Charles III Charles III. Photo: José Dias/ PR / CC BY 2.0

The monarchy secretly hoards its wealth, while costing the country vast sums, and is an affront to democracy, argues Terina Hine

The monarchy is based on wealth, deference and inequality, and encourages vast economic disparities to be accepted as part of a natural order. It is expensive, relying on large sums of taxpayer money (£86 million per year), regardless of its own excessive and dubiously sourced ‘private’ wealth, and its finances are cloaked in secrecy.

It appears the coronation will cost UK taxpayer £100 million, although the exact amount has yet to be announced. We have no say in this expenditure; if we did the majority would demand the event be privately funded. And why not when the king has more than enough to pay for it himself?

Some hold that the monarchy is benign, and the coronation of a new king is not worth worrying about. The cost of the coronation is peanuts in the grand scheme of government spending; those that complain are party-poopers, mean and unpatriotic. But while belief in royal impotence may be necessary to support a monarchy in a modern, supposedly democratic state, it does not withstand scrutiny. Our monarch may not be absolute, but the king, like his mother before him, retains significant powers.

One important power is the ability of our Head of State to hide his wealth, enabling the king’s coffers to be preserved, taxes to be avoided, and royal shindigs to be paid for by us. The privacy of ‘private’ royal finances extends to the wills of senior family members, which are censored by judicial decree, sealed for a minimum of ninety years.

The monarchy is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. With parliamentary collusion, royal lobbying is covered up; the government paid over £400,000 in legal costs to try and keep Charles’ ‘black spider’ memos out of the public domain.

Financial secrecy

Memos uncovered from the 1970s show how the Queen used her constitutional powers to subvert transparency legislation by placing a veil of secrecy over all her investments. Using the long-established convention of consent – the monarch must consent to legislation before it is brought to parliament – she successfully pressurised ministers to alter a bill that would have made her private shareholdings and investments available to public scrutiny. All to conceal her ‘embarrassing’ private wealth.

It is difficult to correlate this avoidance of transparency by the Head of State with democracy. That the Queen had and used such powers for her personal enrichment flies in the face of her duty of service to the nation. It is the kind of influence most lobbyists dream of, and it enabled the Queen to conceal the extent of her wealth for over forty years.

And what wealth she had has now been bequeathed to her son and heir. The nursery rhyme may be 300 years old, but the king is still in his counting house, counting out his money, all £1.8 billion of it.

A recent report by the Guardian estimated that the new king inherited land and property worth £330m, a fleet of cars valued at £6.3m, £27m worth of horses, and a £100m stamp collection. Then there’s the Queen’s ‘personal’ jewels valued at £533m, an art collection of more than £24m, and investments, difficult to value due to opaque accounting, but worth a guesstimate of £142m.

In addition to his property, the new king and his heir, Prince William, also receive considerable private income from two hereditary estates, the Duchy of Lancaster and the Duchy of Cornwall. Neither duchy pays corporation tax and both are exempt from capital gains. The income from these estates brings in more than £40m per year.

Queen Victoria ensured that the Balmoral estate and all of its future acquisitions remained the private property of the family, unlike Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, which are occupied by the Sovereign but held in trust by the Crown Estate. The royal estate in Scotland was therefore bequeathed to Charles on the Queen’s death. Similarly, Sandringham in Norfolk, worth £250m, is now the private property of King Charles.

Thanks to an agreement made between Elizabeth II and the Tory government of John Major in 1993, Charles, as sovereign, is exempt from inheritance tax. In the agreement, the Queen conceded to paying ‘voluntary’ income tax on her private income, as long as inheritance along the line of succession was exempt from tax.

The estimate by the Guardian of Charles’ private wealth is three times larger than a recent calculation made by the Sunday Times. In part this is because the Sunday Times failed to include some the most valuable assets, and in part because of the difficultly in disentangling the monarch’s private money from its public. The distinction is ‘complicated’ by the ownership of official gifts.

Normally, official gifts are considered property of the state. But not always. The palace has refused to explain why official gifts of jewellery worth £80 million and worn by the former Queen, Camilla (Queen Consort) and Catherine (Princess of Wales), are not in the royal collection, where such items are held in trust for the nation. This is just one example of many where apparently official gifts have been appropriated for private use. In another, a house given as an official gift to the Queen, used for a time by the state, is now rented out commercially by Charles. For normal mortals such action would be called out as corruption.

Neither neutral nor benign

Britain accepts the crown because it believes it to be benign and politically neutral. To ally itself openly with capital, business and commerce, to use political connections to exempt itself from legislation, or to appropriate public assets for its own financial gain, are neither. The Windsors hide their influence and hide their wealth. The former because it smacks the face of democracy, the latter because being too rich, too extravagant or too indulgent, especially in the midst of the cost-of-living crisis, could be dangerous. After all, even the most intellectually challenged of the Windsors must know what happened when Marie Antoinette suggested peasants should eat cake.

As the coronation of the new king approaches, and we embark on our third round of royal obsequiousness in less than a year, the media will dutifully fill our screens with flag-waving monarchists, regardless that only 9% of the population care a great deal about the coronation while 64% care little or not at all.

The monarchy is anathema to democracy, it is vastly wealthy, protected by the state and the elite, has close ties to our political system, and is intrinsically linked to our unjust and grossly unequal economic system. The new king will no more serve the people than his predecessors. Charles III will reign in his own interest and those of the class he represents. He is not my king.

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