How the British Monarchy Subverts Democracy

The Power Behind the Throne

Press TV (2015)

Film Review

This 2015 Press TV documentary questions whether the power accorded the British monarchy is consistent with democracy. It argues the extreme wealth* of the current royal family (and their clear efforts to protect that wealth) translates into significant state power, especially as the UK has no written constitution to limit their power and privileges.

It goes on to detail a number of royal privileges and activities that directly clash with the democratic rights of British citizens.

It starts with the economic privileges Prince Charles enjoys as the personal owner of the Duchy of Cornwall:**

  • Charles is the automatic heir of anyone who dies in Cornwall without a will. Thus far, he has inherited £3.3 million in this way, which he uses to fund personal projects, including a fund to pay private school bursaries. He rejects local requests to keep these funds within Cornwall.
  • He’s exempt from usual requirements to obtain planning permission and use consents for any land development he engages in Cornwall.
  • He’s exempt from business and capital gains tax on any income his Cornwall businesses generate.

The Prince of Wales is also notorious for the letters he writes to government ministers lobbying them about specific projects and issues. In 2005, the Guardian files a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain 27 such letters he wrote between 2004-2005. Both the Blair and the Cameron government fought the release of these letters for ten years, at a total cost of £400,000. In 2015, the British supreme court ordered them release.

The filmmakers also detail the role Princes Charles and Andrew play in lobbying Saudi Arabia and other third world dictatorships to purchase British weapons systems and fighter jets. This role directly benefits royal family members as weapons industry shareholders.


*Altogether the royal family privately owns a £70 billion real estate and share portfolio, in addition to a £10 billion art collection. They also receive a £40-200 million taxpayer funded stipend for the official duties they perform.

**The Duchy of Cornwall is one of two royal duchies, the other being the Duchy of Lancaster. The eldest son of the reigning British monarch inherits the duchy and the title of Duke of Cornwall at birth or when their parent assumes the throne