This month, there has been a two episode series, screened on ITV, looking at the Duchy of Cornwall and the steps being taken to prepare the Duke of Cambridge to take over the reins from his father, Prince Charles.

At first glance, it may be thought that the Duchy is not a Family Business but for anyone watching the programme it is clear that the Duchy is the most long-lived of any family business in the UK, providing the income to support 21 Princes of Wales and their families from the Black Prince to Prince Charles.  How many family businesses can claim to have passed through 21 generations and have lasted almost 700 years?   We are told its assets total £7 billion and the annual turnover is £21,000,000.  Under Prince Charles’ stewardship, the business has diversified from being a landed estate, with farming tenants and National Parks to developing two new towns, acquiring a prison and other commercial property, including a B&Q site in Milton Keynes.

What was fascinating, however id that there are two threads to the family succession.  The first is between the Prince of Wales and his son, Prince William but the other is the within the tenant families themselves, many of whose fathers  were the tenants when Prince Charles acceded to the Dukedom and who hope that their children and grandchildren will also be tenants of Prince William.

The programme was extremely candid about both Prince Charles and the Duke of Cambridge’s feelings and their thoughts echo the same concerns we hear from our own clients who are in the throes of handing down the business.  Prince Charles comments that when he saw the footage of his son talking to the tenants, he was deeply touched and moved to tears.  “Hearing  Prince  William speak has made the last 50 years work worthwhile.”  Prince Charles also commented that he has spent that 50 years not trying to wreck his eldest son’s chances.

Clearly the prospect of taking over the Duchy is daunting.  Prince William states to a tenant “I am not going to rock the boat.  Rest assured I will continue like my father but with just a few tweaks here and there.”  Prince William’s interests lie in farming and to prepare himself for the role he has been learning all he can on the royal estate at Sandringham where his grandfather used to farm.  Prince William tells the programme makers that he has been thinking about how he would like to inherit and what he is going to do to preserve and grow the estate now he has children of his own.

From Prince Charles’ perspective, however, the key issue is what is his legacy.  Prince Charles  believes he may not see all his current plans play out but it is clear from the programme that the transition of the Duchy from father to son is well under way.  As Prince Charles wisely said “Confronting  your own morality is a very good thing for you – it is very good for the soul.”

Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.

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