When most people think of King Charles III, they picture the former Prince of Wales playing polo, shaking hands, giving toasts or raising organic gardening. But while he was doing that he was also building up a business empire. Today it is worth over a billion pounds and growing fast.
When talking about the former Prince of Wales though there is the private citizen, the longtime public servant and now, at 73, the head of state. Defining what is private and what is state-owned is not always easy. Unquestionably much of the glittering pomp like the Crown Jewels, Windsor Castle, Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace belong to the country and not the royal family.
Today, King Charles III nonetheless controls a big property and investment portfolio and soon his profile will decorate the country’s currency. A look back shows an interest in a business full of tax breaks, real-estate deals and some offshore accounts.
As Prince of Wales, Charles depended on the Duchy of Cornwall for the bulk of his income to fund his personal and official expenses. The duchy is a private business that includes around 52,450 hectares (nearly 130,000 acres) of land spread over 20 counties in England and Wales.
The property portfolio includes 260 fully equipped farms, woodlands and numerous residential and commercial properties. The duchy also controls parts of the coastline and has a financial investment portfolio.
The duchy has been in existence since 1337 as a way to support the heir to the throne. By law the beneficiary cannot sell assets, and only receives a payout from the revenues generated.
In 1969, when Charles was 21, he started receiving the duchy’s full income. By the 1980s, he had taken a more active interest in what was a rather laid-back business.
“What Charles did differently was he was involved in professionalizing it for a late capitalist age, for instance, the duchy hired managers and professional staff who diversified its portfolio,” said Laura Clancy, a lecturer at Lancaster University. “This meant that it was less just a pile of land, and more a portfolio that is productive.”
Currently, the management team is supported by 180 staff from a headquarters in London and various local offices. Their main focus remains land, rent and property development.
For the year 2002/2003, the duchy reported revenues of around 10 million pounds which were then transferred to Charles. The total value of the estate was around 400 million pounds. Since then the numbers have gone up nearly every year, according to their annual reports.
For 2011/2012, the duchy reported revenues of 18.3 million pounds and valued the estate at 728 million pounds. For the year ending March 31, 2022, the duchy reported 23 million pounds in revenues for the prince and net assets of 1.049 billion pounds. This means revenue has more than doubled while the value of the estate has gone up nearly 200% in two decades.
In another stroke of luck, the government exempts the duchy from corporate tax. Though the prince has voluntarily paid income tax since 1993 on money received from the duchy — but only after deducting his official expenses.
Now that Charles is king, he will hand over the Duchy of Cornwall to his son, William. In exchange the new king will get three other sources of income: revenue from the Duchy of Lancaster, payments from the Crown Estate and his share of Queen Elizabeth’s personal fortune.
The Duchy of Lancaster is similar to the Duchy of Cornwall. It does not belong to the sovereign, but they get income from it. Last year, the Lancaster duchy and its 18,000 hectares of rural land and prime property in London paid the queen 24 million pounds and had assets of 652 million pounds.
The Crown Estate is a multibillion-pound property holding that includes much of the sea bed around the country. This property does not belong to the monarch either, but they are guaranteed a payment from its revenue, called sovereign grant. It is managed by a board without involvement of the royal family. Last year it brought in 313 million pounds in profits and paid the queen 86 million pounds to cover official duties, staff, travel expenses and palace upkeep. The rest went to the government.
Add to all that whatever King Charles inherits directly from his mother’s personal assets, things like property — Balmoral Castle in Scotland where she died and Sandringham — racehorses, cash, investments and an irreplaceable collection of jewelry, art and furniture collected over generations.
When it came to investments, the queen was reportedly hands-off management-wise. Some wonder if King Charles will be as involved with his new financial interests as he was when Prince of Wales.
Whether the king takes up the financial reins or not cannot hide the fact that these privileges go back centuries and are not based on personal achievement. They are a reminder of outsized power in a constitutional monarchy.
Many affirmed that the royal family is a tourist magnet and a unique way to advertise the UK.