The British royal family owns several homes and properties across the UK, but only a few of these are privately held. However, the status of ownership of most properties by members of the royal family is unclear, which makes it difficult to ascertain who owns what.
To put it simply, senior members of the royal family and other prominent royals live in certain palaces and houses. However, occupying them does not mean that they are the owners. This is because royal residences in the United Kingdom are segregated as privately held, part of the Duchy of Cornwall, managed by Royal Household, or managed by the non-profit organisation known as Historic Royal Palaces.
A look at ownership of properties of the British royal family
The privately held properties are like any other privately held estates under the ownership and control of a specific member of the royal family. Owners can do whatever they wish to with these properties, including bequeathing them to another royal as an inheritance.
Properties held by the Duchy of Cornwall and those managed by the Royal Household are held in the name of the holder of the Duchy and the Crown, respectively. Further, all properties that are managed by the Royal Household are occupied royal residences. These include Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace and Clarence House among others.
Conversely, properties managed by Historic Royal Palaces are unoccupied royal palaces — which means that they are not used as royal residences or offices. Examples of such properties include Hampton Court Palace and Tower of London.
Royal properties can be taken on lease or rent by one royal from another royal or a holding estate, like the Royal Lodge, which was leased to Prince Andrew by the Crown Estate after the death of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.
Historically, British monarchs have often changed their principal residence. Because Prince Harry is still a royal despite having stepped back from official duties, he is the senior-most member known to be owning a private property in the US.
Queen Elizabeth II breathed her last at the Balmoral Castle on 8 September 2022. It is the most famous private residence of the British royal family. Following her death, the ownership of the estate is believed to have been passed down to King Charles III.
First leased in 1848, the castle was purchased for Queen Victoria by her husband, Prince Albert, in 1852. The current architecture was built between 1853 and 1856. It was designed by the prince, along with architect William Smith, in Scottish baronial style to replace a smaller castle that existed on the ground at the time.
Located on the right bank of River Dee, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, Balmoral Castle has been a private property of the British sovereign since its construction and serves as a Scottish holiday home. In other words, it is not part of the duchies or the Crown Estate which control most of the British royal residences.
There are some holiday cottages on the grounds of the Balmoral estate and nearby areas that can be booked on rent either throughout the year or on specific dates. These include Colt Cottages, Connachat Cottage, Rhebreck Lodge, Sterinbeg Cottage and Tigh Na Garaidh.
The 80-sq-km Sandringham estate encompasses 13 villages with hundreds of homes. Its most significant building is the beautiful Sandringham House, from where Queen Elizabeth II delivered her first Christmas Day speech broadcast in 1957.
The house was one of Queen Elizabeth II’s private properties, which, too, was inherited by King Charles III following her death.
The house was purchased as a birthday gift for Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, in 1862. He hired architect A. J. Humbert to build a larger house than what existed on the ground. Completed in 1870, the current building underwent extensions and redesign by King Edward VII and by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Queen Elizabeth II opened Sandringham House to the public in 1977. Since then, the building has played host to special events such as the exhibition titled ‘Queen Elizabeth II at Sandringham: An Exemplary Reign and a Unique Country House,’ which concluded on 13 October 2022.
Apart from the house, the estate has the 2.5-sq-km Sandringham Royal Park, the parish church of St Mary Magdalene, the Sandringham Courtyard with facilities to eat and drink, and the Sandringham Gardens which has an 800-year-old Veteran Oak tree. All the areas are open to the public.
According to the New York Post, the garden house on the estate was listed on Airbnb by UK boutique holiday cottage agency Norfolk Hideaways. According to the agency, the house was owned by the Queen.
Located within the Sandringham Estate is the Anmer Hall, an 18th-century country home that the Queen gifted to Prince William and Kate, the then Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, on their wedding in 2011.
It remained the main residence of the couple from 2015 to 2017. Till before becoming Prince and Princess of Wales following the accession of King Charles III to the throne, the couple often holidayed at the private countryside home. During the pandemic, the couple and their children isolated themselves at Anmer Hall.
The 10-bedroom Georgian manor was originally constructed in 1802. Before moving in, Prince William and Kate worked with architect Charles Morris and interior designer Ben Pentreath for a face-lift of the property.
Birkhall estate is located close to Balmoral estate. King Charles III has been in its possession since 2002, when, as Prince of Wales, he inherited it from his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, upon her passing.
The estate was purchased by Prince Albert in 1849 for his eldest son, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII). In the early 20th century, the estate went into the hands of the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother).
During her lifetime, Queen Elizabeth II had extensions done on the property, including the addition of a kitchen and a new wing with multiple bedrooms.
Birkhall is believed to be a favourite of King Charles III. He has spent many summers at the estate, including his honeymoon in 2005 with Camilla, the Queen Consort, and during the lockdown as a result of the pandemic in 2020.
Ahead of The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall’s 15th wedding anniversary tomorrow, we are sharing this photo of Their Royal Highnesses with The Duchess’s dogs Bluebell and Beth.
The photo was taken earlier today at Birkhall. pic.twitter.com/0Xw1nxySpu
— Clarence House (@ClarenceHouse) April 8, 2020
Santa Barbara house
The private house of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is located in Montecito, Santa Barbara County, California, US. The couple bought the property for USD 14.65 million in June 2020, soon after stepping down as working royals and senior members of the British royal family.
According to the Daily Mail, the couple bought the property “without any help from his [Prince Harry’s] family.”
Reports suggest that the entire property measures around 30,000 sq metres and the nine-bedroom main house, which stands on it, measures around 1,350 square metres. Among the several amenities on the property are a swimming pool, jungle gym, tennis court, teahouse and spa.
The value of the Santa Barbara property is part of the estimated net worth of Prince Harry. When asked about his house in the US, he said in April 2022 that his family was “welcomed with open arms” and that they “got such a great community” in the place.
The nine-bedroom main house of Gatcombe Park is the private residence of Princess Anne, the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II. Located in Gloucestershire, the 2.8-sq-km private country estate was gifted to the princess by her mother in 1976 and reportedly cost somewhere between USD 500,000 and USD 750,000.
Princess Anne resides at the Gatcombe Park house with her second husband, Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence. Her daughter, Zara Tindall, and son-in-law, Peter Phillips, also reside with her at Gatcombe Park.
Gatcombe Park estate is situated in one of the most picturesque regions in the UK — Cotswolds, which is renowned for its meadows and village houses made of honey-colour limestone. The park is itself a working farm for the royal family and hosts the Festival of British Eventing for equestrian enthusiasts every year.
One of the world’s most stunning royal residences and one that is in itself a major tourist attraction of the UK, Buckingham Palace is the official London home of the reigning British monarch. This means that as of now, its most important occupant is King Charles III — who, incidentally, was born in the palace.
What is now Buckingham Palace was once known as Buckingham House and was a much smaller building. In existence since the early 17th century, the house went to John Sheffield, the Duke of Buckingham, in 1698, who demolished it and built a larger building. This building was named Buckingham House.
In the 1820s, decades after it came into the possession of the British royal family, King George IV began its expansion and transformation into a palace.
Eventually, Queen Victoria became the first British monarch to reign from Buckingham Palace in 1837.
Buckingham Palace is the centre of all national activities and significant occasions concerning the Sovereign, including weekly audiences with the Prime Minister and events such as ‘Party at the Palace’ as part of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022.
Unlike properties privately held by the Sovereign or other members of the royal family, Buckingham Palace is not exactly ‘owned’ by the royals. It is also not part of the Crown Estate — a massive portfolio of land and buildings, which, according to Forbes, was worth USD 19.5 billion in 2021.
Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle are examples of what is known as ‘occupied royal residence.’ It is held in trust for future generations and managed by Royal Household.
There are 775 rooms in Buckingham Palace, which has witnessed expansions and modifications throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Visitors are allowed to explore the 19 state rooms of Buckingham Palace every summer.
Following the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, her body was carried in a procession to Windsor Castle. She was buried in the Royal Vault of the St. George’s Chapel on the grounds of the castle alongside other members of the royal family, including her husband Prince Philip.
Windsor Castle is the world’s largest occupied castle. The British monarch has been using it as both a private home and office. Besides other occasions throughout the year, Queen Elizabeth II used to spend a month at the castle annually between March and April over Easter. The Windsor Castle has also played host to Heads of State and acted as a venue for Investiture ceremonies and royal wedding celebrations, among other important events connected to the Crown.
Windsor Castle was originally founded on the edge of a Saxon hunting ground by William the Conqueror over 900 years ago. Continuously inhabited and expanded or modified since the castle is one of the oldest buildings in the royal family’s possession.
It is famous for what is known as the Long Walk — a 4.8-km-long picturesque avenue leading to the castle.
The Clarence House in London is also considered ‘occupied royal residence.’ It is the official London residence of the Prince and Princess of Wales. As such, it is expected to be now occupied by Prince William and Kate, where they will carry out official duties such as reception of important guests and hosting major events as part of their royal duties.
The Clarence House building was constructed over two years between 1825 and 1827 for Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence. It has since been modified according to the tastes of its occupants, including Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, who resided here from 1953 till her death in 2002.
Before becoming Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II stayed at the house briefly with her husband Prince Philip. King Charles III, too, lived here before ascending the throne.
Part of the building, a total of five rooms and adjoining spaces on the ground floor, are open to the public during the summer.
Kensington Palace has the unique distinction of both an ‘occupied royal palace’ and a historic property open to the public. As such, parts of the palace used for official royal purposes are managed by the Royal Household, while other parts, such as state rooms, are managed by the Historic Royal Palaces.
The Kensington Palace has served as a working residence of Prince William and Kate, as The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Parts of it are also used as residences and offices of The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, The Duke and Duchess of Kent and The Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.
On its grounds is the Ivy Cottage, another royal property which is leased to members of the royal family. Its last occupant was Princess Eugenie and her husband Jack Brooksbank, who lived here from 2018 to 2020.
The palace is highly significant as it is the birthplace of Queen Victoria, who also lived in the palace until she became Queen.
Originally known as Nottingham House, the building was purchased by King William III in 1689. It was used as the favourite residence of British sovereigns till the death of King George II in 1760.
Apart from Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II’s grandmother, Queen Mary, was also born at Kensington Palace in 1867.
Visitors are allowed to explore the historic parts of the palace building, such as Queen Victoria’s childhood rooms, which have been recreated to best resemble the time when the Queen was born and raised.
In 2021, Prince William and Prince Harry unveiled the statue of their mother, Princess Diana, in the redesigned Sunken Garden of the palace.
St. James’s Palace
Before Buckingham Palace became the seat of the monarchy, the honourable designation was held by St. James’s Palace.
Completed during the reign of King Henry VIII in 1536, the building has had the fate of the UK decided from within its walls. It was here that Queen Mary 1, or Mary Tudor as she is better known, surrendered Calais to France. It was also here that Queen Elizabeth I took residence when the Spanish threatened England with their massive Armada.
Many future monarchs were born in the palace, including King Charles II, Queen Mary II, King James II and Queen Anne. King William IV was the last British monarch to rule from the palace.
Though fire damaged parts of the original building, sections of the 16th-century structure still stand. Among these are the Chapel Royal and two Tudor-era rooms.
The palace plays host to significant royal receptions, including state visits of dignitaries.
St. James’s Palace also serves as the London residence of The Prince of Wales, The Princess Royal and Princess Alexandra, among other royals.
Several important offices, such as the Royal Collection Trust, Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps, Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood and the Yeomen of the Guard, connected to the royal household are located in the palace.
Following tradition, the Accession Council, which proclaimed King Charles III as the Sovereign, was held at St. James’s Palace.
The Highgrove House is best known for the magnificent gardens whose creation King Charles III himself oversaw. The gardens draw close to 40,000 visitors to Highgrove House every year.
Built between 1796 and 1798 in Georgian neo-classical style, the house has nine bedrooms and sits on a 1.42-sq-km property in Gloucestershire.
The property was bought by the Duchy of Cornwall for Prince Charles in 1980. Since the duchy was created for the heir to the throne, the property is part of the estates that comprise the biggest chunk of the net worth of Prince William.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse
One of the most majestic palaces in the world, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland and thus, an occupied royal residence. As such, it is now the official residence of King Charles III.
The site where the palace stands today was once a 12th-century Augustine monastery in Edinburgh. In 1501, King James IV built the palace. Successive monarchs added to the structure, giving it the larger size it is today.
King Charles II was crowned in the palace in 1651. His vision led to the enhancement of the building and its beautification with plasterwork ceilings and richly decorated rooms. He also constructed an upper floor for private apartments of the royal family.
The palace is where the Investiture ceremony for Scottish residents is held annually on two occasions — New Year and the Sovereign’s official birthday. Since the time of King George V and Queen Mary, the palace has hosted a garden party.
(Main image: Diego Allen/@dalleng/Unsplash; Featured image: Dwi Wahyu Pagau/@dwi_pagau/Unsplash)