In England there are two very special dukedoms, they are royal territorial ‘Duchies’. These territorial areas have rights and privileges that are hereditary ‘fiefdoms’ from early feudal origins. They have some similarities to the estates of grand dukes of Europe in as much that they have sovereign HRH status. There is an important difference between the sovereign dukes and the dukes subordinate to the monarch. The estates of these dukes were inviolate and cannot be broken or dissolved through marriage or descendancy.
In medieval England, these sovereign Duchies, associated with Lancashire and Cornwall were created with certain powers and attributed with estates, in many counties, accruing to these particular Dukedoms. The Duchy of Lancaster (created 1351) nowadays belongs to the Queen and the revenue is the Privy Purse.
The Duchy of Cornwall (created 1337) has been held successively by the Duke of Cornwall. Nowadays, this Duchy belongs to the sovereign’s heir apparent. If there isn’t one, then it reverts to the Crown or automatically confers to the next heir apparent upon birth.
The Duchy of Lancaster is an entitlement of the monarchy, held since the Dukedom held by Henry of Bolingbroke merged with the Crown on his appropriation of the throne. Initially, an earldom of Lancaster it was created in 1267 by Henry III for his son, Edmund Crouchback, already Earl of Leicester. He was granted the lands and privileges previously belonging to Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester.
Edmund’s son Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster, inherited the title of Earl of Lincoln and became the most powerful nobleman in England. He was later executed for treason by Edward II, leaving his titles to his younger brother Henry. Henry 3rd Earl of Lancaster along with his son, also Henry, gave loyal service to Edward III and was rewarded, following the Battle of Auberock (his greatest achievement) by founding a knighthood of the Order of the Garter and being created (1351) Duke of Lancaster.
Lancaster was eventually given ‘palatine’ status, to provide income for the Crown. The income from the Duchy makes a large contribution to the ‘Holdings of the Crown-lands’. Following the deposition of Richard II (1399) Henry IV became the first Lancastrian king. The Dukedom remained a palatine and remains the private inherited private estate of the British sovereign as Duke of Lancaster. The Duchy consists of 18,484 hectares of land holdings, including rural estates and farmland, urban developments and historic properties in several counties. Valued at more than £500m it provides the Sovereign with more than £20m p.a. The Duchy is held in Trust for future monarchs and is not subject to normal taxation. It is administered by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (government minister) and the day to day management is delegated to officers of the Duchy Council.
Palatine (palatinus) is a high level official (feudal lord) to imperial or royal courts. Palatinate powers were devolved royal powers for use in regions – independently of central government. The English palatinates are divided between the Royal Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall and those of the County Palatines, including Durham and Chester. Historically, a palatinate was territory, ruled by the Counts Palatine of the Holy Roman Empire. In England, a County Palatine is a county ruled by a hereditary nobleman. The name derives from the Latin palatinus or palace, employing a royal prerogative or jurisdiction.
A charter of 1157 established that the Duke of Cornwall is the eldest son of the Monarchy and Heir to the Throne. The Duchy of Cornwall was established by Edward III in 1337 and owns 7,615 hectares of land in Cornwall. In total, the estate consists of around 53,000 hectares of land in 23 counties (mostly in the south-west of England.
See also Crown-lands and Privileges and also ‘Feoffees’