How much should taxpayers pay for the royals?

Costs to refurbish Frogmore Cottage as the home for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex drew attention in the release of royal accounts this week, and Monday will mark the 50th anniversary of Prince Charles's investiture as the Prince of Wales.

Newsletter: Your biweekly dose of royal news and analysis

A large house is shown from a distance and behind some trees.
Refurbishment costs for Frogmore Cottage, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, near Winsdor Castle, have totalled 2.4 million pounds so far. (GOR/Getty Images)

Hello, royal watchers. This is your biweekly dose of royal news and analysis. Reading this online? Sign up here to get this delivered to your inbox.

It's a recurring debate, fuelled by regular releases of palace accounts or rumours that one royal project or another is racking up a hefty price tag: How much public money in the U.K. should go toward looking after the Queen's official work and the royal palaces where members of her family live?

And it's a discussion that gained a lot of oxygen in recent days with the release of the annual Sovereign Grant Report, which details spending for the previous fiscal year.

The Royal Household wanted to draw attention to some math it likely hoped would encourage people to think overall spending wasn't too bad: the 82.2-million pound grant for 2018/19 works out to the equivalent of 1.24 pounds for every person living in the United Kingdom. (Though the grant was up from 76.1 million pounds the previous year.)

But British newspapers wanted to go elsewhere, and very quickly landed on the costs — so far — to refurbish the new home of Prince Harry and Meghan, after the couple opted to move from Kensington Palace in London.

"Taxpayers paid £2.4m to renovate Duke and Duchess of Sussex's Frogmore Cottage," read the headline in The Daily Telegraph. Other media outlets had headlines much the same.

More than 160,000 guests were welcomed at royal palaces for events such as garden parties and investitures in 2018/19, the Sovereign Grant Report said. (John Stillwell/AFP/Getty Images)

The Sovereign Grant Report said the project "consisted of the reconfiguration and full refurbishment of five residential units in poor condition" to create one residence within the property near Windsor Castle. Any upgrades for fixtures and fittings were paid for privately, royal officials noted.

But the costs for work on a royal private home were still raising a lot of eyebrows, even though they are less than the 4.5 million pounds spent over two years to refurbish the much larger — and more historically significant — Kensington Palace for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge a few years ago.

Raised eyebrows are nothing new. At the time of the Kensington Palace refurbishment, "Two Kitchen Kate" was a particular target of tabloid vitriol after plans showed the palace would have two places to prepare meals. (Reports at the time did suggest the second, smaller family kitchen was financed privately.) 

As much as the Sovereign Grant Report lays bare some of the inner workings of royal finance, many questions remain for observers trying to delve a little more deeply into the economics of the House of Windsor.

"Why the true cost of William and Kate, Harry and Meghan is partly hidden by lawnmowers," was the headline on a piece by Chris Ship, royal editor for ITV.

Ship goes on to explain how he reached that conclusion: It relates to questions of transparency and "capital expenditure" for the Duchy of Cornwall, which pays for most of the work done by the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, and his children.

In reviewing all this, and with some degree of understatement, Ship says royal finances are a "complex business."

And in that, he's very right.

The royal carbon footprint

Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, arrive at Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana on Nov. 2, 2018, as part of an eight-day tour of Gambia, Ghana and Nigeria. (Cristina Aldehuela/AFP/Getty Images)

While the Royal Family has made much of promoting environmental sustainability, closer to home, its own greenhouse gas emissions were on the rise in the past year.

Figures drawing considerable attention in the recent Sovereign Grant Report revealed the Royal Household's carbon footprint for business travel doubled in 2018/19 over 2017/18 — 3,344 tonnes of CO2, up from 1,687 tonnes.

That increase was a result of more overseas trips where the royals were travelling on large, fixed-wing aircraft: five visits in 2018/19 compared with just one the previous year.

That's not to say the royals aren't trying to cut emissions. Rolling out LED lighting and replacing "life-expired" boilers with "modern, efficient ones" meant a 24 per cent reduction in energy use. There was also a two per cent reduction in waste generation.

But overall, total greenhouse gas emissions were up three per cent.

What should a Prince of Wales do?

Queen Elizabeth holds the hands of her 20-year-old son Prince Charles during his investiture as Prince of Wales on July 1, 1969, at Caernarfon Castle in Wales. (AFP/Getty Images)

Fifty years ago Monday, the striking stone walls of Caernarfon Castle formed the backdrop to Prince Charles's investiture as Prince of Wales. But as much as the ceremony seemed steeped in history, it was very much of its time in 1969.

And it also formally placed the heir to the throne in a role he has uniquely defined in the half-century since.

"What stands out to me about the investiture is how it resembled a medieval ceremony," said Toronto-based royal historian and author Carolyn Harris. "But in fact, the investiture ceremony for the Prince of Wales was a 20th century invention."

It was considerably more elaborate than previous investitures, and the first such ceremony to be broadcast via the increasingly popular medium of television. 

Charles kneels before the Queen during his investiture. (ox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

It also came after Charles had spent some time learning Welsh. In the 20th century, Harris said, there was an increasing interest in Welsh history and Welsh culture. "It was increasingly important that the Prince of Wales be accepted and welcomed by the Welsh people, and have a relationship with Wales, and make efforts to learn the Welsh language."

In the 50 years since, Charles has made the role that is in many ways undefined his own.

"There have been arguments made that there has not been such an active Prince of Wales … since George the Third's father, Frederick, Prince of Wales," said Harris.

Of course, things were considerably different in the 18th century. Frederick could be more active in politics than is possible now for the heir to the throne. He was also seen as someone who popularized cricket and active as a "cultural force," Harris said. 

Subsequent Princes of Wales drew attention for other reasons.

The future Edward VII, in his time as Prince of Wales, was more known for going to the races, testifying at divorce trials and generally having something of a scandalous personal life. Still, said Harris, King Edward "rose to the occasion as a diplomat and peacemaker" in the first decade of the 20th century.

Fast forward to Charles as Prince of Wales. In some ways, he's been ahead of his time, focusing on environmental and other issues that seemed rather niche or courted controversy at the time, but have since become mainstream. For him, the role has also included a significant emphasis on philanthropy, starting with the formation of the Prince's Trust with his separation pay from the Royal Navy in 1976.

"Really, it's left up to the occupant of the office to make with it what they will," said Matthew Rowe, head of external relations for Prince's Trust Canada, the Canadian arm of Charles's charity that focuses on youth employment, entrepreneurship for military veterans and revitalization of Indigenous languages.

Through the veterans' program, Rowe said, more than 2,500 people have taken part in one-day workshops, more than 450 have been through entrepreneurial boot camps and 370 businesses have been created.

Through the Indigenous languages program, 84 children's book titles in 16 languages have been published — a total of about 22,000 physical books.

The interest in Indigenous languages is a natural fit for Charles, Rowe suggests.

Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, watch a traditional demonstration in Iqaluit on June 29, 2017. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

"When you look at the prince's charitable record, he's always … prioritized the celebration and preservation of traditional wisdom," he said. 

"When we were looking at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, looking at the calls to action and looking at the areas where there was … a direct overlap of the prince's interests, language … jumped off the page as being a natural area where we could lend some help."

As much as Charles has seen some of his interests move into the mainstream over the years, he can still court controversy. He came under fire the other day after he became patron for a group that endorses homeopathy.

Royally quotable

Prince William visits the London office of the Albert Kennedy Trust, which serves homeless LGBT youth, on June 26, 2019. (Jonathan Brady/Reuters)

"Absolutely fine by me." 

— Prince William says he would support his children if they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The Duke of Cambridge made the comment during a visit to a charity in London that helps homeless LGBT youth. 

Royals in Canada

Queen Elizabeth inspects the honour guard during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on July 1, 2010. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

When Canadians have marked the country's birthday on July 1, royal guests have often been on hand.

Most recently, Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, were on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in 2017 to help mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

Queen Elizabeth has been in Canada on at least seven occasions when the country was celebrating its birthday, notably during the Centennial of 1967. But anticipation of that visit, which took the Queen to Ottawa and Montreal for Expo 67, was not all sunshine and light.

"Certainly there was a lot of interest in how the public would receive the Queen, as [she] had had a very difficult visit in Quebec City in 1964, where she had faced protesters," said Harris.

Queen Elizabeth is dwarfed by a nine-metre-high birthday cake made of plywood and covered with decorations during Canada's Centennial celebrations in Ottawa on July 1, 1967. (The Canadian Press)

But her presence in 1967 was celebrated, Harris said.

"Her decision to take the monorail at Expo 67 was one of those moments where many people identified with the Queen, that she was clearly as interested in experiencing Expo as many Canadians were at that time."

Royal reads

  • This year's Order of the Garter ceremony had an extra royal quotient, with the kings and queens of Spain and the Netherlands on hand. [Daily Mail]

Sign up here to have The Royal Fascinator newsletter land in your inbox every other Friday.

I'm always happy to hear from you. Send your ideas, comments, feedback and notes to Problems with the newsletter? Please let me know about any typos, errors or glitches.


Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.