The world's wealthiest monarchs have been making a lot of news lately. Queen Elizabeth II made headlines Tuesday when she visited New York City for the first time since 1976. Properly dressed in pearls and a hat, despite the record heat, the Queen stayed long enough - apparently just five hours - to address the U.N. General Assembly and to visit Ground Zero.
Just a few months earlier the Sultan of Brunei made his own splash in the big apple when he reportedly picked up 48 handbags and 24 "duck" umbrellas from the Lederer de Paris store in Manhattan.
Perhaps the biggest news, or shocker, came the third week in June when Prince Albert of Monaco announced his engagement to former South African Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock. The longtime bachelor, who took the throne after his father's death in 2005, may have caught wedding fever after attending Sweden's royal wedding earlier in the month, when Crown Princess Victoria married in a lavish ceremony in Stockholm.
The princely nuptials deflect unwanted attention from a lawsuit brought by U.S. citizen Robert Eringer against Prince Albert for breach of contract. Eringer alleges the Prince hired him in 2002 to be his intelligence advisor to root out "corruption, money laundering and organized crime in Monaco." Asked for comment, the palace said it could not respond at this time. Meanwhile, Albert just hired a new lawyer, Gregory Craig, Obama's White House counsel for his first year in office, who previously represented would-be Reagan assassin John Hinckley Jr. and directed the team defending U.S. president Bill Clinton against impeachment.
The wedding may also help to refill Monaco's coffers. The tiny principality saw a 4% decline in tourism in 2009. In a recent survey released by London-based Barclays Wealth, more than half of Monaco's citizens with over $1 million to invest expect the economy to deteriorate. So far the prince has managed to hold his own fortune steady at $1 billion (No. 9 on our list) based on Monaco's desirable real estate; he reportedly owns one-fourth of the principality.
Though monarchs largely inherit their riches along with their titles, these royals have been buffeted by an uneven global economic recovery. The threat of sovereign defaults, a weak euro and continuing depression in real estate markets have stymied growth prospects.
Even Queen Elizabeth is feeling the pinch. Her annual stipend of $12 million was frozen in the budget doled out by the newly elected British Parliament. In its annual publication of Royal Finances, Buckingham Palace announced Monday that it reduced spending by more than 3 million pounds, or 12%, in 2009-2010.
"The Royal Household is acutely aware of the difficult economic climate and took early action to reduce its Civil List expenditure by 2.5% in real terms in 2009," said Sir Alan Reid, keeper of the privy purse. "We are implementing a headcount freeze and reviewing every vacancy to see if we can avoid replacement."
Still, don't worry too much for the queen herself. Though we don't count the value of Buckingham Palace or the British crown jewels in her fortune (they belong to the nation), the queen does own valuable property in England and Scotland, fine art, gems and a stamp collection, all of which is estimated to be worth a combined $450 million.
It was those valuable assets that allowed her to hold steady this past year despite the economic turmoil facing her country. She and nine others of the world's 15 richest royals have the same fortunes as they did a year ago.
Image: Queen Elizabeth II, U.K.
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