The Private Estate is Hocus Pocus

A strange aspect of the revelation that the Duchy of Lancaster has invested £10m in funds based in tax havens was the use by the news media of “private estate” to describe duchy’s relationship to queen Windsor.

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Queen Windsor visiting her “private estate.”

A “duchy” certainly does not sound like a private estate. There are only two in the UK and both exist to benefit the family of the hereditary head of state.

Indeed, the Web site of the Lancaster duchy tells us that that duchy is a “portfolio of land, property and assets held in trust for the sovereign in his or her role as Duke of Lancaster”.

In other words every British feudal head of state is also the Duke of Lancaster and able to benefit from this portfolio. If they cease to be head of state they no longer benefit.

It sounds like the Duchy is no more the “private estate” of queen Windsor than 10 Downing Street is the private home of the prime minister.

If there were any doubt that the duchy is not a private estate the business of “bona vacantia” and the duchy should make it clearer.

Bona vacantia refers to ownerless property that passes to the state. In Lancashire and some other locations known as County Palatine it is the Duchy of Lancaster that receives these assets. So when someone in Lancashire dies without leaving a will and has no heirs the “private estate” of the Duchy does the job that the Treasury does in most of the UK.

What’s more the duchy’s Web site site states that it “undertakes various administrative duties associated with the area of the historical County Palatine of Lancaster (today, primarily Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside)”.

A strange “private estate”.

Finally, as the Duchy tells us on its Web site, “the sovereign is not entitled to any of the capital assets of the Duchy”. So how can this be the “private estate” of Windsor if she is not allowed to do as she pleases with its supposedly private capital assets?

The Duchy of Lancaster, like the Cornwall duchy, is mainly a device for delivering public wealth to the Windsor family under cover of the hocus pocus of monarchy. And when the monarchy is abolished, if not before, it should be recognised for what it is, a public asset to be put to the benefit of the people of the UK.