Originally published March 2021.
I’m sure you have your mind on higher things than the soapier side of the royal family, but I love it. I have a collection of commemorative china, my mum’s knitting me a copy of one of Princess Diana’s jumpers, I cried at Meghan and Harry’s wedding, and of course I was glued to their interview with Oprah.
However, I know you don’t come to this site for coverage of every tear and tiara – there’s more than enough of that in every newspaper today. Stay with me, though, because there is an economics angle to the saga of the Sussexes.
Like a lot of family feuds, Meghan and Harry’s falling-out with the royals comes down to money – significant quantities of it belonging to the taxpayer. It’s a dispute that highlights the tension between the Windsors’ constitutional place in British society, their claims on the public purse, and their identity as a family like any other, made up of flawed individuals with their own interests and aspirations.
Every teenager who’s argued with their parents about their pocket money knows how emotional these fights can get, and Harry’s sense of being set adrift is palpable when he says, “my family literally cut me off financially”. But his family isn’t ordinary and nor are their finances.
Republicans like to argue that the royals are a waste of taxpayers’ money, but that isn’t quite the case. The majority of funding the Queen receives for official purposes – the sovereign grant – comes out of the profits from the land and properties that make up the Crown Estate. It’s ‘public money’ in the sense that the Queen runs the business of the Crown Estate for the nation, and the nation is getting a pretty good deal. In 2020 the grant was set at 25%, meaning the Treasury got £257.6m. The Prince of Wales receives an income from the Duchy of Cornwall – a vast stretch of agricultural land which he holds in trust and must pass on intact to future dukes – and he pays income tax at the top rate.