How does the British House of Commons decide how much to pay the queen of England?

Calculating how much to pay the richest woman (and fourth richest person) in the world is a job which may seem akin to deciding how much sand to take to the beach, but HRH Elizabeth II, and the whole Windsor clan, take the matter quite seriously.

In fact, despite complaints and resistance from Labour party MPs, Her Majesty has asked for a raise on more than one occasion, and her requests have been met.

While the queen’s cash flow comes from various sources, rents, stocks, foreign investment, her actual salary, which in 1989 was $7.9 million, is drawn from the public treasury called the Civil List.

In addition to that salary, she is reimbursed from the Civil List for her expenses incurred during her duties and for the cost of running Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Holyrood House. A few expenses that year included, among other things, $350,000 for garden parties, $200,000 for care of her ceremonial horses, $98,000 for flowers and about $6.2 million in staff salaries.

However, no one is getting rich working for the queen: a footman will only make $12,000 in a year. She also subsidizes relatives like the duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra, first cousins not provided for by Parliament.

Increases in the Civil List are decided by the House of Commons, based on information regarding her expenses assessed and provided by a select parliamentary committee headed by the chancellor of the Exchequer. Her first raise was not granted until 1971, nineteen years after she ascended the throne. Her starting salary and expenses were $1,187,500. Her first raise brought the Civil List up to $2,450,000.

In 1989 the Civil List totaled $10.5 million. In July of the following year a vote in Commons increased it to $20.3 million, a figure which will hold for ten years. In arguing for her raise, sympathetic MPs will often point out that the queen performs her state duties with skill and dignity. In 1989 those duties included 147 official visits and opening ceremonies, 73 banquets and receptions, 18 working days abroad and 268 other audiences.

Expenses not covered by the Civil List are often provided for by the government in other ways. For example, the Ministry of
Defence paid $33.2 million to refit the royal yacht Britannia; physical upkeep of the royal palaces is paid for by the Department of the Environment; and royal postage, stationery and telephone service is free. Costs of maintaining the royal trains and aircraft are also deferred directly to Parliament.

The Civil List was created in 1760 when George III agreed to turn over all of England’s crown properties to the state, with the exception of the 55,000-acre Duchy of Lancaster, and the 128,047-acre Duchy of Cornwall. Rent collected on the former property is reserved for the reigning monarch. The latter property is the domain of the heir apparent, in this case, the queen’s eldest son, Charles, prince of Wales.

That money, the “privy purse,” is intended to pay for the queen’s personal expenditures, such as clothing and the upkeep of Sandringham and Balmoral castles, which she owns outright. Occasionally, when the costs of running her residences and public entertaining exceed her official grant from the Civil List, the queen will dip into these funds to make up the deficit. It is at that point that she’ll put in for a raise.

The best part of all this? In Britain, where the top tax rate is 40 percent, all of the queen’s income is tax-free. Of course, this may change in the future. She does, however, voluntarily hand back to the state some of her salary. Even with that concession, her total worth in 1991 was estimated by Harpers and Queen to be $13 billion.