This week’s news that the Queen’s official London residence, Buckingham Palace needs a £369m refurbishment has caused a public outcry.
I hear you say: No wonder the Queen of England is one of the richest women in the world. She owns Buckingham Palace in London, Windsor Castle in Berkshire, The Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh. She has a huge collection of priceless paintings, antiquities and is funded by the British taxpayer. Why doesn’t she just pay to repair her own house? She has plenty of money.
Let me deal with these myths one by one.
Firstly when King George VI died on 6 February 1952 and Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth ascended the throne as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. She inherited two private homes from her father. These private residences are known as Sandringham House and Balmoral Castle.
Sandringham House, Norfolk was bought by the Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) in 1862 and has since been a beloved family retreat for four generations for British royals.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert first leased Balmoral Castle on Royal Deeside in the Highlands of Scotland in 1848 before purchasing the estate in 1852.
Secondly Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and The Palace of Holyrood House do not belong to the Queen. She holds them in trust for her successors and for the nation. The Crown Estate owns the properties and the principal stakeholder of the Crown Estate is the Treasury, which is part of the British Government.
In answer to the question why doesn’t the Queen just sell off some of the Royal Collection and pay for the repairs herself? Well similar to the palaces, the Queen does not actually own any of the items in the Royal Collection. Once again she holds the collection in trust for her heirs and on behalf of the nation.
Finally dealing with the enquiry why are the British people paying for the Queen to live in luxury and be attended by an army of servants?
Let me explain. As well as being the British Sovereign, the Queen is also the Duke of Lancaster. This entitles her to use the income generated by the Duchy of Lancaster, which became linked to the Crown in 1399. As of 31st March 2016 the Duchy had assets of £494.7m and that produced net surplus of £17.8m.
Now you just said, why doesn’t she just sell some of the assets owned by the Duchy? The simple answer is that she is not allowed to. Under the Crown Lands Act 1702, Parliament came to an agreement with King George III that the Monarch could only receive the income, but would have no access to the capital.
So what happens to the income? The answer is, The Sovereign Grant Act 2011 stipulates that 85% of the income will be handed to the Treasury. The Treasury then use the money to fund the Civil List, which is effectively the way the British Monarchy is funded.
In conclusion, apart from Sandringham House and Balmoral Castle all the other places the Queen calls home are owned and maintained by the British Government through the Crown Estates. The Royal Collection is also owned by the British Government and held in trust by the Queen for future generations. Her Duchy of Lancaster income is appropriated by the Treasury and used to fund the Monarchy.
I hope you now understand that the Queen isn’t paying for repairs to Buckingham Palace, because it is a Government building the same way 10 Downing Street is in the UK, or the White House is in the US.
All pictures Wikicommons unless stated