Controversial Ways Royals Made Money

Being a member of the royal family comes with a long set of rules and regulations, something that Meghan Markle learned only too well when she married Prince Harry in May 2018. However, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have since made the decision to step down as senior members of the British royal family, so that they could live more private lives with their son, Archie, in North America. In addition to stepping out of the spotlight, Markle and the ginger prince's finances would undergo some major changes, having announced their intention to "work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen."

While it's not totally clear what financial independence might look like for these royals just yet, the Sussexes are far from the only members of the family forging careers in the real world. Senior royals receive an income from the Sovereign Grant to carry out official duties on behalf of the queen, but those lower down the food chain are often responsible for managing their finances. Considering how Markle had a successful acting career prior to joining the royal family, it's likely that she'll continue to flourish in her new role on the outskirts of the House of Windsor — but not everyone has been quite so savvy. 

Join us as we take a look at some of the ways royals have made money, from the controversial to the outright bizarre.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's post-royal jobs

There's no the denying the so-called Megxit sent shockwaves around the world. After announcing they planned to "work to become financially independent," per an early January 2020 Instagram post, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's royal transition would officially start on March 31. Raising a few eyebrows? They reportedly made a private joint appearance at JP Morgan's Alternative Investment Summit in Miami that February, which also attracted celebs like Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez, and were rumored to have secured a big payday for the event. 

Per The Times' royal correspondent Roya Nikkhah, "They have taken their first steps on the lucrative corporate speaking circuit — reportedly earning $1m for an appearance in Florida." According to The Guardian, "Harry spoke on the topic of mental health," and even mentioned his mother Princess Diana's death ... which might have irked some since he was allegedly paid so much money to do so. Meanwhile, certain members of the royal family are unlikely to be pleased that Markle and Prince Harry were already taking money from a multinational investment bank for their services. 

Of course, once the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were no longer senior royals, paid speaking engagements would likely become their new norm. Without their senior royal responsibilities and the rules they're bound to follow, Markle and Prince Harry would be able to enjoy a freedom they hadn't had since getting married — as well as the chance to make some serious cash.

Peter Phillips and Lady Kitty Spencer's royal milk battle

One thing you might not realize about the royals is that they apparently love milk. In fact, Princess Anne's son, Peter Phillips, and Princess Diana's niece, Lady Kitty Spencer, are such big milk fanatics that they've both appeared in milk adverts in China. 

In January 2020, The Guardian reported that Phillips and Spencer had both promoted "rival milk brands," with the late People's Princess' niece reportedly telling journalists, "The day of the royal family usually begins with a cup of milk or a cup of tea." Considering the fact that Spencer isn't technically a member of the royal family, that was a pretty big claim. Meanwhile, Phillips' advert saw the royal being handed a glass of milk by his butler in a palace and saying, "This is what I drink." He has most definitely "got milk."

While Spencer isn't in line to the throne and is free to work with advertisers, Phillips' involvement has reportedly stirred a few feathers. Per The Guardian, as 15th in line to the throne, "The real scandal is that Phillips, who is billed in the advert as a 'British royal family member,' is trading off his royal connections in order to make money." By giving his endorsement to a milk brand, Phillips was, by association, also suggesting that all royals drink copious amounts of milk. Let's be real, royal fans should probably be skeptical about whether these two actually drink the milk they're selling.

Sarah Ferguson's many endorsement deals

After separating in 1992, Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew officially divorced four years later. Discussing the matter with Harper's Bazaar in 2007, the Duchess of York said, "I wanted to work; it's not right for a princess of the royal house to be commercial, so Andrew and I decided to make the divorce official so I could go off and get a job." Per CNN Business, Ferguson became a spokesperson for Weight Watchers in 1997, held the position for 11 years, and reportedly took home a lot of money for the privilege. Of her first major endorsement, she told Harper's Bazaar, "I was so lacking in self-confidence when I found Weight Watchers' counselors, who saved my life."

Ferguson quickly took on more work in the United States, per The Guardian, "Fronting advertisements for Weight Watchers, Wedgwood China, or Charles Schwab, the stockbroking firm based in California." She also regularly appeared on American television and gained quite a high profile, even "standing in occasionally as a guest presenter on CNN's Larry King Live." However, the publication was quick to note that all of her many endorsements were "viewed with a certain sharp intake of breath from Buckingham Palace, where she has been almost persona non grata since her divorce." To put it bluntly, Queen Elizabeth probably didn't approve of Ferguson's Weight Watchers ad, or the rest.

That time the Duchess of York allegedly sold access to Prince Andrew

Having forged a dexterous career for herself following her divorce from Prince Andrew, Sarah Ferguson infamously appeared to take a £500,000 bribe in exchange for access to her ex-husband, who's remained a senior member of the British royal family amid his own scandals, and his business acumen in 2010. According to The Guardian, the Duchess of York admitted to making a "serious lapse in judgment" after reportedly making the deal — which, at the time, equaled about half a million US dollars — with News of the World's reporter Mazher Mahmood, who'd gone undercover as an international businessman and "specializes in exposés."

"That opens up everything you would ever wish for," Ferguson could reportedly be heard saying on tape. "I can open any door you want, and I will for you. Look after me and he'll look after you ... you'll get it back tenfold." After being allegedly caught on video, Fergie issued an apology: "I can confirm that The Duke of York was not aware or involved in any of the discussions that occurred. I am sincerely sorry for my actions." 

Unfortunately, it seems that the admittedly embarrassing situation was the latest in a long line of supposedly inappropriate activities conducted by Prince Andrew's ex — which most likely didn't win her any favor with the queen.

Zara Tindall's not-so-royal deals, deals, deals

When you're not a senior member of the royal family, you can get away with a lot more when it comes to making bank. Zara Tindall, Princess Anne's daughter and Queen Elizabeth's granddaughter, doesn't hold a royal title and isn't a working member of the British royals. As such, she's allowed to organize her own business ventures and endorse products if she wants — and it seems she does. According to Hello! magazine, Tindall has landed "brand ambassador arrangements with Land Rover, Rolex, iCandy prams, and clothing brand Musto." 

As if those deals weren't impressive enough, the Olympic medal-winning equestrian also boasts her own line of jewelry with the luxury Australian brand, Calleija, inspired by her equine roots. Not to mention, 2012 saw Tindall become the first Magic Millions Racing Women Ambassador, a role which reportedly netted her around £125,000 ($157,000) a year, per the Daily Mail. The publication even speculated that Princess Anne's daughter could be raking in as much as £1.1 million ($1.39 million) annually from her endorsement deals alone. 

While some might think that Tindall's plethora of advertising deals are a little classless for a member of the royal family, she's not technically breaking any rules.

The Duke of Windsor made royal bank with his tell-all memoir

King Edward VIII infamously abdicated the British throne in December 1936, after less than a year in the role. This was because he wanted to marry American divorcée, Wallis Simpson, and the rules at the time simply wouldn't allow it. He then became known as Prince Edward, the Duke of Windsor, and moved to France — and the world was understandably desperate to hear the former king's story in his own words. 

According to Forbes, Prince Edward's penchant for the finer things in life meant that his allowance from the crown didn't always cut it. As a result, he decided to write a "four-part autobiographical Life series in 1947 and then A King's Story five years later." Apparently, the duke's writing was worth a considerable amount of money: "London reporters at the time estimated that the Duke of Windsor had received more than $1 million ([which would now approximately be worth] $10 million) to spill ink and family secrets for the 435-page book." 

In fact, Prince Edward's books sold so well that Simpson decided to pen her own autobiography, too. It's unlikely that Queen Elizabeth was very happy with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor for revealing the inside details of the British royal family for cash, but there probably wasn't much she could do to stop them either.

Kaiser Wilhelm II sold his book to the highest bidder

Not unlike the Duke of Windsor, Queen Victoria's oldest grandchild — former German emperor Wilhelm II — also sold his memoirs after abdicating the throne. According to Forbes, the former ruler was short on funds following World War I and, "In May 1922, he publicly announced he was writing [his memoirs] and invited publishers to bid for their rights, setting a deadline for the following month. A frenzy ensued." Having already sold all of his valuable possessions, Wilhelm II realized that the only way he could make a substantial sum of money was by auctioning off his stories. Per the publication, "The winners paid approximately $250,000 ($3.9 million) — at the time, a record sum — to serialize the autobiography in the papers and as a stand-alone 15-chapter, 80,000-word book." 

As might be expected, the former kaiser's tell-all book wasn't a hit with everyone: "When his memoir, The Kaiser's Memoirs, was finally published in fall 1922, it drew greater fire than a day at the Somme." In fact, a newspaper in Paris at the time apparently "took dead aim at the kaiser, retitling his work Memoirs of a Blockhead and labeling him 'the greatest criminal of our age.'" 

It seems as though the question of whether or not a member of the royal family should spill their secrets in print has always been a matter of contention.

Princess Eugenie's husband has a royally booming alcohol business

Princess Eugenie married Jack Brooksbank at Windsor Castle in October 2018. But unlike his wife, Brooksbank wasn't a member of the royal family prior to getting hitched. As the princess' mother, Sarah Ferguson, revealed on the BBC's The One Show (via Express) that August, "The good news is Jack also works as the European Manager for Casamigos Tequila, so I am perfect. He'll just hand me the tequila and say, 'Come on, mother-in-law, down it.'" Of course, one of the co-founders of Casamigos was A-lister George Clooney, meaning that the brand has attracted plenty of celebrity clientele and international kudos. 

As well as representing a tequila brand, the Daily Mail reported that Princess Eugenie's husband "set up a company called Jack Brooksbank Ltd, which distributes alcoholic drinks." Brooksbank went straight into the hospitality industry when he left school, and "learned his trade in a string of Chelsea pubs frequented by Prince Harry and became club manager at the favourite royal Mayfair nightspot Mahiki." Basically, Brooksbank has always moved in royal circles, although he's usually been the one serving the alcohol. While it's presumably not against any rules, it certainly seems like a strange occupation for a member of the royal family.

Prince Andrew has made money through some dodgy dealings

Prince Andrew has often found himself in the news for the wrong reasons, and that includes his financial affairs. The Duke of York used to act as a trade envoy for businesses in the U.K., but was accused of using the position and his status as a prince to further his own interests. In November 2019, the Daily Mail ran an exposé of his business activities, claiming, "We can reveal how the Duke of York repeatedly exploited his taxpayer-funded role as Britain's trade envoy to work behind the scenes for his close friend, the controversial multi-millionaire financier David Rowland." While on official business for the royal family, Prince Andrew reportedly promoted a "private Luxembourg-based bank" owned and operated by Rowland.

While this alleged abuse of power reportedly involved sharing confidential documents and co-owning a business in a Caribbean tax haven, Buckingham Palace defended Prince Andrew's endeavors in a statement (via Town & Country): "The Duke of York was the UK's special representative for international trade and investment between 2001 and July 2011 and in that time the aim, and that of his office, was to promote Britain and British interests overseas not the interests of individuals." Three years prior, the palace was forced to deny the prince "acted as a 'fixer' in a Kazakhstan business deal from which he allegedly stood to make nearly £4m in 'commission,'" per The Independent. It seems Prince Andrew's finances could only be described as "shady."

This Norwegian royal has a side business with the Shaman

If you thought the British royals were the only ones to make money in surprising ways, think again. Princess Märtha Louise is fourth in line to the Norwegian throne, but her career has taken her in a very different, and sometimes controversial, direction. In August 2019, the princess announced that she would no longer be using her royal title, unless she was carrying out official business for the royal family. However, trouble arose when, according to Independent Ireland, "While still living in Oslo, she pursued holistic therapies and claimed she could communicate with angels when she launched an alternative therapy center called Astarte Education, for which she was heavily criticized." When Princess Märtha Louise went on to advertise her supposed skills, along with those of boyfriend Shaman Durek, in seminars called "The Princess and the Shaman," people felt that the royal was misusing her title and status.

In an Instagram post (translated by People), the princess wrote, "There have been many discussions about my use of title in a commercial context lately. The fact that I used Princess in the title of my tour, I have said before that I am very sorry, and I still stand by that. It was a mistake and I understand that it provokes when the princess title is used this way." It would seem that a new-age wellness business and being a member of royalty just don't mix.

Peter and Autumn Phillips' royal wedding photo fiasco

In addition to helping to sell milk in China, Princess Anne's son, Peter Phillips, also sold his royal wedding photos for profit — a questionable move for a member of the royal family. When he tied the knot with Canadian Autumn Phillips (from whom he announced his divorce in February 2020) in 2008, the British royal sold the rights to his official wedding photos to Hello! magazine for a reported £500,000, per the Daily Mail. At the time, Buckingham Palace reportedly called the deal "a serious error of judgment." Oops.

While it's hard to imagine any other member of the royal family selling their wedding photos to a magazine, it just goes to prove that Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are far from the only members of the British royal family to explore money-making opportunities. Whether or not you believe that the royals should be selling their services, there's most definitely a public demand for any insight into the lives of the rich, famous, and regal. In that sense, it could be argued that Phillips was simply giving the public what it wanted ... although his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, might quite disagree with that one.