long live the king

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Under the common law rule ‘Rex nunquam moritur’, meaning ‘the king never dies’, the crown passed at the very moment of Queen Elizabeth’s death, ten-past-three in the afternoon of 8th September 2022, to her eldest son, King Charles III. As we’re all well aware, his formal coronation now takes place this Saturday, where we all have the jewel-encrusted opportunity of swearing our fealty before enjoying an almighty lash-up on the recently decreed Bank Holiday Monday. Top dollar. Probably.

Okay, okay, okay, I know it’ll come as no surprise to any of you that I’m no fan of the monarchy and all that malarkey as I see myself as a citizen as opposed to serf but I do find myself pondering exactly how rich is the monarch? It was the king’s grandfather, George VI, who nicknamed the royal family ‘The Firm’ and by that definition it just acquired a new Chief Executive Officer, one that’s set to inherit vast riches almost beyond imagination.

When The Sunday Times first published its Rich List in 1989, the late Good Queen Bess was right at the top of the pile, with a fortune put at £5.2bn. This year, in The Wall Street Journal, with a reduced pile put at a mere £370m, she didn’t even make it into the top 250. The reason is that in recent years, the Queen appeared in a strictly private capacity and conceded that much of the family’s ‘wealth’ is owned in name only and held on all our behalves.

The main source of this wealth is the Crown Estate, encompassing a portfolio worth upwards of £15bn and making it one of the largest property groups in Europe. Its holdings range from immense tracts of central London including Regent Street, to more than half the UK’s seashore. The estate produced a net profit of £313m in 2021/22, the bulk of which goes to the Government – an arrangement dating back to 1760, when George III was forced to ask parliament to pay his debts in return for an annual stipend, now known as the Sovereign Grant. In 2017, Lillie Bett struck a one-off deal to receive 25% of these profits for ten years in order to pay for the ‘business of monarchy’ including the £369m refurb of Buckingham Palace.

Charlie Boy will benefit directly from the ‘Privy Purse’, derived from the Duchy of Lancaster – another private estate that has belonged to the monarch since 1399 and currently valued at £653m. He can also count on returns from the Queen’s substantial private investment portfolio, as well as income from personally-owned properties including Sandringham and Balmoral.

Under another privately constructed discreet agreement the King will pay no inheritance tax. Zip. Nil. Nada. Zero. But, as Prince of Wales, he has said that he would follow his mother’s example in voluntarily paying income and capital gains taxes on the Privy Purse profits. But worry not as, according to the duchy’s website, the estate’s annual multimillion-pound revenue is used to fund his ‘public, private and charitable activities’. Now, call me a coronation curmudgeon but personally I’d much rather The Firm just pays what’s due, as the rest of us have to. For the little people tax isn’t a voluntary hobby – it keeps the societal fabric of daily life going, and it’s non-negotiable.

Speaking of the coronation, it’s estimated to be costing the public purse somewhere close to £100m and whilst the tory government has recently told us there’s no money for such services as Sure Start Centres, you’ll all be suitably relieved the newly-appointed deputy PM has managed to find eight million quid to offer every public body in the UK a ‘free’ portrait of the new king. Commenting on the initiative, Oliver Dowden explained it would help bring the nation together. So would working hospitals. And well-funded social care. And youth clubs. And decent schools. And a living minimum wage. And the elimination of rough sleeping. And a justice system that works for all. And reliable public transport. And. And. And.

Long live the king.