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Queen Victoria As A Millionaire by Reginald Wynford

1878

Queen Victoria either is or ought to be a very wealthy woman. Her income was at the beginning of her reign fixed at £385,000 a year. This sum, it was understood, would, with the exception of £96,000 a year, be divided between the lord steward, the lord chamberlain and the master of the horse, the three great functionaries of the royal household. Of the residue £60,000 were to be paid over to the queen for her personal expenses, and the remaining £36,000 were for "contingencies." It is probable, however, that the above arrangements have been much modified, as time has worked changes.

The prince-consort had an allowance of £30,000 a year. The queen originally wished him to have £100,000, and Lord Melbourne, then prime minister, who had immense influence over her, had much difficulty in persuading her that this sum was out of the question, and gaining her consent to the government's proposing £50,000 a year to the House of Commons, which, to Her Majesty's infinite chagrin, cut the sum down nearly one-half.

During the happy days of her married life the expenditure of the court was very much greater than it has been since the prince's death. Emperors and kings were entertained with utmost splendor at Windsor. During the emperor of Russia's visit, for instance, and that of Louis Philippe, one or two hundred extra mouths were in one way or another fed at Her Majesty's expense. The stables, too, were formerly filled with horses—and very fine ones they were—whereas now the number is greatly reduced, and many of those in the royal mews are "jobbed"—i.e. hired by the week or month, as occasion requires, from livery stables. This poverty of the master of the horse's department excited much angry comment on the occasion of the princess Alexandra's state entry into London.

But besides the previously-mentioned £60,000 a year, and what residue may be unspent from the rest of the "civil list," as the £385,000 is called, Queen Victoria has two other sources of considerable income. She is in her own right duchess of Lancaster. The property which goes with the duchy of Lancaster belonged originally to Saxon noblemen who rose against the Norman Conqueror. Their estates were confiscated, and in 1265 were in the possession of Robert Ferrers, earl of Derby. This nobleman took part with Simon de Montfort in his rebellion, and was deprived of all his estates in 1265 by Henry III., who bestowed them on his youngest son, Edmund, commonly called Edmund Crouchback, whom he created earl of Lancaster. From him dates the immediate connection between royalty and the duchy. In 1310, Thomas, second earl of Lancaster, son of Edmund Crouchback, married a great heiress, the only child of De Lacy, earl of Lincoln. By this alliance he became the wealthiest and most powerful subject of the Crown, possessing in right of himself and his wife six earldoms, with all the jurisdiction which under feudal tenure was annexed to such honors. In 1311 he became involved in the combination formed by several nobles to induce the king to part with Piers de Gaveston. The result of this conspiracy was that the unhappy favorite was lynched in Warwick Castle. The king, Edward II., was at first highly incensed, but ultimately pardoned the conspirators, including the earl of Lancaster; but that very imprudent personage, subsequently taking up arms against his sovereign, was beheaded.

In 1326 an act was passed for reversing the attainder of Earl Thomas in favor of his brother Henry, earl of Lancaster. Earl Henry left a son and six daughters. The son was surnamed "Grismond," from the place of his birth. He greatly distinguished himself in the French wars under Edward III., and was the second knight companion of the Order of the Garter, Edward "the Black Prince" being the first. Ultimately, to reward his many services, Edward III. created him, about 1348, duke of Lancaster, and the county of Lancaster was formed into a palatinate or principality. This great and good nobleman who seems to have been the soul of munificence and piety, died in 1361, leaving two daughters to inherit his vast possessions, but on the death of the elder without issue the whole devolved on the second, Blanche, who married John of Gaunt (so called because born at Ghent in Flanders, in March, 1340), son of Edward III. He was created duke of Lancaster, played a prominent part in history, and died in 1399, leaving a son by Blanche—Henry Plantagenet, surnamed Bolingbroke, from Bullingbrook Castle in Lincolnshire, the scene of his birth. He became King Henry IV., and thus the duchy merged in the Crown, and is enjoyed to-day by Queen Victoria as duchess of Lancaster.

Her revenue from this source has been steadily increasing. Thus in 1865 it was £26,000; in 1867, £29,000; in 1869, £31,000; in 1872 £40,000. The largest of these figures does not probably represent a fifth of the receipts of John of Gaunt, but the duchy of Lancaster, like that of Cornwall, suffered far a long time from the fraud and rapacity of those who were supposed to be its custodians. Managed as it now is, it will probably have doubled its present revenue before the close of the century.

The other source is still more strictly personal income. On the 30th of August, 1852, there died a gentleman, aged seventy-two, of the name of John Camden Neild. He was son of a Mr. James Neild, who acquired a large fortune as a gold- and silversmith. Mr. James Neild was born at Sir Henry Holland's birthplace, Knutsford, a market-town in Cheshire, in 1744. He came to London, when a boy, in 1760, the first year of George III.'s reign, and was placed with one of the king's jewelers, Mr. Hemming. Gradually working his way up, he started on his own account in St. James's street, a very fashionable thoroughfare, and made a large fortune. In 1792 he retired. He appears to have been a man of rare benevolence and some literary ability. He devoted himself to remedying the condition of prisons, more especially those in which persons were confined for debt: indeed, his efforts in this direction would seem to have rivaled those of Howard, for in the course of forty years Mr. Neild visited most of the prisons in Great Britain, and was for many years treasurer, as well as one of the founders, of the society for the relief of persons imprisoned for small debts. He described his prison experiences in a series of papers in the Gentleman's Magazine, which were subsequently republished, and highly praised by the Edinburgh Review. Mr. Neild had three children, but only one, John Camden Neild, survived him. This gentleman succeeded to his father's very large property in 1814.

Mr. James Neild had acquired considerable landed estate, and was sheriff of Buckinghamshire in 1804. His son received every advantage in the way of education, graduated M.A. at Trinity College, Cambridge, and was subsequently called to the bar. He proved, however, the very reverse of his benevolent father. He was a miser born, and hid all his talents in a napkin, making no use of his wealth beyond allowing it to accumulate. From the date of the death of his father, who left him £250,000, besides real estate, he had spent but a small portion of his income, and allowed himself scarcely the necessaries of life. He usually dressed in a blue coat with metal buttons. This he did not allow to be brushed, inasmuch as that process would have worn the nap. He was never known to wear an overcoat. He gladly accepted invitations from his tenantry, and would remain on long visits, because he thus saved board. There is a story of how a benevolent gentleman once proffered assistance, through a chemist in the Strand, in whose shop he saw what he supposed to be a broken-down old gentleman, and received for reply, "God bless your soul, sir! that's Mr. Coutts the banker, who could buy up you and me fifty times over." So with Mr. Neild: his appearance often made him an object of charity and commiseration, nor would it appear that he was at all averse to being so regarded. Just before railway traveling began he had been on a visit to some of his estates, and was returning to London. The coach having stopped to allow of the passengers getting refreshment, all entered the hotel except old Neild. Observing the absence of the pinched, poverty-stricken-looking old gentleman, some good-natured passenger sent him out a bumper of brandy and water, which the old niggard eagerly accepted.

A few days before his death he told one of his executors that he had made a most singular will, but that he had a right to do what he liked with his own. When the document was opened it was found that, with the exception of a few small legacies, he had left all "to Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria, begging Her Majesty's most gracious acceptance of the same, for her sole use and benefit, and that of her heirs." Probably vanity dictated this bequest. To a poor old housekeeper, who had served him twenty-six years, he left nothing; to each of his executors, £100. But the queen made a handsome provision for the former, and presented £1000 to each of the latter; and she further raised a memorial to the miser's memory.

The property bequeathed to her amounted to upward of £500,000; so that, supposing Her Majesty to have spent every penny of her public and duchy of Lancaster incomes, and to have only laid by this legacy and the interest on it, she would from this source alone now be worth at least £1,000,000. Be this as it may, even that portion of the public which survives her will probably never know the amount of her wealth, for the wills of kings and queens are not proved; so that there will be no enlightenment on this head in the pages of the Illustrated London News.

Both Osborne House in the Isle of Wight, and Balmoral, were bought prior to Mr. Neild's bequest. These palaces are the personal property of Her Majesty, and very valuable: probably the two may, with their contents, be valued at £500,000 at the lowest. The building and repairs at these palaces are paid for by the queen herself, but those of all the palaces of the Crown are at the expense of the country, and about a million has been expended on Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle during the present reign.

The claims made on the queen for charity are exceedingly numerous. They are all most carefully examined by the keeper of her privy purse, and help is invariably extended to proper objects. But whilst duly recognizing such calls upon her, the queen has never been regarded as open-handed. Her munificence, for example, has not been on the scale of that of the late queen Adelaide, the widow of William IV. It is to be remembered that her father suffered all his life from straitened circumstances, and indeed it was by means of money supplied by friends that the duchess of Kent was enabled to reach England and give birth to its future sovereign on British soil. Although the duke died when his daughter was too young to have heard from him of these pecuniary troubles, she was no doubt cautioned by her mother to avoid all chance of incurring them; and a circumstance in itself likely to impress their inconvenience on her memory was that one of the first acts of her reign was to pay off, principal and interest, the whole of her father's remaining liabilities.

A good deal of sympathy is felt in England for the prince of Wales in reference to his money-matters. His mother's withdrawal from representative functions throws perforce a great deal of extra expense upon him, which he is very ill able to bear. He is expected to subscribe liberally to every conceivable charity, to bestow splendid presents (here his mother has always been wanting), and in every way to vie with, if not surpass, the nobility; and all this with £110,000 a year, whilst the dukes of Devonshire, Cleveland, Buccleuch, Lords Westminster, Bute, Lonsdale and a hundred more noblemen and gentlemen, have fortunes double or treble, no lords and grooms in waiting to pay, and can subscribe or decline to subscribe to the Distressed Muffin-makers' and Cab-men's Widows' Associations, according to their pleasure, without a murmur on the part of the public.

About five years ago the press generally took this view of the subject, and a rumor ran that the government fully intended to ask for an addition to the prince's income; but nothing was done. We have reason to believe that the hesitation of the government arose from the well-grounded apprehension that it would bring on an inquiry as to the queen's income and what became of it. Opinion ran high among both Whigs and Tories that if Her Majesty did not please to expend in representative pomp the revenues granted to her for that specific purpose, she should appropriate a handsome sum annually to her son. It may be urged, "Perhaps she does so," and in reply it can only be said that in such case the secret is singularly well kept, and that those whose position should enable them to give a pretty shrewd guess at the state of the case persist in averring the contrary. However, it will no doubt be all the better for the royal family in the end. The queen is a sagacious woman. She no doubt fully recognizes the fact that the British public will each year become more and more impatient of being required to vote away handsome annuities for a succession of princelings, whilst at the same time it may look with toleration, if not affection, upon a number of gentlemen and ladies who ask for nothing more than the cheap privilege of writing "Royal Highness" before their names. If, then, Queen Victoria be by her retirement and frugality accumulating a fortune which will make the royal family almost independent of a parliamentary grant in excess of the income which the Crown revenues represent, she is no doubt acting with that deep good sense and prudence which are a part of her character. And here we may just explain that the Crown revenues are derived from the property which has always been the appanage of the English sovereign from the Norman Conquest. For a long time past the custom has been to give this up to the country, with the understanding that it cannot be alienated, and to accept, in lieu thereof, a parliamentary grant of income. This Crown property is of immense value. It includes a large strip of the best part of London. All the clubs in Pall Mall, for instance, the Carlton, United Service, Travelers', Reform; Marlborough House, The Guards Club, Stafford House, Carlton House Terrace, Carlton Gardens—which pay the highest rents in London—stand on Crown land; as do Montague House, the duke of Buccleuch's, Dover House, etc. But this property suffers very much from the fact of its being inalienable. It can only be leased. The whole of the New Forest is Crown land, and it is estimated that if sold it would fetch millions, whereas it is now nearly valueless. If the royal family could use their Crown lands, just as those noblemen who have received grants from sovereigns use theirs, it would be the wealthiest in England, and would have no need to come to Parliament for funds.

Half of the people who howl about the expense of royalty know nothing about these Crown lands, which really belong to royalty at least as much as the property of those holding estates originally granted by kings belongs to such proprietors, and if exception were taken to such tenures scarcely any title in England would be safe.

Taking her, then, for all in all, Queen Victoria is not only the best, but probably the cheapest, sovereign England ever had; and her people, although inclined, as is their wont, to grumble that she doesn't spend a little more money, feel that she has so few faults that they can well afford to overlook this. Deeply loved by them, she is yet more respected.

Reginald Wynford.