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Royal wedding: How rich is the Queen, and what does she really own?

By Robert Verkaik and Arifa Akbar

An analysis of the Queen's wealth shows that she holds assets worth £17bn in trust for the nation.

But access to these treasures is restricted by hundreds of years of obfuscation over what the Queen owns as sovereign and what belongs to her as Elizabeth Windsor.

Which paintings and other works of art are shown to the public is still decided solely by the Palace and the trustees of the Royal Collection.

Put simply, confusion over what the Queen owns and how much she is really worth helps the Palace to protect her wealth and prevent the public having rights of access to it.

But our analysis of the royal fortune reveals there is very little she can call her own.

The main areas of confusion focus on her grey wealth (for want of a better term), the ambiguities surrounding the ownership of large parts of her estates which she holds in name alone, such as the Duchy of Lancaster and the Crown Estates. Constitutional experts argue that hundreds of years of history have helped to muddle the issue of royal title. Ultimately, such questions may have to be settled in the courts.

Only by dividing the Queen's property and income into properly defined categories – private wealth, sovereign wealth and grey wealth – is it possible to know what she is really worth and what parts of her property the nation can claim as its own.

Once lawyers and constitutional experts have properly categorised the Queen's wealth, the business of handing it over to the nation can begin.

It will also give Parliament a firm basis from which to debate the issue of the funding of the Royal Family and the many treasures it owns on our behalf.

After all, it is the Queen's annual earnings, the cash-flow of the Royal Family business, that has come under increasing strain in the past 10 years.

While her private income is derived from a mixture of a portfolio of stocks and shares invested by the Bank of England Nominees and the drawings from the ancient estate of the Duchy of Lancaster, her public income is provided by the Government under the terms of the Civil List.

The Palace maintains that these two sources of income should be treated separately.

But the Queen's personal wealth is a murky area that crosses the boundaries of her private and public lives. Recent efforts by MPs and the National Audit Office to shine a light on the relationship between the flow of cash involving Parliament and the Queen has exposed a complex area of Palace accounting and royal double speak.

As the Queen faces a rising tide of bills, as revealed by The Independent yesterday, and confronts the financial reality of having her state funding frozen for another nine years, greater strains will be placed on her public and private purses. MPs and constitutional experts warn that there will inevitably be occasions when the Queen uses the money from the Civil List to finance her private affairs.

The question asked by constitutional experts such as Vernon Bogdanor, professor of government at Oxford University, is: when does a visit from a personal friend who happens to hold state office become an event that is funded by the Government and when is it something which must be paid for by the Queen's personal money?

Two years ago, Parliament's financial watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee, called for full scrutiny of the royal palaces after one MP accused the Queen's aides of "siphoning off" money earmarked for fire restoration work at Windsor Castle. Alan Williams, the Labour MP for Swansea West, claimed £14m from ticket sales to Buckingham Palace had been diverted from fire restoration over a five-year period and through a "bizarre" formula had gone into the Royal Collection, the Queen's charity, which looks after her pictures and other art works.

The MP claimed that money was "sliding into royal palaces in a way which is not accountable to Parliament". He said: "This was money that was charged for entry to one of our taxpayers' palaces. They are state assets, not the personal assets of the Queen. The cost of maintaining them is met by grant-in-aid, and that is government money. The charity are getting £14m that they weren't entitled to before and I would suggest they are not entitled to now."

The business of the Royal Collection, which is larger than the Tate Gallery, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, is accountable only to the Charity Commission.

But a Treasury minute on a report of the Public Accounts Committee shows that as long ago as July last year the Palace told the Government that it had no intention of exposing the Collection's accounts to wider scrutiny. The minute says: "... the Royal Household sees no justification for the Trust to be singled out for different audit arrangements from other charities."

Other European royal families how they compare


Speculation last year about the size of its fortune forced the family to issue an unusual clarification. The official figure of £7.8m, which excludes art, a villa in France and land, is far below previous estimates. The magazine EuroBusiness claimed it was £1.4bn.


An annual £4.6m goes to Queen Margrethe to maintain her family. EuroBusiness estimates a relatively modest fortune of £10.2m in an investment fund, but this is disputed by the Palace, which says it is too high.


The family whose lands once spread throughout the Holy Roman Empire still has estates in Austria. Most of its estimated £3.1bn fortune derives from an art collection and the family-owned finance company, LGT Group.


Ranked Europe's second richest in a 1999 survey by EuroBusiness. Fortune estimated at £2.9bn. Much of the wealth is in land and investments.


Prince Rainier has a sizeable tax exempt fortune. His family owns 25 per cent of Monaco and 69 per cent of SBM ­ the company that owns the Monte Carlo casino ­ which makes annual profits of £18.4m. Art work includes Rubens and Goya.


The family is thought once to have owned as much as 25 per cent of the Royal Dutch/ Shell Group. Art, investments and landholdings now make up their £2bn portfolio. The state provides three palaces.


King Harald V inherited a substantial fortune, much of it property in Britain, from his father, Olav V, who was the grandson of King Edward VII. Private wealth is estimated at £88m.


Little is known of the Bourbon family wealth. Everything from the royal yacht to family jewels is state-owned. They are thought to be among Europe's least-rich royals.


King Carl Gustaf has 10 palaces but they are all state-owned. He pays taxes at the same rate as other Swedes. The Swedish court says he has an estimated fortune of £14m.

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