16 Ways the British Royal Family Makes, Spends and Retains its Wealth
We all assume modern royalty means buckets overflowing with gold, but how much wealth does the royal family actually have?
According to Reader’s Digest, the royal family’s worth breaks down like this: Prince Phillip, $30 million; Prince William, $40 million; Prince Harry, $40 million (plus Meghan Markle’s $5 million); Prince Charles, $100 million; and the queen herself at $550 million.
Altogether that’s about $760 million — a ton of money to go around. But how do Britain’s royals spend, make and hold on to their vast fortunes?
The royal family’s rich history has left them with some truly amazing assets, from entire swaths of England itself to billion-dollar collections and even a whole bunch of dolphins.
Here are 16 interesting, unusual, and outright odd facts about the royal family’s luxurious lifestyle.
The Sovereign Grant
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the royal family doesn’t receive a typical paycheck, instead the Crown Estate — which is every public holding owned by Queen Elizabeth II — is paid out via something called the Sovereign Grant.
Here’s how that works: The Crown Estate owns tons of properties and business (much more on that below), but it hands all profits over to the treasury. Each year, the treasury then calculates a percentage of those profits — currently 15 percent — and pays that amount over to the queen. That percent is calculated in two years arrears, meaning what the queen will be paid in 2018 came from what the Crown Estate made in 2016. That percentage is set to increase to 25 percent between 2017 and 2027 to pay for Buckingham Palace renovations.
The queen is expected to take in £82.2m for the 2018 to 2019 fiscal year. That’s comes to about 0.65 pence (0.88 cents) per person in yearly taxes, according to the BBC, because the Sovereign Grant is technically funded by the government.
The Privy Purse
The queen has a private income called the Privy Purse, which is a portfolio of roughly 45,600 acres of land owned with commercial, agricultural and residential business dealings. In 2017, it took in a net income of £19.2m ($26 million).
Income from the Privy Purse comes mostly from the Duchy of Lancaster — a private estate consisting of lands, properties and assets — created in 1939 as a source of independent income for the monarch. Its income wasn’t always this profitable, though: in 1952, when Queen Elizabeth II took the crown, its revenue was just £100,000 a year, according to the Guardian, which also notes the duchy’s entire assets are now “worth more than half a billion pounds.”
They Own All the Gold — and Many Minerals to Boot
The queen’s Privy Purse “includes an extensive mineral portfolio which extends from South Wales to North Yorkshire,” according to the Duchy of Lancaster’s financial statements. Royal rocks and minerals include limestone, sandstone, gypsum, coal and slate.
Additionally, the Crown Estate owns “virtually all the naturally occurring gold and silver in the UK.”
And the queen does reserve the right to take a pickaxe to your flowerbed if you live on the Duchy of Lancaster’s land.
In 2013, 2,500 people received notices that the royal family has the right to dig under their property for their crown-given mineral rights if they so choose to.
There’s Money in Wind
A real windfall (sorry) for the Crown Estate comes from leasing out seabed properties to offshore wind farms. The Crown Estate has been generating money from the renewable energy sector for at least six years, and its profitable business.
According to the BBC, the Crown Estate brought in £22.9m (about $31 million) in 2016 for its wind farm business dealings. The estate is looking to expand its endeavors in the future, citing 2017 as a “milestone year” for the country’s wind sector.
The London Array, a 175-turbine operation and the largest offshore windfarm in the world, is leased from the Crown Estate.
Horses and Horse Racing
While the queen hasn’t declared rulership over the entire equestrian kingdom, she does love horses and horse racing.
Not only does she own the Ascot Racecourse, which recorded a profit of £5.1 million in 2016, she also owns and breeds some of the country’s finest thoroughbreds.
According to the Observer, Queen Elizabeth II’s horses have earned about $9.4 million over the past 30 years in racing alone. But the real money is in breeding horses: While we don’t know if the queen’s horses moonlight with a stud career, UK champion racehorses like Frankel can command a £175,000 fee per breeding session.
The royal family can’t rely on priceless art and jewels as a nest egg because those items will probably never go up for sale.
According to the BBC, the queen “has an investment portfolio consisting largely of shares in blue chip British companies” valued at £110 million ($14.89 million) as of 2015.
Not all of the queen’s ventures into the stock market have been a success. Back in 2000 she jumped on the dot-com boom right before the bust, investing $154,000 in a site called getmapping.com, whose entire valuation nosedived to $16,000 the following year, according to Forbes.
They Own Half the Coast
The Crown Estate owns just under half of the coastline (including 12 miles from shore) around England, Wales and Northern Ireland and 340,000 acres of rural farmland and forests.
The royal portfolio includes ports, harbors, leisure boating, aquaculture facilities and three marinas. Seaweed cultivation, wildfowling (duck hunting) and marine research are some examples of ways the royal family makes money off its extensive coastline.
In 2017, the Crown Estate made £49.1 million (about $66.3 million) in revenue from its rural and coastal division.
And a Swath of London Itself
The Royal Family is Britain’s largest landlord, with a property portfolio currently worth £12.7 billion.
The lion’s share (58 percent) of that portfolio comes from real estate owned in Central London, where they own almost all of Regent Street, homes to high-end retail stores, and nearly half of all the buildings in St. James’s, the central area of London central hub for the country’s bureaucrats
They Even Own Bits of the Animal Kingdom
Under UK law, certain fauna fall under the personal property of the monarch. This includes whales, sturgeons, dolphins and unmarked swans in the River Thames.
While an accountant may have a difficult time putting these animals in the queen’s portfolio (are dolphins deductible?), it’s interesting to think one person can lay claim to whole species.
The law for the seafaring fauna dates to a 1324 statute during the reign of King Edward II. The law concerning swans dates as far back as 1482.
Castles, Castles Everywhere
The royal family has an astounding amount of property.
Under the Crown Estate, family is in control of Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Hillsborough Castle, Clarence House, Kensington Palace, the Royal Lodge, St. James’s Palace, Bagshot Park, Barnwell Manor, Wren House and Thatched House Lodge.
However, being under the Crown Estate, those properties are inalienable and they can’t sell these lodges, castles, palaces and parks, so they won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
The royal family’s private residences —those they can sell — include Sandringham House, Balmoral Castle, Craigowan Lodge, Delnadamph Lodge, Highgrove House, Llwynywermod, Tamarisk, Birkhall, Anmer Hall and Gatcombe Park.
That’s a lot of property we can’t pronounce, but would definitely like to own.
All Those Jewels
The price of the royal jewels is practically unfathomable, given that the rare stones have not been formally appraised.
The most famous stone in its collection, the Cullinan I, also known as the Great Star of Africa, is the largest clear-cut diamond in the world. At 530.2 carats with 74 facets, it was last appraised with a value of $2.5 million over 110 years ago. Adjusting for current dollar values, that’s roughly $62.3 million today. The diamond is worth even more now, with speculation of its value upward of $400 million.
But that’s just one diamond. The Crown Jewels include 140 objects like crowns, swords, scepters and 23,578 precious and semi-precious stones. While their true cost is an ongoing mystery, rumors and speculation say the collection is worth over £3 billion.
You can go see them at the Tower of London.
Their Ridiculous Stamp Collection
The queen has one of the most valuable stamp collections in the world, having inherited the Royal Philatelic Collection from her father and grandfather, George VI and George V.
According to David McClure’s “Royal Legacy: How the Royal Family Have Made, Spent, and Passed on Their Wealth,” the massive stamp collection has never been fully inventoried or priced. Estimates put its worth over £10 million, with some estimates as high as £100 million.
One stamp in the collection, known as the Mauritius Blue, is worth at least £2 million. George V bought it for £1,450 in 1904.
The Royal Duties
Many of the royals actually work. Kind of. Maybe not in the traditional sense, but they aren’t sitting around all day. Prince Phillip dubbed himself “the world’s most experienced plaque unveiler” and has given 5,493 speeches. Prince Charles heads 13 charities.
Generally, though, the royal family performs royal duties, which are mostly appearing at charitable events, giving speeches and throwing parties. According to Insider, the royal family “has about 2,000 engagements, entertains 70,000 guests, and answers 100,000 letters every year.” The queen herself carried out 162 official engagements in 2016.
Most of this is done for diplomatic, political and ceremonial reasons. While it might raise money for various causes, the royals don’t really earn money doing this. Instead, it’s actually one of the reasons why they spend so much on…
Big Travel Costs
The royal family ratchets up a hefty travel bill each year, much to the annoyance of some UK taxpayers (their travel cost is taken out of the sovereign grant). In 2017, the monarch and her family spent £4.5 million on official travel and £228,697 on their very own royal train system, according to the BBC.
This can be a sore spot for some taxpayers: Prince Phillip spent over £19,000 for a royal train ride when it would have taken £120 pounds for a first-class train ticket, according to the Boston Globe, while Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, spent about £154,000 on “Cam Force One” (their Air Force One equivalent).
Not Paying All the Taxes
The queen, the royal family and the United Kingdom’s government are practically inextricable from one another. As such, the queen “is not legally liable for income, capital-gains or inheritance tax,” according to the Economist.
However, she does pay taxes on her investments and certain profits from the Privy Purse, although she does not pay taxes on the amount allotted to her through the Sovereign Grant.
They Employ a LOT of People
But it isn’t just about bringing in those dolla’ dolla’ bills, the royal family’s many estates—and if we’re being honest, the royal family itself — require a battalion of workers to keep things running. In 2017, the royal family employed at least 436 staff.
With a salary ranging from £14,368 ($19,454) to £213,633 ($289,259), total costs of employment was £19.5 million ($26.4 million). The crown also spent £17.8 million ($24.1 million) on property maintenance, £3.1 million ($4.2 million) on utilities, and £2.2 million ($2.9 million) on housekeeping that same year.