The Reign of Queen Victoria
In the nineteenth century the unique status of the Duchy came under increasing scrutiny.
Attacks on the Duchy
The accession of William IV in 1830 raised the question of parliamentary interference to the Duchy once more. In his speech from the throne on 2 November 1830, William IV declared that he surrendered his interest in the hereditary revenues of the Crown. Many members of the House of Commons took the surrender to include the two Duchies. The matter was only settled the following year with clarification of the private nature of the Duchy revenues.
The issue had been finally resolved. Parliamentary attacks arose again after William IV’s death in 1837. Radical politicians targeted sinecures and extravagant establishments; the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster were among their targets.
Following the accession of Queen Victoria, the Chancellor of the Exchequer considered giving up the Duchies to the public purse. The Duchy Council successfully argued against it proving that, far from lessening the expense to the public, transfer of the Duchy of Lancaster would actually increase it.
To satisfy critics it was decided that accounts of the receipts and disbursements of both Duchies would be submitted and presented by the Treasury to both Houses of Parliament. The Duchy continues to publish a full financial report today.
Reform and consolidation
Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, took a personal interest in promoting improvement in the Duchy. In the 1850s, the Duchy’s Chancellor, Lord Granville, realised that the estate was inefficient because it was spread across so many areas. At the time the Duchy had 38,301 acres in sixteen counties. Consolidation would make supervision more efficient and increase the revenues reaching the Queen.
Although the Duchy had restricted powers of sale, the Duchy of Lancaster Lands Act of 1855 permitted the disposal, on suitable terms, of land not deemed convenient to be held with other possessions, across a large number of counties.
The effect of this, together with improved methods of administration, was a gradual increase in the net revenues which were paid into the Sovereign’s Privy Purse. In 1838 it was a mere £5,000 but by 1896 it had risen to £60,000.