Duchy of Cornwall – the 'private estate' whose revenue goes directly to Charles – the Queen’s heir receives an annual income of around £21 million.
Meanwhile the vast estate has estimated net assets of £1 billion and owns huge amounts of land across the country including the Oval Cricket Ground.
Such is the Duchy’s extensive reach that it even derives income from car parks and surf schools on Cornwall’s beaches due to the estate’s ‘foreshore’ rights. Nor does the Duchy – which Charles insists is a ‘private estate’ – pay any corporation tax.
Make no mistake, HRH does like to spend money though – including £30,000 on a private jet on a single day trip to Belgium in July 2017. His travel bill for the year overall was £1.13 million.
Charles dislikes British Airways first class, complaining that the seats are uncomfortable and on a trip to Canada, he realised his favourite shoehorn had been left at the previous stop in Winnipeg. He got the Canadian air force to travel a thousand or so miles to pick it up and deliver it to him.
Why the Royals are now so rich
In 2012, when George Osborne was Chancellor, the system of royal support was changed, meaning the Royals now benefit from income from land and property called the Crown Estates.
Since 1760, that income had all gone to the government – and so indirectly to the taxpayer.
But from now on, under the new ‘Sovereign Grant Act’ of 2011, 25 per cent of it goes to the Royal Family instead.
That single decision has seen money from the civil list – the money given to the Queen to pay for the
monarchy – rise by an eye-popping amount, from £7.9 million in 2010 to £82.8 million last year.
What's more, this property portfolio includes the seabed round our coast where a huge number of windfarms are planned. This is likely to bring in another £100 million a year for the Queen.
‘Airmiles Andy’ has long been known for his extravagant lifestyle and a love of luxury travel at the taxpayer's expense costing millions: in the ten years to 2011, his ‘special representative role’ cost the taxpayer £4 million, with another £10 million to be added on for his police protection.
Extensive criticism does not seem to have reined him in more recently either: in 2016, he took a £3000 helicopter flight for a journey from Norfolk to London which would have cost £35 by train.
Like most of the royal siblings, Andrew has investments in businesses and properties, although a fair slice of his fortune is understood to come from a trust fund that was set up when he was a child and he receives an annual £249,000 from his mother.
In 2007, his former marital home, Sunninghill Park, was sold to a Kazakh billionaire for £15 million – £3 million above the asking price, and subsequently demolished.
William’s personal wealth is understood to be partly thanks to a legacy from his great-grandmother the Queen Mother, who put the bulk of her estimated £70 million fortune into a trust fund for her great-grandchildren in 1994, leaving William and his brother Harry with around £14 million between them.
Their late mother, Diana Princess of Wales, also left her sons a substantial financial legacy, understood to be around £13 million apiece, which is boosted by regular financial top-ups from the Queen and Charles who gives him around £4 million a year ‘pocket money’ from the Duchy of Cornwall estate.
DUCHESS OF CAMBRIDGE
While Kate’s finances are harder to penetrate, her private wealth is undoubtedly boosted by the many ‘freebies’ gifted to the Royal couple, from villas on the Caribbean island of Mustique to ski chalets.
Then there are the cars. William and Kate are amongst several royals who have also benefited from cut-price leasing deals for top-notch Audis.
Like his brother, Harry inherited from both his great grandmother and mother’s estates and also receives £4 million a year from the Duchy of Cornwall.
He is not immune to the pull of luxury taxpayer-funded travel however: in March this year he took a taxpayer-funded helicopter at a cost of £6,000 from Birmingham to London when an advance rail fare, first class, would cost £34.
The £2.4 million renovation of Frogmore Cottage, his marital home, was also funded by the taxpayer.
DUCHESS OF SUSSEX
As a Hollywood actress Meghan Markle had already amassed an estimated £3 million fortune of her own before she married into the Windsors, including a reported £500,000 pay-check for her role as Rachel Zane in legal drama Suits.
Marriage to a royal has certainly boosted her finances though – and her assets: she now has a 91-piece jewellery collection worth £600,000.
PRINCESSES BEATRICE AND EUGENIE
£3.9 million each
Although not on the civil list, both princesses benefited from the legacy of their great-grandmother together with the estimated £1.4 million trust fund established for them in the wake of their parents' divorce.
Both girls do work, although Beatrice in particular is renowned for her foreign holidays: in 2017 she took eighteen.
Again the Queen’s granddaughter receives nothing from the royal purse, but has quietly amassed a vast fortune, courtesy of some canny sponsorship deals including Rolex and Land Rover.
She also has her own jewellery range with Australian brand Cajella.
Where there's a will, there's a way to keep it secret
For centuries, all wills in this country have been open for inspection – except for royal wills, which are kept secret, locked in a metal safe in an iron cage in Somerset House.
Perhaps the royals don’t want the public to know just how fabulously wealthy they all are – and the extent to which they avoid paying taxes on their estates, albeit legally.
Take the way the Queen is exempt from inheritance tax under ancient legislation – meaning she didn’t pay a penny tax on her mother’s estimated £70 million estate.
The Queen Mother also took advantage of the law that means you can make gifts seven or more years before you die and avoid death duties: she left jewellery to her grandchildren in 1993.
Just one snag: it was all found in one of her cupboards after she died.
Happily for her Majesty, the Inland Revenue turned a blind eye – saving her around £25 million on inheritance tax.
…And What Do You Do?: What the Royal Family Don't Want You to Know by Norman Baker is published by Biteback, priced £20.
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