The Queen Mother’s Secret Rescue

By Guest Contributor

Margaret Mercamen

In 1959, the UK Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, orchestrated a secret scheme to save the financially distressed Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, widow of King George VI.  Her prominent role in public life required her to spend far more than the £70,000 fixed annuity paid to her since 1936.  Inflation had left Her Majesty unable to manage and it was suggested that a further sum of £26,000 a year, be forthcoming.

Macmillan consulted Sir Norman Brook, his cabinet secretary, and after a detailed study by the prime minister’s office – in which the overriding aim was to keep details of the Queen Mother’s finances secret from Parliament – Macmillan could offer only token assistance.

Sir Norman said that by transferring some of the royal spending to government departments and granting Her Majesty complete exemption from tax, about £8,000 annually could be saved.  But no more without Parliament finding out.

The Queen Mother’s annuity remained fixed at £70,000 for a further 11 years. It was the Queen, realizing how untroubled her mother had become with financial matters, who used her own resources to camouflage the divide between expenditures and income.  The Queen Mother had not handled money since she was a child having been protected by those around her and likely never knew the extent of her overdraft.

Sir Arthur Penn, the treasurer to the Queen Mother, noted that when the Queen Mother was widowed in 1952 at the age of 52, and the Treasury extended the annuity, it was “unlikely that this reflected any actuarial estimate – and was probably only a repetition” of the sum that had been granted to Queen Mary on the accession of George V in 1910 and to Queen Alexandra on Edward VII’s accession in 1901.

He argued that there was a “fundamental difference” because the earlier dowagers had retired from the public eye in widowhood, whereas the Queen Mother maintained a prominent public role, which left her with expenses she could not cover.  “The scope of such a life is something undreamed of when the annuity was allocated 20 years ago, and involves an expenditure never contemplated!” In twenty-three years, the purchasing power of £70,000 would have diminished considerably.

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