The British royal family, often referred to as ‘the firm,’ is a complex and vast operation that has largely remained a mystery to the public. However, a comprehensive examination by Insider has shed light on the intricate structure of the royal household, revealing the roles and responsibilities of the 1,133 individuals who now work for King Charles III.
The term ‘the firm’ was coined during Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah Winfrey in March 2021, in which she used it to describe the multimillion-pound operation behind the monarchy. Until January 2022, there has been no complete public record of the employees and volunteers who work behind the scenes at Buckingham Palace. Insider’s investigation aimed to provide the most detailed list of positions in the royal household, offering the public a glimpse into the scale of the modern monarchy.
Sadly, the main subject of their inquiry, Queen Elizabeth II, passed away on 8 September 2022 in Balmoral Castle, United Kingdom, after reigning for 70 years, at the age of 96. Elizabeth’s throne was inherited by her eldest son Charles III, under whose guidance the staff itself hasn’t changed much, leaving the Insider report just as relevant today as it was in 2022.
The database, which includes staff, volunteer, and ceremonial roles, ranges from King Charles III’s closest aides to hundreds of daily staff. It doesn’t include staff working for other royals, such as the Cambridges, or staff paid out of the king’s private wealth.
Split into five distinct departments, the royal household plays a crucial role in shaping the public perception of the monarchy, assisting the King in his role as head of state, and benefiting from £86 million (about $116 million) in taxpayer funds in the fiscal year ending on 31 March 2021. The household operates much like an independent branch of the UK government, with the King and other working royals representing the country in meetings with foreign dignitaries, and taking official overseas trips to support trade negotiations and other UK national interests.
Despite the pivotal role played by the royal household, the general public possesses limited knowledge regarding the individuals who provide support to the King in his official duties, the nature of their responsibilities, and the extent of their remuneration.
Within Buckingham Palace, a team of private secretaries, government liaison officers, and media officers are employed to aid the King in representing the UK and safeguarding the reputation of the crown by averting scandal and public scrutiny. However, unlike positions held under elected officials, information regarding these staff members isn’t subject to disclosure in the same manner.
What really is the Royal Household?
The royal household is divided into five formal departments. Only one, the Royal Collection Trust, publishes an annual report that discloses the names and titles of its employees. The Trust operates much like a museum, caretaking and curating the King’s gargantuan art collection, and managing the public openings of the occupied royal palaces. The department is unique in that its funding comes from ticket sales and other activities. In 2021’s fiscal year the Trust spent £17 million (over $22 million) on wages and salaries for its more than 450 staffers.
In addition to the aforementioned, the royal household encompasses four other massive departments that oversee the daily operations, while two minor ones are also important. However, the identities and official titles of the employees within these departments aren’t publicly available. These individuals are paid out of the public purse, with the UK government having funded the sovereign since 1760.
The Royal Collection Trust
The Royal Collection Trust (458 employees) is primarily a treasure trove of art and historical artifacts. It’s a non-departmental public body that operates under the official auspices of The King as Sovereign, but it isn’t a part of the British Government. The Trust was established under Queen Elizabeth II in 1993, with the primary objectives of looking after the Royal Collection and enhancing public access to it.
The Royal Collection, one of the most significant art collections in the world, is held in trust by the Sovereign for their successors and the nation. It comprises over a million objects, including thousands of paintings, drawings and watercolors, as well as ceramics, textiles, furniture, arms and armor, books, manuscripts and decorative arts. The collection spans the reigns of many monarchs, with each contributing their own pieces, reflecting their personal tastes and the artistic styles of their times.
The Trust’s responsibilities extend to the conservation of the Royal Collection, ensuring its preservation for future generations. This involves a team of dedicated conservators and curators who work tirelessly to maintain and restore the items in the collection. They also manage the loans of items to institutions around the world, allowing a wider audience to appreciate these works of art.
The Royal Collection Trust also oversees the public opening of the official residences of The Queen, including Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and the Palace of Holyrood. These locations house many of the items from the Royal Collection, and are visited by millions of people each year.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse has reopened to visitors after The King and Queen’s recent visit to Scotland. The Palace is now open 7 days a week during the summer months. https://bit.ly/34z2u1l
Posted by Royal Collection Trust on Saturday, July 8, 2023
The Trust is governed by a Board of Trustees, which includes the Prince of Wales, that is, the heir to the throne. The board is responsible for the overall direction and oversight of the Trust’s activities, and is funded in part by the revenues from the admissions to the official residences and the sale of merchandise in the Royal Collection shops.
The Royal Collection Trust also organizes a variety of exhibitions, showcasing various aspects of the Royal Collection, held at various locations, including The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace and the Palace of Holyrood. Some of the recent exhibitions include “Windrush: Portraits of a Pioneering Generation,” “Holbein at the Tudor Court,” and “Style & Society: Dressing the Georgians.” These exhibitions offer a unique opportunity to delve deeper into specific themes and periods represented in the Collection.
The Lord Chamberlain’s Office
The Lord Chamberlain’s Office (310 employees) is a key component of the UK’s Royal Household, an institution steeped in history, with its roots tracing back to the reign of King Edward III in the 14th century. The office is responsible for the day-to-day functioning of the Royal Household, and serves as the primary channel of communication between the Sovereign and the House of Lords.
The Lord Chamberlain’s Office is led by the Lord Chamberlain, a position currently held by Andrew Parker, Baron Parker of Minsmere, who took up his appointment on 1 April 2021. He succeeded Lord Peel, who retired on 31 March 2021 after serving as Lord Chamberlain since June 2006. Lord Parker’s career spans 37 years in the Security Service (MI5), including a tenure as Director General of MI5 from 2013 until 2020. He’s a Distinguished Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, and a visiting professor at the Law School of Northumbria University.
The Lord Chamberlain’s Office is responsible for a wide range of duties, including the organization of state ceremonies and royal weddings, and oversees the conduct and general business of the Royal Household. The Lord Chamberlain himself undertakes ceremonial duties, and is the senior officer of the Royal Household. The role is non-executive and part-time, but it carries significant responsibilities and requires a deep understanding of the workings of the Royal Household and the British monarchy.
The Lord Chamberlain’s Office has evolved significantly over the centuries. The position previously had important political responsibilities, and so was a key figure in the administration of the kingdom. However, the role has become more ceremonial over time, with the Lord Chamberlain now primarily responsible for organizing royal ceremonies and events.
The Privy Purse and the Treasurer’s Office
The Privy Purse and Treasurer’s Office (156 employees) is responsible for managing the monetary matters of the sovereign, and certain aspects of the monarchy’s finances. The office is overseen by the Keeper of the Privy Purse, a role that has a long history, held by Sir Michael Stevens since 2018.
The Privy Purse is essentially the private income of the reigning monarch, coming primarily from the Duchy of Lancaster – a portfolio of land, properties, and assets that has been in the royal family since 1399. The Duchy provides an independent source of income, separate from the Sovereign Grant provided by the government for official duties. The Privy Purse is used to cover costs that are not taken care of by the Sovereign Grant, such as private living and personal expenses.
👑 There's never been a full public account of the people working behind the scenes at Buckingham Palace — until now.
Insider’s database of 1,133 roles shows our best estimate of the firm, from the Queen’s closest aides to hundreds of daily staff. ⤵️https://t.co/tuVgXwwgQP
— Insider (@thisisinsider) February 1, 2022
The Keeper of the Privy Purse is responsible for managing this income and the financial affairs of the sovereign. This includes overseeing the budget for royal households, and dealing with the sovereign’s personal expenses. The Keeper also has the responsibility of Deputy Treasurer to The King, which involves managing the Sovereign Grant, which funded by taxpayers, is used to cover the costs of the Queen’s state obligations, including travel, security, staff, and the upkeep of royal palaces.
The Privy Purse and Treasurer’s Office is a small team that works closely with other departments within the royal household. They ensure that the finances of the monarchy are managed effectively and transparently, while the office also plays a key role in preparing the annual financial accounts of the Sovereign Grant, which are publicly available and audited independently.
The role of the Keeper of the Privy Purse is not just about numbers and accounts, because it also involves a high level of discretion and trust, as the Keeper has an intimate knowledge of the personal expenditure of the King. He also has a very important ceremonial role, and is expected to attend distinguished royal events.
The Master of the Household’s Department
The Master of the Household’s Department (136 employees) ensures the smooth running of both official and private events across all royal residences. This part of the Royal Household is responsible for a wide range of tasks, from hospitality and catering to housekeeping arrangements.
The team is diverse, encompassing various professionals such as florists, upholsterers, specialist craftspeople, and caterers, whose work is essential in maintaining the high standards of service expected in the royal residences.
The department is led by the Master of the Household, which is a role that dates back to the 14th century, overseeing the domestic staff, from the Royal Kitchens, the pages and footmen, to the housekeeper and their staff. Since 2013, the position has been held by Anthony Johnstone-Burt, who is a Vice-Admiral of the Royal Navy, holding the awards of both CB and OBE.
The Master of the Household’s Department is responsible for planning and delivering all entertaining given by The King and other members of the Royal Family, as well as the domestic management of the Occupied Royal Palaces.
The Master of the Household is also the lead for the Buckingham Palace Reservicing Program, which is a significant and far-reaching undertaking that aims to overhaul the palace’s essential utilities, including electrical wiring, pipework, boilers, and generators, none of which have been updated since WWII.
The department’s work is not limited to the interiors of the royal residences, as they also manage the gardens and grounds of the royal estates, ensuring that they are maintained to the highest standards. This includes overseeing the planting of flowers and trees, maintaining the lawns, and making sure that the overall appearance of the gardens is in keeping with their historical significance.
The Private Secretary
The Private Secretary to the Sovereign (57 employees) serves as the principal channel of communication between the monarch and the governments of the UK and other Commonwealth realms. This position is akin to a chief of staff, playing a crucial role in the day-to-day activities and duties of the monarch.
The Private Secretary’s responsibilities are vast and varied, encompassing everything from managing the monarch’s official engagements and correspondence, to advising on constitutional matters. They are also tasked with collaborating with the UK and Commonwealth governments on the monarch’s behalf.
The role of the Private Secretary has evolved over time, with its origins dating back to the reign of Queen Victoria. Sir Henry Ponsonby, who served as Queen Victoria’s Private Secretary, is often credited with shaping the role into what it is today. The position has been held by a number of distinguished individuals over the years, each bringing their own unique skills and experiences to the role.
The Private Secretary is supported by a team of deputy and assistant private secretaries, forming a vital part of the Royal Household’s staff. Together, they ensure the smooth running of the monarch’s official duties and engagements, providing invaluable support and advice to the ruler.
The current Private Secretary to King Charles III is Clive Alderton, who took up the role on 8 September 2022. His predecessor, Sir Edward Young served as the Queen’s Deputy Private Secretary, which shows the extent of experience and understanding of the workings of the Royal Household, expected of someone in this position.
Ladies in Waiting and Equerries
Ladies in Waiting and Equerries comprise only 10 employees in the Royal Household, and are its second smallest department. The former are traditionally chosen from the British aristocracy, and serve as personal assistants to the sovereign. They perform various duties, including attending public engagements and assisting with correspondence.
The Equerries, on the other hand, usually officers from the armed services, assist the King in his public duties. Major Jonathan Thompson, a former high-ranking bodyguard to Queen Elizabeth II, serves as King Charles III’s equerry. He is responsible for the detailed planning and execution of the monarch’s daily programs, including looking after carriages, coaches, and Rolls-Royces used at state ceremonies.
Major Thompson has been seen accompanying the king on many occasions, garnering attention for his role in the royal household. Charles III’s Ladies in Waiting, meanwhile, will have to spend a number of years rebuilding the trust they enjoyed under his mother, who chose some close confidants among them.
Finally, comprising of only six members, the UK Royal Household’s Committee is essentially a very small table of those who, aside from the monarch, have the final say in all matters of the regal establishment.
They report directly to King Charles III, and effectively decide on business plans, budgets, as well as the way the entire household functions. The king’s own private secretary is part of the Committee, while Prince William’s personal financial advisor is present there as well.