Prince Harry and Meghan Markle plugged a $3.4 million hole in the royal family’s finances last summer, when they covered the cost of refurbishing their U.K. residence.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were given Frogmore Cottage by Queen Elizabeth II in 2019, as the property where they would build their family.
The building in Windsor, which is on England’s register of protected historic structures, housed five apartments for royal staff and needed renovation. The work was funded in part by the British public money given to the monarch, known as the sovereign grant.
When the couple announced that they were stepping down as senior royals last year, they resolved to repay the funds.
Palace staff have now revealed that this money came in handy during the pandemic, when royal properties were not bringing in tourist revenue.
Sir Michael Stevens, the queen’s most senior financial adviser, said: “As you will have seen, this year’s report accounts for the £2.4 million [$3.4 million] payment made by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to cover the cost of the refurbishment to Frogmore Cottage funded by the sovereign grant.
“The majority of the payment has been classified as other income and has been accounted for this year in the report. It has partially offset some of the drawdown we had to make on our reserves.
“We will not be going into the detail of the commercial arrangement for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s use of the house, but please remember the payment covers all their current obligations.
“We are confident that it represents a good outcome for the sovereign grant.”
The palace appeared to suggest that the payment covered both rent and the cost of the refurbishment, although this sparked confusion among journalists gathered at a press conference on June 23.
Original palace estimates for the cost of the refurbishment had been £2.4 million, triggering questions about whether the duke had contributed more than that sum.
The Sovereign Grant Report, detailing the public financial records for the royal family in the past year, suggested Harry and Meghan had paid their rent until the end of March 2022.
They will also have the option to stay on longer at Frogmore should they wish to retain a base in the U.K.
The report states: “The financial challenges presented by the closure of the Occupied Royal Palaces to visitors and guests have been addressed through a variety of measures including recruitment and pay freezes, and cost savings from a reduction in activities and events.
“As a result of these measures and the reimbursement of expenditure on Frogmore Cottage by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, the Royal Household has been able to offset the impact of a £10.8 million reduction in income supplementing the Sovereign Grant and achieve a £3.7 million increase in the Core Sovereign Grant Reserve at 31 March 2021.”
The property is in the grounds of Home Park, Windsor, near Frogmore House, the venue for the couple’s evening reception at their wedding.
It is also a short drive from Windsor Castle, where they had their wedding ceremony and reception, and where the queen has been spending lockdown.
The house is owned by the Crown Estate, held in trust by the monarch on behalf of the British public, though it is not her personal property.
The queen invited the couple to move there after their wedding, with rents based on approximate market value.
More recently, Princess Eugenie and her husband have been sharing the space with Harry and Meghan.
The Duke of Sussex may be back there soon, however, as a statue of his mother Princess Diana is set to be unveiled at Kensington Palace.
Although Harry’s team have not publicly confirmed his attendance, it is hotly anticipated in the media. Insiders have told Newsweek that Meghan, who gave birth to the couple’s daughter Lilibet Diana in early June, will not attend the unveiling.
A spokesperson for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle told Newsweek : “The Duke made a substantial contribution to the Sovereign Grant last year to support necessary and existing refurbishments to Frogmore Cottage, which specifically included essential structural updates to the building. As part of this agreement, all tenant obligations are being met. The Duke and Duchess continue to operate with no money being drawn from the U.K. taxpayer.”
In September last year, a Sussex spokesperson issued a statement about Frogmore Cottage to Newsweek. It said: “A contribution has been made to the Sovereign Grant by The Duke of Sussex.
“This contribution as originally offered by Prince Harry has fully covered the necessary renovation costs of Frogmore Cottage, a property of Her Majesty The Queen, and will remain the UK residence of The Duke and his family.”
The couple’s former Sussex Royal website states: “The option of Apartment 1 in Kensington Palace was estimated to cost in excess of £4 million for mandated renovations including the removal of asbestos (see details above on the monarchy’s responsibility for this upkeep).
“This residence would not have been available for them to occupy until the fourth quarter of 2020.
“As a result, Her Majesty The Queen offered The Duke and Duchess the use of Frogmore Cottage, which was already undergoing mandated renovations, and would be available to move in before the birth of their son.
“The refurbishment cost equated to 50 percent of the originally suggested property for their proposed official residence at Kensington Palace.”
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