In the turmoil of the seventeenth century, the Duchy of Lancaster fell on difficult times.
Attempts to abolish the Duchy
The extravagant Stuart kings, especially James I and Charles I, sold large parts of the Duchy to raise money.
Lavishness and controversial decisions led to widespread dissatisfaction with the monarchy. Charles I was executed in 1649. Parliament passed an act abolishing kings and disabling the king’s issue from the Crown and its possessions, including the Duchy of Lancaster. Many Crown and Duchy lands were sold to pay for the war. As a landed estate the Duchy ceased to exist although Cromwell did preserve the jurisdiction of the County Palatine of Lancaster.
The Restoration of the monarchy in May 1660 included the return of the Crown’s succession to the Duchy. Much Duchy land was recovered, but the revenues of the Duchy had been badly depleted.
For a century the Duchy was in reduced circumstances. Under Charles II and William III sales or grants of Duchy lands continued. The low state of the Duchy’s fortunes made it a target for reformers and abolitionists.
In 1702 the Crown passed to Queen Anne. In the first year of her reign an Act was passed preventing further sales of Crown lands to shore up the capital available to the Sovereign.
The Duchy remained in crisis for the next 60 years. In fact, during the first half of the century the Duchy was almost bankrupt. In 1760-61, profits amounted to £16.18s.4d. No revenues had been paid to the Privy Purse of the Sovereign for many years.
An age of improvement
In the same year George III surrendered his other hereditary estates (except the Duchy of Cornwall) in return for the Civil List, an annual payment from Parliament to manage his household. The Duchy of Lancaster, however, was not mentioned in this arrangement. This may have been because its revenues were not thought worth taking or because the Duchy was seen as separate from the hereditary revenues of the Crown.
George III’s long reign saw many changes in the Duchy. Lord Strange, Chancellor from 1762 to 1771, set in motion a programme of improvement. Methods of farming were being revolutionised and the ban on land sales was gradually being relaxed. Enclosures and agricultural improvements were introduced. Canals, railways and roads were constructed across the various lands making it easier for Duchy officers to travel across the estate. The result of these improvements was increasing revenues for the King.