Duchy of Cornwall

Duchy of Cornwall
The arms of the Duchy of Cornwall.

The Duchy of Cornwall is one of two royal duchies in England, the other being the Duchy of Lancaster. The eldest son of the reigning British monarch inherits the duchy and title of Duke of Cornwall at the time of his birth, or of his parent's succession to the throne. If the monarch has no son, the estates of the duchy are held by the crown, and there is no duke. The current duke is Charles, Prince of Wales.

The principal activity of the duchy is the management of its land and properties. The duchy has a financial investment portfolio and owns land totalling 540.9 km² (or 133,700 acres). Nearly half of the holdings are in Devon, with other large holdings in Cornwall, Herefordshire, Somerset and Wales.[1][2] For the fiscal year 2007, the duchy was valued at £647 million, and annual profit in 2007 was £16.3 million, thus yielding 2.5%.[3] The duchy also exercises certain legal rights and privileges across Cornwall, including some that elsewhere in England would usually belong to the crown.

As a crown body, the duchy is exempt from paying corporation tax, but, since 1993, the Prince of Wales has voluntarily paid income tax. The prince paid a voluntary contribution to the treasury of 50% of his duchy income from the time he became eligible for its full income at the age of 21 in 1969, and he has paid 25% since his 1981 marriage. Tax is calculated after deducting business expenditure, the biggest source of which is the prince's staff of about 110 persons, including private secretaries and a valet working in his office at Clarence House and at Highgrove House. Detailed records are kept to determine the split between public and private expenditure.



The duchy was established in 1337 out of the former earldom of Cornwall by Edward III of England for his son, Edward, Prince of Wales, the "Black Prince", who became the first Duke of Cornwall. The duchy consisted of two parts: the title and honour, and the landed estate that supported it financially.[4] The core of the estate at its foundation was the 17 duchy manors found within the county. However, the duchy does not share the same boundaries as the county, and much of the estate has always been outside those boundaries. However, the duchy maintains a special relationship with Cornwall, and maintains various rights, such as that of appointing the county's High Sheriff. The extent of the estate has varied as various holdings have been sold and acquired over the years, both within Cornwall and in other counties.[5]

The subsequent charter of Henry IV to Prince Henry stated:

"We have made and created Henry our most dear first-begotten Son, Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall and Earl of Chester, and have given and granted, and by our Charter have confirmed to him the said Principality, Duchy, and Earldom, that he may preside there, and by presiding, may direct and defend the said parts. We have invested him with the said Principality, Duchy, and Earldom, per sertum in capite et annulum in digito aureum ac virgam auream juxta morem."

By this charter, all the manors of the earldom passed to the duchy and are known as the Antiqua maneria.

The duchy in the Interregnum, 1649-1660

On the death of King Charles I the Crown lands came under the control of Parliament; this lasted until the restoration of King Charles II in 1660.[6]

Legal status

Both the Duchy of Cornwall and the Duchy of Lancaster (since 1399 held by the monarch in a personal capacity) have special legal rights not available to other landed estates: for example, the rules on bona vacantia (the right to the estates of all those who die without named heirs) operate in favour of the holders of the duchies rather than the Crown. In 2007, £130,000 was realized from the right of bona vacantia. There are separate attorneys-general for the duchies. Cornwall has its own Bar, and both the Attorney General and practising barristers and solicitors may be licensed or barred by the Duke.[7]

Generally, the exemptions for Cornwall and Lancaster tend to follow the same line: any rights pertaining to the crown in most areas of the country instead pertain to the duke in right of the duchy. Also the High Sheriff of Cornwall is appointed by the Duke of Cornwall, not the monarch, in contrast to the other counties of England and Wales.[8]

According to Treasury solicitors and the Land Registry, the Duchy of Cornwall is broadly the same extent as the modern county.[9][10] The duke owns freehold about 3/5 of the Cornish foreshore and the 'fundus', or bed, of navigable rivers. He has right of wreck on all ships wrecked on Cornish shores, including those afloat offshore, and also to "Royal fish", i.e. whales, porpoises, and sturgeon.[11] By tradition, a sturgeon caught in the rivers of Cornwall is presented to the duke.[12] The Duchy of Cornwall is the Harbour Authority for St Mary's Harbour.[13]

In 1780, Edmund Burke sought to curtail further the power of the crown by removing the various principalities which existed.

… the five several distinct principalities besides the supreme …. If you travel beyond Mount Edgcumbe, you find him [the king] in his incognito, and he is duke of Cornwall …. Thus every one of these principalities has the apparatus of a kingdom …. Cornwall is the best of them….

However, his Parliamentary Bill failed, because the current duke (George, b. 1762) was still a minor.

In Bruton v ICO the first tier tribunal found that the Duchy was a public authority for the purposes of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.[14] The Guardian newspaper reported in 2011 that, since 2005, the Prince of Wales has been asked to give his consent to a number of draft bills on matters ranging from town planning to gambling, because it could affect his private interests, of which the Duchy of Cornwall is a substantial part. Andrew George, Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for St Ives, commented that "The duchy asserts that it is merely a private estate. Most people will be astonished to learn that it appears to have effective powers of veto over the government."[15] Writing in the Guardian, lawyer David Gollancz commented that: "The duchy exercises a unique range of legal powers, which elsewhere are reserved for the crown.... It seems anomalous, and worrying, that such a huge estate, created and conferred by law and exercising significant legal powers, should be able to escape public scrutiny by calling itself a private estate."[16]


The largest rural portfolio office at Newton St Loe, near Bath. This is the office of the Eastern District, centralised finance and property services, and the Estate Surveyor.

The Duchy owns 54,090 hectares of land (around 133,658 acres) over 23 counties, including farming, residential, and commercial properties, as well as an investment portfolio.[17][18] In modern times, the considerable income from the Duchy has been the primary source of income for the Prince of Wales, both as to personal funds and public and charitable work.[17]

The duchy was created with the express purpose of providing income to the heir apparent to the throne; thus, it traditionally goes to the eldest son of the reigning monarch. Although the duke owns the income from the estate, he does not own the estate outright and does not have the right to sell capital assets for his own benefit.[19]

In 2010, the duchy generated £17.1 million in income. As the Duke of Cornwall is not a subject of the Queen he is not required to pay income tax [18 The National Archives LO 3/467, Duchy of Cornwall – Land Tax and Valuation, 1913, see also My Queen and I, Willie Hamilton, 1975 p. 217]. However, Prince Charles makes a voluntary contribution equivalent to what he might pay in income tax if he were liable [See Wiki, Finances of the British Royal Family]. Approximately half of this income was spent on public and charitable works.[19]

Duchy of Cornwall dispute

For some Cornish activists, Cornwall itself is described, de jure, as a duchy as opposed to an ordinary county, and the duchy estates are distinguished from the duchy itself, having themselves been annexed and united to "the aforesaid duchy".[20] The duke traditionally had a ceremonial role in summoning the Cornish Stannary Parliament. The duchy does also have rights across the whole of the county, for example for the purposes of Bona vacantia, where the estates of people who die intestate in Cornwall revert to the duchy.[21][22] The Royal Commission on the Constitution (Kilbrandon, 1973) recommended that Cornwall be officially referred to as "the duchy" on what it described as "appropriate occasions".[23][24]

The administrative machinery of Cornwall almost invariably refers to itself as a county. Even so, the county government jurisdiction was not co-extensive with the geographic borders of Cornwall until 2009, when the Cornwall Council united with six borough and district councils (Caradon, Carrick, Kerrier, North Cornwall, Restormel and Penwith).[25]

Charles, Prince of Wales, has stated publicly that the Duchy of Cornwall is a "well managed private estate" and voluntarily pays certain taxes, which is inconsistent with the duke's traditional exercise of the "dominion of the Crown in and over the entire County of Cornwall".[7]

Coat of Arms

The armorial bearings of the Duchy of Cornwall are:[26]

Arms: Sable, fifteen bezants Or.

Supporters: On either side a Cornish chough proper [beaked and legged gules][27], supporting an ostrich feather Argent, penned Or.

Motto: Houmont[26] (or Houmout) [28] [29] [30].

The shield is ensigned by the Heir Apparent's coronet. The supporters were granted by Royal Warrant of 21 June 1968.[26]


  • Attorney-General
  • Auditor
  • Chancellor (Keeper of the Great Seal)
  • Keeper of the Privy Seal
  • Keeper of the Records
  • Lord Warden of the Stannaries
  • Receiver-General
  • Solicitor-General
  • Surveyor-General

See also


  1. ^ The Prince of Wales visits Llwynywermod near Myddfai
  2. ^ Barnett, Antony (2005). The prince of property and his £460m business empire, The Guardian, January 30, 2005. Accessed October 7, 2008
  3. ^ Allen, Nick (9 July 2008). "Queen's property empire beats credit crunch to make record profit of £211m The Queen's property portfolio has bucked the credit crunch and made record profits of £211 million.". The Daily Telegraph (London). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/theroyalfamily/2274922/Queen%27s-property-empire-beats-credit-crunch-to-make-record-profit-of-andpound211m.html. Retrieved 1 May 2010. 
  4. ^ About the Duchy Duchy of Cornwall official site
  5. ^ History of the Duchy Duchy of Cornwall official site
  6. ^ Madge, Sidney J. (1938) The Domesday of Crown Lands. London: Routledge
  7. ^ a b John Kirkhope, "The Duchy of Cornwall - A very Peculiar 'private estate'", Cornish World(Feb/Mar 2009).
  8. ^ Ibid.
  9. ^ Land Registry Practice Guide 35 – Corporate Insolvency [Section 7.2] Sept 2009, updated October 2011
  10. ^ Treasury Solicitors Form Bona Vacantia C1 Version 2. Sec.11: ‘Jurisdiction’
  11. ^ Kirkhope, above.
  12. ^ Cornwall Council - 1800 AD to date
  13. ^ Duchy of Cornwall, Isles of Scilly links archived page
  14. ^ http://www.informationtribunal.gov.uk/DBFiles/Decision/i600/20111103%20Decision%20EA20100182.pdf
  15. ^ Robert Booth, Prince Charles has been offered a veto over 12 government bills since 2005, The Guardian, 30 October 2011. Accessed 13 November 2011.
  16. ^ David Gollancz, Prince Charles's legislation veto shows the duchy is no ordinary private estate, The Guardian, 30 October 2011. Accessed 13 November 2011.
  17. ^ a b The Prince of Wales website, http://www.princeofwales.gov.uk/finances/index.html
  18. ^ A Royal Duchy, A Portrait of the Duchy of Cornwall, David Burnett, page 9
  19. ^ a b Id.
  20. ^ The reports of Sir Edward Coke, knt: in thirteen parts, Volume 1; By Sir Edward Coke, John Henry Thomas, John Farquhar Fraser, Stephen (INT) Sheppard
  21. ^ Bona Vacantia - What the Treasury Solicitor does not deal with Directgov
  22. ^ Bona Vacantia and the Duke of Cornwall's Benevolent Fund Duchy of Cornwall
  23. ^ Kilbrandon Report, The Times, 1 November 1973
  24. ^ Kilbrandon Report paragraph 329 - 1969-73 the Royal Commission on the Constitution (Kilbrandon Report) had this to say about Cornwall—under "National feeling"
  25. ^ Cornwall Council - Council background
  26. ^ a b c Briggs, Geoffrey, Civic and Corporate Heraldry (1971), p122
  27. ^ Fox-Davies, AC, The Complete Guide to Heraldry (1909), p248
  28. ^ http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/blackprince.htm "The Black Prince". Luminarium Internet Project.
  29. ^ Brooke-Little, JP, Boutell's Heraldry (1978), p281
  30. ^ Seeing Symbols: The origins of the Duchy Originals' logo

External links

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