Tess Mize is a freelance writer, Navy wife, and new mom. Aside from being an avid royal watcher and Anglophile, she loves literature, theatre, yoga, and a good glass of wine. She was raised in the Southeast but currently lives in California with her husband, daughter, and dog.
Hello again! Thank you all for the kind feedback from my first post—I was so excited by your enthusiastic reception of the concept for this column, and even more thrilled to have a couple of questions come in right away to get started with!
Our first topic comes to us courtesy of Amanda, who posted the following question in the comments:
“I have always wondered about the royal policy on accepting gifts, maybe you can elaborate on that at some point?”
Well, Amanda, “some point” has arrived! We see Kate and other members of the royal family being presented with gifts almost every time they appear in public. Whether the gifts are flowers or teddy bears or personalized jerseys or miniature vehicles or even live animals, there seems to be a never ending stream of swag flowing into the royal coffers. But who owns these gifts, and do they really keep them all?
To find out, I consulted the official website of the British Monarchy (royal.gov.uk), and was pleased to find a very detailed outline of the policy regarding gifts and the royal family. Although the policy addresses both official and personal gifts, in the interest of brevity I’ll stick to covering official gifts. It turns out that all gifts presented to any member of the royal family in an official capacity actually belong to Her Majesty the Queen. The reason is that royals undertake engagements and go on tours representing HM, and as her representatives, they accept any gifts on her behalf. At the Queen’s discretion, the recipients of the gifts may keep or use them, but HM is still the official owner. In the case of personalized gifts, I’m sure there is no question of the items being unofficially considered the property of the intended recipient, but for official purposes they belong to the Crown. All gifts are meticulously catalogued and records are kept to ensure that all remains above board with regards to ethical concerns.
For example, no gifts are to be accepted from businesses (i.e. samples or other freebies); the Royal family pays for the goods they need and use, and reward certain longtime favorite companies with royal warrants to denote their official endorsement. But any business hoping to get a foot in the door by sending a gift will politely have their offering returned. Also strictly verboten is the acceptance of monetary gifts, apart from money accepted on behalf of a charity for which the royal is patron.
Perishable gifts under a certain value not likely to be used will often be given to charities or even to members of royal staff to avoid waste. High value perishable gifts will always be given to charity when possible. My interpretation of “perishable” would be flowers and food, but in addition to perishable gifts I imagine many of the smaller items also find their way to charities. Kate and William probably received hundreds of stuffed animals and other small toys for George and, later, for Charlotte. If all of those toys are sitting in a closet somewhere gathering dust I would be very surprised. I feel almost certain that those items would have found their way to a children’s’ charity to bring some joy to kids who didn’t receive thousands of gifts upon their birth.
Very valuable gifts may be displayed in a royal residence or placed on loan for display elsewhere. Gifts may not be sold by the Royal Family, but if a gift is presented to a charity it could be with the understanding that said charity may sell the gift (but not always). The entire catalogue of gifts is reviewed every five years, and items that are either no longer needed or may be more useful elsewhere may be divested from the collection to charity.
The rules are quite thorough, and really account for every possible scenario in which a royal may find themselves presented with a gift. There is a lot of emphasis on avoiding any action that might offend the giver, and a lot of care seems to be taken to shun any possible unethical situations. I think this policy is probably quite similar among most public figures, who often receive gifts but need to ensure they don’t develop conflicts of interest in performing their public service. And, of course, the policy addresses the importance of acknowledging the gift with a proper message of thanks whenever possible (a policy I think we all should adopt)! Maybe I’ll do a future post about writing a royal thank you note…would anyone interested in reading about that? Let me know in the comments!
I hope I’ve given a good overview on this topic, but if you’re interested in going through the whole policy, you can find it at (link to http://www.royal.gov.uk/LatestNewsandDiary/Pressreleases/2003/Guidelinesandproceduresrelatingtogifts.aspx).
Thanks for the great question, Amanda! Next time, we’ll be unraveling the sometimes confusing topic of the royal order of precedence. Looking forward to reading more of your questions!