The palaces that Historic Royal Palaces are responsible for are all owned by The Queen “in right of Crown”. This means that Her Majesty holds the palaces in Trust for the next monarch and by law cannot sell, lease or otherwise dispose of any interest in the palaces.
All of the palaces ceased being used regularly for royal court purposes in the 18th century and the Government became responsible for their management, an arrangement codified in the Crown Lands Act 1851. Currently government responsibility rests with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport.
The palaces were first opened to the public in the 19th century, although the Tower of London was open to selected visitors much earlier.
Historic Royal Palaces was established in 1989 as an Executive Agency of Government within the Department of the Environment, and the five palaces were brought together and run by this one agency. Later Historic Royal Palaces was transferred to the Department of National Heritage on its establishment in 1995, now named the Department for Culture, Media & Sport. Historic Royal Palaces has a contract with the Secretary of State to manage the palaces.
On 1 April 1998, Historic Royal Palaces became an independent charity by Royal Charter with a Board of Trustees, receiving no funding from Government or the Crown. Historic Royal Palaces Enterprises Ltd was set up to manage all of the organisation’s trading activities.
Most of the contents of the palaces form part of the Royal Collection and are also owned by The Queen in right of Crown. The Director of the Royal Collection and the Keeper of the Privy Purse from the Royal Household sit as Trustees on the Board of Historic Royal Palaces. The Royal Armouries Collections at the Tower of London are owned by the Royal Armouries, an independent National Museum. The Constable of the Tower of London sits as a Trustee on both the Board of Historic Royal Palaces and on the Board of the Royal Armouries.