With Prince Charles’s accession to the throne, his eldest son has become the heir apparent and the 25th Duke of Cornwall.
Along with this title, Prince William automatically inherits the Duchy of Cornwall, which has been an income stream for his father for more than half a century. This is thanks to the ownership of a landed estate of more than 52,000 hectares (128,000 acres), which also makes him one of England’s largest landowners.
The Duchy of Cornwall owns land across 20 counties in England and Wales – the majority of it not in Cornwall – stretching from Devon to Kent and Carmarthenshire to Nottinghamshire.
Much of the property comprises farmland, but it also includes residential and commercial properties, woodlands, rivers, coastline and around – a third of Dartmoor National Park, which was once used for mining minerals such as tin and copper.
Some of the estate’s more unusual holdings include the Oval cricket ground in central London – which has been leased by Surrey county cricket club since 1874 – as well as Dartmoor Gaol and a nursery and garden center at Lostwithiel in Cornwall. The duchy’s net assets were valued at more than £1bn. at the end of March, the majority of which came from investment properties.
The duchy can trace its origins back nearly 700 years, to 1337, when Edward III established a private estate that could grant independence to his son and heir, Prince Edward. A charter of the time stipulated that any future Duke of Cornwall would be the eldest surviving son of the monarch.
King Charles III was not only heir to the throne since the age of three, but was also the longest-serving Duke of Cornwall in history, having marked 50 years of running the estate in 2019. He took over the running of the estate and became entitled to receive his full income at the age of 21.
Under his leadership, the estate’s multi-million pound annual turnover was used to fund Charles’ “public, private and charitable activities”, according to the duchy’s website.
It credits Charles with requesting that the estate be managed in a way that was “sustainable, economically viable and of meaningful value to the local community”.
His personal interests shaped the Duchy’s work through his interest in architecture and sustainability, including organic farming.
Charles was also behind the creation of Poundbury, the model village near Dorchester in Dorset, which is home to more than 3,000 people.
He also set up food business Duchy Organics more than three decades ago, in 1990, and many consumers may associate the estate’s name with Duchy-branded groceries, including fruit, vegetables and meat.
However, the brand ran into financial difficulties following the 2007 financial crisis, and was thrown a lifeline when it signed a licensing deal with retailer Waitrose in 2009. The brand now operates separately from the Duchy of Cornwall.
Now that the dukedom has passed to William, there will be questions about which path he will choose and how he can shape the estate.
He also inherits the housing development project at Nansledan, an extension to the town of Newquay in Cornwall, where more than 4,000 homes and a high street are being built in a project expected to last three decades.
Succession planning has clearly taken place in recent years: the Duchy’s latest annual financial report says William and some of his personal advisers “continued to participate in many of the non-executive committees to learn more about the governance of the Duchy and the various initiatives that the committees supervises, and to meet new members”.
Ownership of the estate has proved lucrative for Charles, paying him an income of £21 million for the year ending March 31, 2022, according to the Duchy’s annual accounts.
There will be questions about whether William, the new duke, will follow in his father’s footsteps on tax paid on his ducal income.
Charles voluntarily paid the highest income tax – 45% – on the duchy’s earnings after deducting official expenses, known as its “surplus”, which totaled £23m in the last financial year.
The Duchy is not considered a company, meaning Charles was not liable to pay corporation tax or capital gains tax.
It has previously given rise to criticism, including from members of parliament on parliament’s influential public accounts committee, who previously called for an investigation into the estate’s tax affairs.
In recent days, the owner of a Cornish tin mine where the BBC TV series Poldark was filmed has hit out at the Duchy’s decision to take legal action against him over unpaid rent for the mine’s underground passages. The Duchy owns the mine’s mineral rights.
Prince William will now have to negotiate this and other issues as he decides on the strategic direction of the duchy under his control.