An inquiry about the policies on gift-giving to the royal family, ascribing to a set of guidelines or policies, was promulgated in 1995, with its most recent modification dating back to 2003. These policies, however, do not merely operate as strict guidelines but serve to establish the proper decorum for the royal family.
The guidelines categorize gifts into two types: official and personal. The first type pertains to gifts received by the family regarding their official duties or those bestowed by unknown individuals or businesses. They include those given by dignitaries or officials, like other heads of state, during state visits or other official occasions. These gifts are not the private property of family members and cannot be sold or exchanged, but they can be utilized by the royal family or displayed publicly in palaces. Gifts presented to the monarch from another head of state or government become part of the royal collection, which is responsible for maintaining the country’s royal heritage. On the other hand, items that do not fit this description go into storage.
Gifts falling under the personal category are those coming from people whom the royal family knows privately, not in connection with any official duty or engagement. There is no limit to the value of these items, and they are owned privately by the family members.
Personal gifts that come from formal connections, like royal warrant holders, are also considered personal, as long as their value does not exceed £150. Anything higher than that amount is considered an official gift.
A relatively small amount of information is available regarding official gifts received by the royal family. Every year, the palace releases a list of gifts received from the previous year, but it deletes older information at the same time. Without the cooperation of the palace, these official gifts are virtually untraceable since there is no public database to rely on.
Before the policy was established, there was uncertainty and ambiguity regarding the status of gifts received by Elizabeth, particularly valuable jewelry bestowed by foreign heads of state during her wedding in 1947, coronation in 1953, and official state visits throughout her reign. While similar items would be considered official gifts today, the policy is silent about items received before 1995.
The royal family’s gift-receiving policies were established after a series of embarrassing incidents, including those in the late 1980s when Buckingham Palace claimed that Prince Charles and Princess Diana received only a painting and a dovecote from the Sultan of Oman. It later emerged that they also received an £80,000 sports car and sapphire and diamond jewelry. Prince Charles conducted a formal review of the policies, including the official gift policy, following the Paul Burrell affair in 2003. Burrell was charged with theft after hundreds of Diana’s possessions were found in his loft. However, the trial collapsed after the queen asserted that Burrell had informed her that he was keeping the items safe.
Although the policies serve as guidelines for gift-giving and receiving, they cannot be enforced. There are no instructions on how to proceed if it is discovered that a member of the family has violated the policy. In 2006, Princess Margaret’s son, David Armstrong-Jones, Earl of Snowdon, auctioned off her possessions, including 47 official gifts, which went against the spirit of the policy. The queen directed him to donate the proceeds from the official gifts to charity.
The royal family operates under different regulations compared to other public figures. Even though family members frequently act as ambassadors in meetings with foreign officials and heads of state, the UK diplomatic service’s staff operates under far more stringent requirements concerning gifts that must be declined or recorded. What is particularly unusual is the level of secrecy surrounding gifts and private relationships that information is made available to everyone, we can make better decisions and hold those in power accountable.
As for the royal family, their status as public figures and ambassadors means that their behavior and actions are subject to scrutiny and critique. While the policy on gifts provides some guidance, it is ultimately up to the family to uphold their reputation and adhere to ethical standards in their interactions with others.
In the end, it is important to remember that the royal family is not above the law or immune to criticism. Their privilege and status come with responsibilities, and it is up to them to use their influence for the greater good and to maintain the trust and respect of the people they serve.