To meet expenses, the Windsors could consider getting jobs or moving house.
In Sue Townsend’s 1992 novel, The Queen and I, the Windsors have been stripped of their royal status and are forced to move into a council house estate. In Hellebore Close, the queen learns the charms of a pensioner’s life — using a zip, waiting at the doctor’s, living on a small budget.
Britain may not have gone republican, but Townsend’s working class dystopia might feel alarmingly close for the royals. The Windsor’s household contingency fund has dwindled to a paltry million pounds, quite insufficient for repairs to the sprawling estates owned by the family.
A parliamentary public accounts committee is now asking uncomfortable questions, like why had the royal household maintained a staff of 430 when all public institutions had stripped down at a time of recession. Of course, profligate royals are not new to Britain. King George IV, the louche and boisterous “Prinny”, had agreed to a strategic marriage on the condition that parliament pay off his debts. Queen Victoria cavilled at the disrepair of the palace and demanded a larger outlay from parliament.
But the monarchy’s hold on public life is more tenuous now. It is only by presenting themselves as a downsized and more domesticated family that the Windsors have kept up their popularity. This sudden evidence of good old fashioned dissipation has not gone down well with the public or the parliament.
There may be ways to meet expenses without appealing for more public funds. One of the family could get a job — the duke of Cambridge recently gave up his to become a full-time prince. Or they could consider moving to more modest quarters and living like ordinary people. In Townsend’s novel, the queen is reluctant to back to Buckingham Palace and take up her royal duties again. The real queen might want to sample the pleasures of Hell Close. Who knows, she might even like it.