Royal wedding: So who owns the crown jewels?

Royal wedding puts spotlight on a family that has plenty of assets. But most of those on display during the royal wedding are owned by the government.

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    Prince William and his bride Princess Catherine (left) appear at the balcony of Buckingham Palace along with Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, Pippa Middleton, and Prince Harry after their royal wedding ceremony in London on April 29, 2011. The government, not the queen, owns the palace.
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By Simon Hobbs, CNBC Anchor

Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding showcased a Royal Britain to billions of TV viewers around the world. But the real truth behind Windsor money is as surprising as any fairytale.

Most of the assets on display during the Royal Wedding do not belong to the Queen.

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250 years ago, the Queen’s third great grandfather, George III, gave virtually all royal property to the government, in order to get taxpayers to forever pay to maintain them.

This is a list of royal assets operated by the UK government and which it loans to the current royal family. The Queen neither owns them—nor could she ever sell them.

Buckingham Palace: The Queen’s primary residence in London where she will host an evening party for 300 family and friends the night of the wedding.

Windsor Castle: The retreat 20 miles west of Buckingham Palace, near Heathrow Airport, where the Queen prefers to stay because she says it’s more comfortable.

Crown Jewels: A collection of scepters, swords, rings and crowns normally secured at the Tower of London. During the Royal Wedding members of the Windsor family will wear them as symbols of their right to rule.

The Royal Collection: 200,000 drawings, prints and paintings—including works by Rembrandt, Michelangelo and Caravaggio—collected over 500 years. It also includes furniture, textiles, armor and one of the finest Faberge collections in the world. Valued at $16 billion.

The Duchy of Lancaster: A portfolio of property assembled 600 years ago. 72 square miles of farm and city land (an area about three times the size of Manhattan). Valued at $570 million.

The Crown Estate: An even more impressive portfolio of land, eight times larger, that includes iconic properties in London like Regent Street, Piccadilly and the Park Lane sites of The Four Seasons and Intercontinental hotels. 12,000 tenants are paying rent on 560 square miles of land across England and Wales. The estate even includes all UK coastal waters within 12 miles of land, where energy companies are increasingly paying to construct wind farms.Valued at $12 billion.

Last year the Crown Estate alone generated $342 million. But, as with virtually all these royal assets, that cash went straight to the UK government. In return, the taxpayer pays the Queen a fixed, annual allowance.

There’s one exception. The UK government still hands the Queen income from the smaller of the two property portfolios. Last year she received $21.8 million from the Duchy Lancaster.

Taxpayers also give Elizabeth an annual allowance of $23.3 million for performing 360 engagements a year as Head of State. The Palace says she spends 70 percent of that on servants and entertaining 50,000 guests, mostly feeding them afternoon tea in the garden of Buckingham Palace.

Taxpayers also pay the Queen $25.9 million in expenses to maintain her palaces. $6.4 million towards the Royal Train, helicopters and jets. And an additional $6.4m towards other costs, like State Visits.

In total, each year the Queen gets $83.8 million from government.

It’s widely assumed Elizabeth also receives a multi-million dollar income stream from her private portfolio of stocks and bonds.

Even so, is the Queen’s own son richer that she is? Has Charles inherited property of greater value and does he have a bigger disposable income? Is Prince Charles richer?

Windsor Money follows first-born males. It mirrors succession to the throne. It’s all or nothing.

Other royal families in Europe have given their daughters the same inheritance rights as their sons. But the Windsor family remains exempt from equality legislation because parliaments would have to vote through new laws everywhere the Queen rules, from Canada and Australia to Saint Lucia and Belize.

As Elizabeth’s first male son, Charles instantly became heir to the throne at birth and instantly inherited a property portfolio currently worth over one billion dollars: 200 square miles of land known as the Duchy of Cornwall.

Last year, that estate generated $28 million in cash for Charles. His siblings get nothing.

The government does not own this estate. Charles actively manages it. Officially he’s not allowed to profit from the sale of any assets. But could he sell? Does Charles own inherited Royal assets in a way the Queen does not?

Elizabeth can lay personal claim to a country house in Sandringham, a few stud farms, Balmoral Castle in Scotland and her father’s stamp collection. But Forbes says that’s only worth $500 million.

Charles on the other hand has a one billion dollar property portfolio, worth twice that—without beginning to count his homes.

Does Charles also have more disposable cash to spend than his mother?

His annual $28 million income equates to more than 60 percent of what taxpayers give the Queen that’s not directly linked to reimbursing expenses. But Elizabeth’s additional outgoings are far greater.

There are 800 servants at Buckingham Palace alone. Plus the Queen funds the rest of the Windsor family: upwards of $2 million in annual cash handouts in addition to paying rents to the government on Royal apartments that they would otherwise occupy for free.

Charles must provide for Camilla and his sons. But both princes are salaried pilots in the armed forces. More importantly their late mother, Diana left each of them $10 million—providing both with an investment income of $450,000 a year, according to Forbes.

Even the official website of the Prince admits that—after paying his own 174 servants and charitable activities—Charles still has 40 percent of his after-tax income to play with.

Charles just broke his uncle’s record for waiting more than 59 years to be crowned King. But as the monarch’s first-born male. Windsor Money ensures that happens far from poverty.

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