Surplus palaces are royal headache

While the Queen Mother has reportedly left a personal fortune worth $120-million, she has also left the House of Windsor with a unique problem: too many palaces.

Her death leaves several traditional royal residences without regular tenants, and there is already talk of who will move in where.

The decisions are all up to the Queen, and they could lead to uncomfortable questions about how many historic homes the Royal Family needs -- and how much public money will be needed for the maintenance.

It is believed that Prince Charles and sons William and Harry will move into Clarence House, the four-storey London mansion where a steady trickle of people have been laying flowers since the Queen Mother's death. Charles's current St. James's Palace quarters next door are reportedly too cramped.

Clarence House, where the Queen Mother would stand waving to crowds on her birthday, was built in the 1820s for the Duke of Clarence, later King William IV. It houses most of the Queen Mother's art collection, reportedly worth more than $70-million.

Fifty of her 83 servants were stationed there as well, and their fate remains unclear. Some may retire or be reassigned to other royal households.

The seven-bedroom Royal Lodge in Windsor, southwest of London, where the Queen Mother died, is also now available. As children, the Queen and Princess Margaret learned to swim in the pool at the country retreat.

It was thought that the Queen might want to keep the lodge and its 14-hectare grounds for herself. But other possible residents include Prince Andrew or Prince Edward, who is reportedly under pressure to downsize and leave his costly Bagshot Park estate in Surrey.

Then there is Birkhall, the Queen Mother's 18th-century country house on the grounds of Balmoral, the Royal Family's Scottish estate, which is not directly subsidized by taxpayers. Prince Charles has spent time there with Camilla Parker Bowles, and may lobby for it. The Queen is also said to be fond of it.

In 1952, the Queen Mother bought and restored the 16th-century Castle of Mey in Caithness, Scotland. It is now said to be worth about $40-million, and was the only estate she owned privately. It is unclear whether its rumoured value includes the prize-winning sheep and Aberdeen Angus cattle kept on its adjoining farm. Administered by a charitable trust, the castle is expected to be opened to the public at some point.

Before the Queen Mother's death, several other expensive, historic buildings were already without regular first-tier royal tenants -- notably London's Kensington Palace, where Princess Margaret lived until her death in February. The palace is currently occupied only by her son, Viscount Linley, and his family, and by the family of the Queen's cousin, Prince Michael of Kent.

Beyond the real estate, the Queen Mother's estate will have a large fortune to distribute. Much of it is in the form of the extraordinary collection of art and jewellery said to include a $30-million painting by Monet, a diamond necklace worn by Marie Antoinette and a $1.5-million tiara.

British newspapers reported yesterday that the Queen Mother's favourite charities and her great-grandchildren will be among the primary beneficiaries. William and Harry will reportedly receive more than $10-million, drawn from a $40-million trust the Queen Mother was believed to have set up in 1994.

Other money and assets, such as the Queen Mother's estimated $30-million worth of jewellery, were expected to be left to the Queen and other members of the Royal Family.  -   Globe & Mail     April 2, 2002

Tea with the queen

Even as the tide of republican discontent laps at the lawns of Buckingham Palace, an invitation to afternoon tea with the queen provides the best opportunity to see her realm in all its diverse glory. The 8,000 people who joined me in the queen's private garden last week represented a snapshot of all that has been great about Britain, coming as they did from every corner of the Earth, and in every shape, colour and creed of the modern Briton.

About 25,000 people will be invited to take tea with the monarch at four garden parties this summer and for most, who regard the invitation as a royal thanks for selfless public service, the chance of meeting her majesty can be the crowning moment of a lifetime. The garden parties have been an annual fixture of the London season since they were introduced by Queen Victoria in 1860. A strict dress code - lounge or morning suit for men, day dress and hat for women - ensures a glamorous queue stretches across the palace forecourt before the guests are guided through the gates, across the gravel quadrangle, through the reception hall of the original building, and out into the garden.

Covering 39 hectares, the garden has changed little since the conversion of Buckingham House to a palace in 1825. It is a splendid combination of sweeping lawns, arbours of roses, secluded grottos, and the odd aberration like the oak the queen planted on her coronation in 1953. On the southwestern flank is a 1.3-hectare lake, known as "the fish pond" when it was created from the overflow of Hyde Park's Serpentine. It was even a suspect - later cleared - in the death from cholera in 1861 of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's consort.

Afternoon tea was served in huge marquees, while the bands of the Irish Guards and the Prince of Wales's Division (Lucknow) played an eclectic selection including a medley of James Bond film scores and the theme from My Fair Lady.

As the hour of the queen's arrival approached, thousands lined the lawn leading to the royal tea tent. At precisely 4pm, the sovereign, along with Prince Philip, Prince Charles, and Edward and Sophie Wessex, appeared at her back door and the bands stuck up the national anthem.

The family split ranks once they reached the lawn, each drawing their own crowd. Bodyguards formed a circle at a discreet distance around each royal. Sisters Tejal and Neetal Parekh, who were invited because their mother will receive an MBE in November in recognition of her work for racial equality, pushed their way to the front and were introduced to Prince Charles. "I asked him about Prince William," said Tejal, 22, wearing a turquoise sari. "He said he wished someone would ask him about himself for a change."- By Lynne O'Donnell     SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST      26 July 2004


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