With Prince Charles’ accession to the throne, his eldest son became the heir, the 25th Duke of Cornwall.
In addition to this title, Prince William automatically inherits the Duchy of Cornwall, which has been his father’s source of income for more than half a century. This is thanks to owning over 52,000 hectares (128,000 acres), which also makes him one of the largest landowners in England.
The Duchy of Cornwall owns land in 20 counties in England and Wales – most of which are not in Cornwall – from Devon to Kent and Carmarthen to Nottinghamshire.
Most estates include farmland, but also residential and commercial properties, forests, rivers, coastlines and about a third of Dartmoor National Park, which was once used to mine minerals such as tin and copper.
Some of the estate’s more unusual assets include Oval Cricket Ground In central London – leased by the Surrey County Cricket Club since 1874 – and Dartmoor Gaol, as well as the Plant Nursery and Garden Centre in Lostwithiel, Cornwall. At the end of March, the principality’s net worth was over £1 billion, the bulk of which came from investment real estate assets.
The Duchy’s origins date back nearly 700 years, until 1337, when Edward III established a private estate to provide independence for his son and heir, Prince Edward. A charter at the time stipulated that every future Duke of Cornwall would be the monarch’s eldest living son.
King Charles III is not only the heir to the throne from the age of three, but also the longest-reigning Duke of Cornwall in history, having managed the estate for 50 years in 2019. He took over the operation of the estate and received the right to receive full income at the age of 21.
According to the Duchy’s website, under his leadership, millions of pounds of annual income from the estate are used to fund Charles’ “public, private and charitable activities”.
It believes Charles requires the estate to be managed in a way that is “sustainable, financially viable and of meaningful value to the local community”.
His personal interests shaped the work of the Principality through his interest in architecture and sustainable development, including organic farming.
Charles also founded Poundbury, a model village of over 3,000 people near Dorchester, Dorset.
He also founded food company Duchy Organics more than 30 years ago in 1990, and many consumers may associate the estate’s name with Duchy-branded groceries, including fruit, vegetables and meat.
However, the brand struggled financially after the 2007 financial crisis and was thrown a lifeline in 2009 when it signed a licensing deal with retailer Waitrose. The brand now operates independently of the Principality of Cornwall.
Now that the Duchy has passed to William, it will be a question of what path he will choose and how he will shape the estate.
He also inherited a residential development South Sledanan extension of the town of Newquay, Cornwall, which is expected to last 30 years, where more than 4,000 homes and a commercial street are being built.
Succession planning has apparently been underway in recent years: the Duchy’s most recent annual financial report states that William and some of his personal advisers “continue to sit on many non-executive committees to learn more about the Duchy’s governance and various committee oversight initiatives, and to get acquainted with new member”.
Ownership of the estate proved lucrative for Charles and paid him £21m in income for the year to March 31, 2022, according to the duchy’s annual accounts.
There will be doubts as to whether the new Duke William will follow his father’s taxation on the Duchy’s income.
Charles voluntarily pays the top tax rate – 45%, or “surplus” – on the Duchy’s income after official expenditures, which totalled £23m in the last financial year.
The duchy is not considered a corporation, which means Charles is not subject to corporation tax or capital gains tax.
This has previously sparked criticism, including from MPs on parliament’s influential Public Accounts Committee, which has previously called for an inquiry into the estate’s tax affairs.
In recent days, the owners of the Cornish tin mine, where the BBC TV series Poldark was filmed, decision has been made The Principality brought legal proceedings against him over unpaid rent for the mine’s underpass. The Principality is the owner of the mineral rights of the mine.
Prince William will now have to negotiate this and other matters as he determines the strategic direction of the duchy he controls.