The Crown Estate is one of the largest property owners in the United Kingdom with a portfolio worth over £7.33 billion ($14.66 billion), with urban properties valued at £5.38 billion, and rural holdings valued at £903 million; and an annual profit of £211 million, thus yielding 2.88% as of July 2008. The majority of the estate by value is urban, including a large number of properties in central London, but the estate also owns of agricultural land and forest, more than 55% of the UK's foreshore, and retains various other traditional holdings and rights, for example Ascot Racecourse and Windsor Great Park.
When William I died, the land he had acquired by right of conquest was still largely intact. But his successors granted large estates to the nobles and barons who supplied them with men and arms. The Crown lands were augmented as well as depleted over the centuries: Edward I extended his possessions into Wales, and James VI & I had his own Crown lands in Scotland which were ultimately combined with the Crown lands of England and Wales. However, the disposals outweighed the acquisitions: at the time of the Restoration in 1660 the total revenue arising from Crown lands was estimated to be £263,598. By the end of the reign of William III (1689–1702), however, it was reduced to some £6,000.
Before the reign of William III all the revenues of the kingdom were bestowed on the monarch for the general expenses of government. These revenues were of two kinds:
After the Revolution of 1688, Parliament retained under its own control the greater part of the Temporary Revenues, and relieved the Sovereign of the cost of the naval and military services and the burden of the National Debt. During the reigns of William III, Anne, George I and George II the Sovereign remained responsible for the maintenance of the Civil Government and for the support of the Royal Household and dignity, being allowed for these purposes the Hereditary Revenues and certain taxes.
On George III's accession, he ended hereditary revenues of Crown lands when he surrendered the Crown Estate to Parliament in return for a fixed civil list payment and the income retained from the Duchy of Lancaster. The King surrendered to Parliamentary control the hereditary excise duties, post office revenues, and 'the small branches' of Hereditary Revenue including rents of the Crown lands in England, (which amounted to about £11,000) and was granted a Civil List annuity of £800,000 for the support of his household and the expenses of Civil Government, subject to the payment of certain annuities to members of the royal family. Although the King had retained large Hereditary Revenues, his income proved insufficient for his charged expenses because he used the privilege to reward supporters with bribes and gifts. Debts amounting to over £3 million over the course of George's reign were paid by Parliament, and the Civil List annuity was then increased from time to time.
Every succeeding Sovereign has renewed the arrangement made between George III and Parliament and the practice has long been reckoned among those constitutional conventions which it would be very hard to end.
As in Scotland, the Crown lands in Ireland comprised a miscellany of feudal dues, land acquired for forts, and forfeitures especially after 1688. In the early 1830s the Crown Estate resumed possession of land in Ballykilcine following the insanity of the head lessee. The occupational sub-lessees were seven years in arrear with their rent and the result was the Ballykilcine 'removals' – free emigration to the new world in 1846. There is evidence of Crown Estate public work schemes to employ the more distressed in improving drainage etc. In 1854 a select committee of the House of Lords concluded that the small estates in Ireland should be sold. 7,000 acres (28 km²) were subsequently sold for circa. £25,000 at auction and £10,000 by private treaty: a major disinvestment, with reinvestment in Great Britain.
From 1 April 1923, as regards the Republic of Ireland, Irish land revenues have been collected and administered by the Irish Government. At the time of handover to the Republic, quit rents totalled £23,418 and rent from property £1,191. The estates handed over mostly comprised foreshore.
The Crown Estate now is a statutory corporation run on commercial lines by the Crown Estate Commissioners under the provisions of the Crown Estate Act 1961. It has a property portfolio of buildings, shoreline, seabed, forestry, agricultural and common land worth almost £6 billion, generating revenue of around £190 million for HM Treasury every year. For example, it owns much of Regent Street in London.
The First Commissioner and Chairman is part-time. The Second Commissioner is the Chief Executive.