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British RoyalsThe Queen

Why is The Queen also The Duke (not Duchess) of Lancaster?


BBC (fair use)

Last week’s announcement by The Duke and Duchess of Sussex to step back as senior royals has caused a renewed interest in royal finances. A significant amount of media attention has been given to the Sovereign Grant and the income given to the Prince of Wales from the Duchy of Cornwall. That income, which was created in 1337 by King Edward III, has funded 95% of the office of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex since their marriage. Less media attention has been given to the other royal duchy in England, the Duchy of Lancaster.

As Monarch, The Queen holds several titles, including Supreme Governor of the Church of England and Commander-in-chief of the British Armed Forces. But one of the more obscure titles Her Majesty holds is that of Duke (not Duchess) of Lancaster. The title rests solely with the Monarch, regardless of gender. Indeed, in Lancashire the toast given is usually “The Queen, Duke of Lancaster!”

The Duchy of Lancaster consists of almost 19,000 hectares of agricultural, commercial, and real estate holdings in England and Wales. Most of this is located within the counties of Lancashire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire, and Yorkshire although there is property in London as well. According to the latest financial figures for 2019, the Duchy is currently worth £549 million.

The duchy’s history begins with Henry III in 1265. He gave his younger son, Edmund, lands that once belonged to Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester. Edmund was also made Earl of Lancaster. Other estates were added to the original lands and by the time they were inherited by Edmund’s grandson, Henry of Grosmont, they were an enviable holding. Henry de Grosmont was a loyal servant of King Edward III who, in 1351, turned the earldom into a dukedom. Henry’s daughter, Blanche, married Edward III’s ambitious fourth son, John of Gaunt, and the two eventually inherited the vast Lancastrian wealth. When their son usurped the throne in 1399 and became Henry IV, the Duchy of Lancaster passed to the Crown. But the new king said it should always pass through the Monarchy as a private estate. In 1702, it was decided that the Monarch should only receive income rather than capital from the Duchy.

But why is the holder of the Duchy always referred to as Duke, even if the monarch is a woman? It was Queen Victoria who started using the title Duke of Lancaster, since she believed the title Duchess was a title referring to the spouse of a duke as opposed to the holder of a royal Dukedom. That is why The Queen is sometimes referred to as the Duke of Lancaster.

The income of the Duchy of Lancaster estate, totaling around £21.7 million for 2019, is paid to the Keeper of the Privy Purse for The Queen, who manages The Queen’s Lancaster income. The Privy Purse refers to The Queen’s private income and is mostly used to meet the expenses incurred by the royal family not met by the Sovereign Grant. The Sovereign Grant covers the monarchy’s official expenses and is tied to revenue produced by a separate estate, The Crown Estate. While The Duchy of Lancaster is not subject to corporation tax, The Queen has voluntarily paid tax on all income received from the duchy.

The duchy is run by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, a government official who is appointed by The Queen on advice from the Prime Minister. The Chancellor is part of the Cabinet Office and answers to Parliament annually regarding the Duchy’s affairs and finances. The Chancellor, currently Michael Gove, is aided in his duties by The Duchy Council, which manages the Duchy’s diverse property portfolio and carries out administrative duties. The Duchy Council also aids in investment strategy for future growth and works with a variety of regional partners to protect much of the lands and historic buildings under its purview.

For more on the Duchy of Lancaster, visit https://www.duchyoflancaster.co.uk/.