The realm of royals and sovereigns includes a vast array of unusual phrases, terms and definitions. 

Many of these have evolved over many centuries, and some of them have stories and origins that reflect the evolution of the royal classes themselves. 

One such intriguing example is the term: Royal Purse. 

What is the Royal Purse? 

While Queen Elizabeth II was famous for carrying with her a spectacular range of handbags and purses, this is not the true meaning of a Royal Purse. 

In truth, the Royal Purse is not a posh accessory, it’s not a physical thing at all, it’s a term used to represent an aspect of a monarch’s financial accounts, or in some cases, it describes a specific source of income. 

In modern times, when people write or talk about the Royal Purse, particularly in relation to the British Royal Family, what they are usually referring to is a sum of money officially called the Privy Purse. 

What is the Privy Purse? 

The Privy Purse, in modern parlance, relates to the income of a sovereign. 

Lord Bloomfield as Keeper of the Privy Purse, carrying a ceremonial purse at the coronation of George IV in July 1821 – Henry Hoppner Meyer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The specifics of what is and what isn’t classed as private or personal income varies from one royal family to another. 

In terms of the British sovereign, the Privy Purse is the private income of the monarch, i.e. the income from their assets and other sources they own as the sovereign. 

According to (the official website of the British Royal Family), the Privy Purse is ‘a historical term used to describe income from the Duchy of Lancaster, which is used to meet both the official and private expenditure of The Queen.’

Since the death of Queen Elizabeth, the Privy Purse will now relate to the income and expenditure of the new sovereign, King Charles III

The Privy Purse & Royal Wealth

The Privy Purse is different from the personal income, net worth or wealth of an individual king or queen. 

This is because a sovereign may inherit certain assets – such as palaces or estates, for example – yet they don’t own them outright, they are simply custodians during their reign. 

Conversely, some monarchs have personal wealth before they accede to the throne, so these aren’t automatically included in the Privy Purse or the Sovereign’s official income. 

One example of this is the property portfolio of Queen Elizabeth II, who inherited the estates of Balmoral and Sandringham from her father, ie they were not classed as official royal palaces that require public funding to maintain, they were regarded as personal investments rather than assets within the Privy Purse or Sovereign collections. 

The Realm Of Royal Finances

The subject of royal finances is one of the less well-known and well-publicised aspects of royal living – perhaps this is because it lacks the glamour of royal photo shoots, the regal pomp of lavish ceremony, or the inevitable scandals that result from the public’s fascination with royal lifestyles and high-profile love affairs

Yet this financial aspect of royal living can reveal some captivating insights into the lives and times of the various monarchs, and the subject includes a rich variety of fascinating terms and topics. 

Here are some more interesting terms from the world of royal accounting

What Is A Sovereign Grant? 

The Sovereign Grant is a modern update within the finances of the British Monarchy.

It’s designed to be a more effective and simplified way to provide funding for some of the largest expenses faced by a sovereign, such as royal travel and transportation, communications, and maintaining royal buildings such as palaces and castles

As you can imagine, the costs of royal travel and general royal living can amount to many millions of pounds over time. So it’s essential that there is a source of funding in place, and in the interest of democracy and the future of the monarchy in changing times, it’s also important that this funding is subject to the kinds of auditing and checking as any large governing body. 

The Sovereign Grant is designed to meet both of these requirements. 

It’s funded, in part, by profits from the Crown Estate and is a sum of money provided by the Treasury, which also monitors how the money is spent, in line with the most recent agreements between the Government and the monarch. 

Many people applaud this updated system and more open method of funding aspects of a monarchy, as it aims to be more transparent and efficient than many of the past examples of royal spending and the use of public funds. 

What Is The Crown Estate? 

Around the world, the various monarchies and royal families have acquired or inherited a whole range of financial assets over the periods of their reigns. 

These are often collectively known as The Crown Estates. 

When you consider how ancient many royal families are, combined with the levels of wealth and power attributed to reigning sovereigns, it’s not surprising that over the decades or centuries, these collections of artworks, castles and palaces, country estates and other properties may grow into a substantial portfolio of assets. 

The specifics of ownership and income rights within these Crown Estates can be quite complex, as they occupy an unusual financial ground that is neither government-managed or the outright possession of a private individual or conglomerate. 

Perhaps this unusual sphere of finances explains why there’s often much confusion and misunderstanding around the income and expenditure of royal families. 

What is usually meant by the term Crown Estate is the range of assets that belong to the position of monarch, ie The Crown, rather than an individual person who will only occupy the throne for a finite period.

Also, the term Estate refers to the financial estate, rather than a particular country estate or group of properties.  

The world of royal living may seem like a glamorous and richly funded whirl of grand palaces, luxury travel, and endless banquets of the finest food. While there’s undoubtedly a degree of these delights for many modern royals, they still require funding from somewhere. 

Throughout history, the various monarchs have approached the topic of the Royal Purse with varying degrees of duty and service, and while some have been lavish and reckless, many have been frugal and responsible with the assets in their custody.

The financial stories of the world’s royal families, as well as the intriguing details behind the various terms and phrases, make for a fascinating behind-the-scenes peek of life beyond the royal curtains.