As King Charles III ascends to the throne following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, his son Prince William will take over Charles’ previous title as Duke of Cornwall, while retaining his title as Duke of Cambridge.
Along with William’s new title comes the Duchy of Cornwall, the nearly 700-year-old, $1.5 billion estate of the royal family.
The origins of the Duchy of Cornwall are rooted in providing funds to the heir to the throne as a means of independence. The estate continues to bring in high revenue streams, much of which was the subject of controversy under the leadership of then Prince Charles. With Prince William now assuming the role of Duke, the title is not limited to property.
WHAT IS THE DUCHY OF CORNWALL?
The private estate of the Duchy of Cornwall dates back to 1337 when King Edward III created it in order to grant independence to his heir, Prince Edward. According to the Duchy of Cornwall website, the charter has since ruled that the estate would be given to the monarch’s eldest surviving son and subsequent heir to the throne.
Contrary to its name, the estate’s properties span 20 counties of England and Wales, with only 13% of the land located in Cornwall. Together the properties comprise 52,450 hectares of land which includes fully serviced farms, commercial and residential properties.
“It’s not an easy task and it generates a lot of money,” explains Stephen Brooke, professor of British political history at York University in Toronto. In a phone interview with CTVNews.ca on Thursday, Brooke said holdings like the Duchy of Cornwall are what form the bedrock of the throne’s wealth.
“For many, many years the Queen was the richest woman in the world because of these assets and I’m not sure people really talk about it; it’s not just the Crown as a symbol, the Crown also has a lot of money,” he said.
“A MODERN COMPANY”
While Charles pays voluntary income tax on the estate, the Duchy of Cornwall is not subject to corporation tax since it is considered Crown property. According to the estate’s 2022 annual financial reports, Charles earned £21 million (C$31.8 million) in income at the end of the financial year.
In 1990 Charles started the organic food company Duchy Originals, now known as Waitrose Duchy Organic, which since 2010 has been associated with British supermarket company Waitrose. According to the Prince of Wales website, profits from the company have gone to charitable causes and operate separately from the Duchy of Cornwall.
Brooke says the investments made by the Royal Family show efforts to increase her financial wealth.”
“The modernization of the monarchy seems to have also included much more modern approaches to this private wealth. It’s not like it’s quaint landowners, it’s a modern society,” he said.
WHAT THIS COULD MEAN FOR PRINCE WILLIAM
With the Queen gone, all eyes around the world are on the future of the monarchy, Brooke says, as this new era opens up discussion about how the modern monarchy will continue to evolve.
“I think a challenge for Prince William, if he takes it up, is to think ‘is this (the Duchy of Cornwall) something a modern monarch should have’?” he said.
Brooke says Prince William, along with other senior royals, could face scrutiny over their legacies and new titles due to their celebrity status; unlike the Queen, who has distanced herself from any association with being a celebrity.
“I think Queen Elizabeth held the monarchy in great esteem in Britain, largely because of her personality. He was someone who didn’t court the spotlight, always appeared very graceful in an extraordinary but still very ordinary way,” he said. “I’m not sure King Charles and the others have the same gift.”
Ultimately, ties to the monarch for those within the Commonwealth remain strong enough that even those who may be aware of the royal family’s wealth flows may not care enough to dispute it.
“I guess he (Prince William) won’t question it too much, not out of greed, but just because he won’t have to; there’s been some criticism, but that’s not become a common problem, so I think the royal family will probably be able to continue this tradition.