Britain’s 600 aristocratic families have doubled their wealth in the last decade

Tony Gosling tony at
Sun Jul 21 01:23:18 BST 2019

Britain’s 600 aristocratic families have doubled 
their wealth in the last decade and are as ‘wealthy as at the height of Empire’

Exclusive: hereditary titles are now worth 
average of at least £16m, we can reveal


Britain’s aristocrats have enjoyed a dramatic 
surge in their wealth in the last 30 years – and 
have seen their riches double in the last decade.

A hereditary title is now worth an average of 
more than £16m – nearly twice the value it stood 
at prior to the 2007 financial crisis, i can reveal.

Their fortunes contrast starkly with the decade 
experienced by the vast majority of Britons where 
overall productivity has stagnated and 
inflation-adjusted wages remain stuck at 2005 
levels. Since the Thatcher era, the value of a 
hereditary title has also increased four-fold.

The pioneering research, based on data from the 
wills of nearly 2,000 title holders, demolishes 
the widespread image of a bumbling British 
aristocracy in genteel decline by showing that 
many of its present day members are canny investors.

Victorian ancestors

On average, Britain’s 600 or so aristocratic 
families are now as wealthy as their Victorian 
forebears at the height of Britain’s imperial expansion.

The ten largest aristocratic personal fortunes 
left in the last decade add up to £1.06bn when 
adjusted to reflect current purchasing power.

At the head of the league of aristocratic wealth 
stands the high-profile figure of Hugh Grosvenor, 
7th Duke of Westminster, who will eventually 
inherit the personal fortune worth some £659m in 
2019 prices left by his father following his death in 2016.

The 28-year-old’s total family wealth, held in 
separate trust funds, is put at some £9bn.

‘The aristocracy prospered under the era of financial deregulation’

But the standings also include lesser known 
figures, including the family of John Vane, the 
11th Baron Barnard, who presided over a 
60,000-acre Northumberland estate and left £94m 
in 2016; and the 8th Earl Bathurst.

The Earl is perhaps best remembered for once 
giving chase to a car breaking rules for driving 
on the family’s Gloucestershire estate. It was 
only when he was himself intercepted by a vehicle 
containing plainclothes police that the peer, who 
left £54m in 2011, realised he was pursuing a 
youthful Prince William. It was only when he was 
himself intercepted by a vehicle containing 
plainclothes police that the peer, who left £54m 
in 2011, realised he was pursuing a youthful Prince William.

The study by two academics at London South Bank 
University, which involved consulting more than a 
million wills, casts rare light on the usually 
closely-guarded secret of the finances of the 
nation’s dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts and 
barons by showing that the minimum value of one 
of these titles now stands on average at £16.1m. 
The same figure, adjusted to reflect current 
purchasing power, stood at £4.2m between 1978 and 1987.

The four-fold increase in the figure suggests 
that the aristocracy has prospered spectacularly 
under the era of financial deregulation and 
economic liberalisation ushered in by Margaret 
Thatcher when she came to power in 1979.

The figures, based on the settled estates or 
probates of 1,706 members of the nobility dating 
back to 1858, also only tell part of the story of 
aristocratic wealth by showing the minimal 
personal wealth of title holders. The total 
fortune of the often secretive elite is likely to 
be far higher because in many cases other family 
wealth – including land, property and assets such 
as art collections or investment portfolios – is 
held in separate trusts which are not open to scrutiny.

‘They are people of the world’

Dr Matthew Bond, senior lecturer in sociology at 
LSBU, who compiled the data with colleague Dr 
Julien Morton, told i: “There is a lot of work 
from the field of history and literature that 
essentially argues that aristocrats were a bit 
useless, that they concentrated on the values of 
nobility and duty and money didn’t matter so much.

“We would argue that isn’t so much the case. The 
fact that their wealth has been so resilient 
would seem to indicate that they are people of 
the world rather than dwindling standard bearers of ancient values.”

The figures represent a sharp recovery in the 
fortunes of the nobility, which went into 
dramatic decline during the Second World War and 
the post-war consensus, which brought in more 
progressive taxation and the welfare state. From 
a pre-war high of £23m, average fortunes fell to 
£4.9m by 1967 before rocketing again by the 1980s.

Financial crisis

The data suggests that Britain’s wealthiest 
aristocrats have weathered the economic problems 
caused by the 2008 financial crisis, apparently 
using existing assets to take advantage of low 
interest rates to buy up stocks and shares and 
other investments which have rocketed in value. 
In the decade to 2007, the average wealth of the 
nobility stood at £8.9m – suggesting it has nearly doubled in the decade since.

Dr Morton said: “The asset-owning super-rich to 
the extent that they include the aristocracy 
would appear to have benefited during the period 
after the financial crisis from factors such as 
quantitative easing which allowed them to use 
those assets to secure mortgages and debts to buy further assets.”

The data underlines the entrenched nature 
aristocratic wealth and the tight-knit social 
circles in which many title holders move.

Eton and Harrow

Of the ten largest probates between 2008 and 
2018, seven of the deceased attended Eton or 
Harrow, with the remaining three also attending 
major public schools. Six of the ten went to 
either Oxford or Cambridge universities.

Dukes, which represent the highest and often 
oldest rank of the aristocracy, are also the 
wealthiest, leaving an average inflation-adjusted fortune of £48m since 1958.

The next echelons of marquesses, earls and 
viscounts were worth £14.5m and £11.2m, while the 
far more numerous barons (totalling more than 800 
title holders, including the father of former 
Chancellor George Osborne) were worth on average £9.3m.

Privileged position

Critics of the aristocracy said the findings 
strengthened the argument that the nobility have 
succeeded in shoring up a  privileged position in British society.

Labour MP Chris Bryant, whose book on the 
nobility – A Critical History of the British 
Aristocracy – was published in 2017, told i: “For 
more than a century, the landed aristocracy have 
been moaning about their terrible impoverishment. 
Ostentatiously sitting in dilapidated drawing 
rooms with buckets and pails catching drips from 
the beautiful but bowed stucco ceiling, they have extended the begging bowl.

“Yet the last century has seen many do remarkably 
well. The end result is that the great old 
landed, crested and hallmarked families of the 
United Kingdom are still in possession of most of 
the land and a large part of the wealth of the nation.”

Financial brink

The LSBU data suggests that aristocratic families 
have an enduring ability to bounce back from the financial brink.

When the 17th Earl of Devon died in 1998, he left 
just £121,000 and forced his successors to seek 
fresh sources of income, including opening the 
family seat, Powderham Castle, as a heritage site.

By the time of the death in 2015 of the 18th 
earl, Hugh Courtenay, he left a legacy of £47.5m.

Dr Bond said: “There are always families that 
don’t do well but there is also an interesting 
degree of resilience in the aristocracy. When you 
do have a disaster or a massive drop in wealth, 
quite often there seems to be recovery. Very 
often we’ve noticed that families in possession 
of a title can have periods where their personal 
wealth goes down considerably but then it rebounds within a generation or two.”

Supporting and shaping communities

The study takes no view on the societal role of 
the nobility, whose supporters argue that they 
play a valuable role in supporting – and shaping 
– rural communities through large estates and 
farming businesses. Separate research last year 
confirmed that just under a third of all land in 
England and Wales is owned by members of the aristocracy.

The authors of the latest research said further 
work is needed to establish the extent of the 
influence of the aristocracy now that the veil 
over their fortunes has been partially lifted.

Dr Morton said: “The view of the aristocracy has 
long been clouded by assumptions and prejudices. 
It may well be the case that having a rich and 
vital aristocracy is good for the country. We are 
interested in understanding this group as objectively and deeply as possible.”

The top ten biggest probates* of the last decade (2008-2018)

:: Gerald Grosvenor, 6th Duke of Westminster d.2016

Educated: Harrow

Probate – £659m

Heir: Hugh Grosvenor, 7th Duke of Westminster

:: Harry John Neville Vane, 11th Baron Barnard d.2016

Educated: Eton and University of Durham

Probate  – £94.5m

Heir: Henry Vane, 12th Baron Barnard

:: Hugh Denis Charles FitzRoy, 11th Duke of Grafton d.2011

Educated: Eton and Magdalene College, Cambridge

Probate – £71m

Heir: Henry FitzRoy, 12th Duke of Grafton

:: Henry Allen John Bathurst, 8th Earl Bathurst d.2011

Educated: Eton and Christchurch, Oxford

Probate – £54.5m

Heir: Allen Christopher Bertram, 9th Earl Bathurst

:: Hugh Rupert Courtenay, Earl of Devon d.2015

Educated: Winchester and Magdalene College, Cambridge

Probate – £47.5m

Heir: Charles Peregrine Courtenay, 19th Earl of Devon

:: John Marlborough, Duke of Marlborough d.2014

Educated: Eton

Probate – £32m

Heir: Jamie Marlborough, 12th Duke of Marlborough

:: Robin Henry Charles Neville, 10th Baron Braybrooke d.2017

Educated: Eton and Magdalene College, Cambridge

Probate – £30.8m

Heir: Richard Neville, 11th Baron Braybrooke

:: Edward Douglas Coke, 7th Earl of Leicester d.2015

Educated: Winchester and Magdalene College, Cambridge

Probate: £30.6m

Heir:  Thomas Coke, 8th Earl of Leicester

:: Charles James FitzRoy, 6th Baron Southampton d.2015

Educated: Stowe

Probate – £25.4m

Heir: Edward Charles FitzRoy

:: Milo Cripps, 4th Baron Parmoor d.2008

Educated Ampleforth and Corpus Christi, Oxford

Probate – £17.4m

Heir: Seddon Cripps, 5th Parmoor

* Probate is the value of the estate of the 
deceased net of debt but not net of tax, ie the 
total sum inherited will be less depending on the 
amount of tax paid. Figures are adjusted for 
purchasing power at 2019 prices to allow comparison.

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'From South America, where payment must be made with subtlety, the 
Bormann organization has made a substantial contribution. It has 
drawn many of the brightest Jewish businessmen into a participatory 
role in the development of many of its corporations, and many of 
these Jews share their prosperity most generously with Israel. If 
their proposals are sound, they are even provided with a specially 
dispensed venture capital fund. I spoke with one Jewish businessmen 
in Hartford, Connecticut. He had arrived there quite unknown several 
years before our conversation, but with Bormann money as his 
leverage. Today he is more than a millionaire, a quiet leader in the 
community with a certain share of his profits earmarked as always for 
his venture capital benefactors. This has taken place in many other 
instances across America and demonstrates how Bormann's people 
operate in the contemporary commercial world, in contrast to the 
fanciful nonsense with which Nazis are described in so much "literature."

So much emphasis is placed on select Jewish participation in Bormann 
companies that when Adolf Eichmann was seized and taken to Tel Aviv 
to stand trial, it produced a shock wave in the Jewish and German 
communities of Buenos Aires. Jewish leaders informed the Israeli 
authorities in no uncertain terms that this must never happen again 
because a repetition would permanently rupture relations with the 
Germans of Latin America, as well as with the Bormann organization, 
and cut off the flow of Jewish money to Israel. It never happened 
again, and the pursuit of Bormann quieted down at the request of 
these Jewish leaders. He is residing in an Argentinian safe haven, 
protected by the most efficient German infrastructure in history as 
well as by all those whose prosperity depends on his well-being.'

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