Meghan and Harry miss out on real estate windfall as Charles splits assets

In the two weeks and changes since Her Majesty’s passing, there has been a lot of worry: worrying about what might happen to her beloved dogs, her $630 million fortune and her extensive collection of tiaras. (Respectively, they go to Prince Andrew and who knows, but absolutely not Prince Andrew.)

But will no one think of the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of properties in their portfolio?

As the United Kingdom slowly adjusts to this kingly affair and the accession of Charles III, the new sovereign must, at some point, pull out his infamous leaky fountain pen and decide whether to play the members of his family the real estate equivalent of musical chairs, with dozens of large homes now at his sole disposal.

The facts are quite astonishing. The Crown Estate owns dozens of significant estates and houses, which are usually handed over to family members, as well as the more than 140 Houses of Grace and Favor spread across the UK (some estimates put this figure at over of 200 houses) which are generally occupied by loyal servants and the most distant branches of the house of Windsor.

Among the main Crown properties which fall within the remit of the King, and this is by no means an exhaustive list, are: Buckingham Palace (which has apartments for Princes Andrew and Edward); Clarence House, where Charles and his wife Camilla, the Queen Consort, currently live; St James’s Palace (the London residence of Princess Anne, Princess Beatrice and Princess Alexandra); Kensington Palace (home to the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, Duke and Duchess of Kent and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent) and which includes Ivy Cottage, Wren House and Nottingham Cottage; Thatched House Lodge in Richmond Park, long occupied by Princess Alexandra; the Windsor Great Park estate which includes Windsor Castle, Prince Andrew’s Royal Lodge, Prince Edward’s 120-room Bagshot Park, Frogmore House, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s Frogmore Cottage, the Prince’s Adelaide Cottage and the Princess of Wales and the neo-Gothic Fort Belvedere; the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Dumfries House and the Castle of Mey in Scotland; Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland; Tamarisk House, on the Isles of Scilly in Cornwall and Llwynywermod in Wales.

Then there are the properties that were personally owned by the Queen and are now those of Charles: Balmoral Castle in Scotland which also includes Birkhall, Craigowan Lodge and Tam-Na-Ghar; and the Sandringham Estate which also includes Anmer Hall, Wood Farm and York Cottage.

(Princess Anne’s Gatcombe Park estate, bought to her as a wedding gift by the Queen, is privately owned, and her children, Peter Phillips and Zara Tindall, live in homes on the estate with their families.)

Now, with Charles at the helm, like so many others with the royal whirlwind, there are those willing to take some serious new digs and those, especially friends of convicted sex offenders or Montecito-based podcast ancestors, who stand to lose.

Take Clarence House, the John Nash-designed Regency whopper that sits on The Mall and right next to St James’s Palace.

Currently it is home to the King and his wife Camilla, the Queen Consort, but they will, at some point in the near future, move into the seat of the monarchy, aka Buckingham Palace. (The palace, more than 300 years old, underwent a $628 million rehabilitation over ten years, which could affect the timeline.)

Before the Megxit, when California was still somewhere the Royals went on official tours when they felt like working on their Mustique tans or playing polo, Clarence House was reportedly ‘booked’ (but ‘never agreed’) as a London home for Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, a former courtier told the Time.

Which is perfectly logical. William and Kate, Prince and Princess of Wales, already have a four-storey, nine-bathroom apartment in Kensington Palace and even have three children, a dog, a nanny and enough tennis rackets for a small state -nation has a shot, they don’t need more space.

But with the Sussexes long gone, the Sovereign now faces a real headache as to what to do with the huge beast, which, if ever released, is expected to be one of the most London dear.

What’s particularly tricky for Charles is that with Harry practicing his downward dog, there’s obviously no one else Clarence House can go to. (Nor since Clarence House, like Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace and Windsor Castle, is owned by the Crown, nor can he liquidate any of them for cash.)

The next HRH in the line of succession are duo York, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, and either or both of them, as non-working members of the Royal Family, being awarded such an important property seems unlikely. (There’s also the question of who would pay given that while both have jobs, neither seems likely to make the kind of cash that can afford to pay the large staff the property needs. Their father Nor could he pony up the money considering he’s basically on house arrest and can’t mess around with caucuses anymore, pal with autocrats.)

One of the issues I’m particularly interested in seeing how Charles handles is his brother’s occupation of the 31-bedroom Royal Lodge. Formerly the home of the Queen Mother, Andrew took over the property in 2003, paying $1.7 million for a 75-year lease (which equates to around $420 a week) and spending around $12.7 million on renovations, including the installation of an indoor swimming pool.

Since 2008, the place has also housed his ex-wife Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, and any unsold QVC juicers she might still have around. (All of these pieces gave him plenty of variety in terms of backdrops for his really crazy Instagram videos.)

So, will Charles let Andrew continue to enjoy such real estate? It’s not that the royal family needs the property, but it’s the look of it. Time and again, Her Majesty has stepped in to protect her supposedly favorite child, a man who clearly saw no problem in profiting from the largesse of a convicted pedophile.

But, will the new king maintain the same line? Or could we see King Charles step in and evict Andrew and Fergie from the Royal Lodge to a smaller property in what should be a very popular establishment?

And then, if he did that, what to do with Royal Lodge?

(Even before the Queen’s death, there seemed to be beggar’s spare properties with the top echelon, the smaller cottages of the Sandrigham and Balmoral estates available to rent, including on Airbnb.)

Then one of the biggest unknowns should be what he will do with Sandringham House in Norfolk, that is, as an anonymous toff memorably put it to the Time in 2019, the “ugliest house in Britain”.

The 20,000-acre estate, like Balmoral in Scotland, is now personally owned by Charles, but he already owns Highgrove House, his stately country home where he likes to spend his weekends pressing flowers and nudging Camilla away from the bar cart . (I’m kidding of course. That’s what footmen are for.)

Likewise, the Welsh already have their own ten-bedroom Norfolk bolthole, Anmer Hall, which is on the Sandringham estate. Sure, they could move on to the big house, but that leaves their only ten rooms empty.

And, the prince and princess are likely to move to bigger digs – much bigger digs – in Windsor. Although they only moved into their new four-bedroom Adelaide Cottage home in August, it is widely believed that at some point they will swap the positively twee house for the 1,000-room castle plus the currently vacant castle . (OK, sure, they’ll be moving into the Queen’s private apartments, where she and Prince Philip have hunkered down during the pandemic with a small group of trusted staff, but that still includes very large reception rooms and it’s unlikely to be put away.)

Until William and Kate decide to get up, this too will remain empty.

(Reports suggest they won’t be making any moves anytime soon given their goal of giving their three young children as normal childhoods as possible. Raising them in the oldest inhabited castle in the world, where Henry VIII’s armors are seating about the place, perfect for fancy dress, doesn’t exactly scream average now, does it?)

For Charles, managing this ownership musical chair is risky business given that handing out large estates and some of London’s most valuable real estate like candy during the biggest cost of living crisis in a generation would hardly happen good. Again, leaving them blank would seem horribly unnecessary. King issues, okay?

As the king ponders this hundred million dollar conundrum, spare a thought for the Sussexes who now have the rarest thing for royals: a mortgage. In 2020, they bought themselves a $20 million mansion in Montecito, retiring, according to Variety, a $14.2 million loan. (They, like the Welsh, also pay rent for their house on the Windsor Estate.)

Had they stayed in Team Royal, they would currently be in line for a real estate bonanza, perhaps picking up not just Clarence House, but likely a much larger estate to boot. (Frogmore Cottage? I don’t know her.)

On the plus side, Harry and Meghan can boast of one thing that none of his relatives can: they can never be kicked out by his father on a whim. It may be priceless.

Daniela Elser is a writer and royal pundit with over 15 years of experience working with a number of leading media titles in Australia.

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