Who hasn’t wished to be noble every now and then? Historically, Europe has always been known for its gorgeous castles and the noble monarchs who lived there, but nowadays, it’s possible to join their ranks. How? The answer is simpler than it would seem: by buying one of Europe’s many palaces and restoring the castle to its former glory.
FAME IN A NAME
Buying a noble title became fashionable in Russia in the mid-1990s. Back in those days, sellers were easy to find –especially in England, where special auctions were held selling nobility titles. In fact, the Manorial Society in Britain holds auctions such as these four times a year. Every bang of the hammer represents another claimed title from extinct dynasties or famous names for which current owners have no use – in the latter case, the titles are usually sold by impoverished families looking to make a profit. Other titles are sold by dukes or counts who have, over the years and through familial assets, accumulated a collection of superfluous nobility titles, such as “Baron” and “Viscount”. Families such as these usually keep the most honorable titles for themselves and auction off the more common ones.
Up to a hundred noble titles are sold at these special auctions every year. The most common titles sold are “Baron” and “Lord”, with prices ranging anywhere from five to ten thousand pounds. Every once in a while, however, a very honorable and historical title will pop up, such as the title of “Lord Berkshire”, which was sold last summer. The title of “Lord Berkshire” was established by King William the Conqueror in the 11th century and first belonged to the Norman knight, Henry de Ferrier, who later went on to found the noble Ferrers family in England. Ferrier’s son was also named the Earl of Derby after him, setting the stage for a long line of noble descendants, modern examples of which include William Churchill and Princess Diana.
Now, the title of “Lord Berkshire” can be bought for 8,250 pounds. The title was passed on to the River Thames Society after the death of Lady Margaret Dickinson, the last living member of the Berkshire Dynasty. At the time of the sale, it was made clear that the family’s land and home, the Abbey Bishem – a gift from Henry the Eighth to his then-wife, Anne of Cleves – were not included in the sale. The money raised was spent repairing the shoreline of the Thames River.
NO ORDINARY REAL ESTATE PURCHASE
Selling a nobility title without the land that traditionally goes with it, and vice versa, was only made possible after several new laws were adopted in England. These laws were first published from 1920-1925 as part of the legislation modernizing English property rights, and the practice was further secured and extended to Scotland with new legislation in 2000.
But in most cases, titles are still sold with property or with a castle. People can receive a barony just by buying a hectare of land, or long-forgotten, historic ruins.
Somewhat surprisingly, British castles with accompanying titles appear on the market regularly. A few years ago, a baronial castle from the 16th century, located on the Scottish coast, was put up for sale. The building itself was in good condition as well, which meant that the new owners wouldn’t need to spent large amounts of money to restoring the castle. Vitaly Yakushkin, the Director of the CENTURY 21 Elvert Collection real estate company, believes that restoration expenses should be the last thing potential buyers worry about. In many cases, local authorities are prepared to give away medieval buildings for very low prices, in exchange for a promise to restore and maintain the buildings in good condition.
Another option to excite potential buyers is to offer tax exemptions and special lending conditions with the properties in question – if a buyer fulfills all these obligations, he or she is granted automatic citizenship from the country in question, yet another added bonus.
Mikhail de Bouar, the Russian businessman, did something very similar. In 1996, he bought the ruins of the Skelbo castle and the land around it, receiving the title of “Baron Skelbo” in the process. The Skelbo castle itself was built in the 14th century by King Robert the Bruce of Scotland, the famous king from “Braveheart”. According to local gossipt, Bouar spent anywhere from 75 thousand pounds to 91 million Euros on the property, but Vitaly Yakushin, who worked with de Bouar, assured the WEj that the price was much more reasonable. When buying the property, Bouar had to promise to fulfill certain requirements, the most important of which was restoring the castle, a historical monument in Scotland. The Russian businessman, unfortunately, died before he could fulfill his promise, and 14 years after the castle was sold, the Scottish authorities decided to repair the castle at the public’s expense. Their latest plan is to retrieve the money they spent (about $80 million) from the next “Baron of Skelbo”, but who that will be is still unknown.
Vitaly Yakushin is convinced that, in the UK, buying a castle with a title is not as simple as it seems. According to him, the purchase would also require the patronage of the aristocracy. De Bouar, for example, was assisted by Lord Vaddon, who moves in diplomatic circles and has conections in Russia. Another Russian businessman, Timur Kulibayev (Nursultan Nazarbayev’s son-in-law) was also given help when he bought the Sanighill castle in Berkshire, which belonged to the British royal family and caused a scandal in England. The mediator in question was Goga Ashkenazi, a personal friend of Prince Andrew. Even with a recommendation, Yakusin warns that the procedure for taking full ownership of the property and title will take lots of time and money.
The process in France is significantly more different. Accordig to Alla Apalko, the Director of the Russian representative office of Agence Internationale Mercure (one of the oldest French real estate firms), these types of practices are practically nonexistent. You can buy as many castles as you’d like, but those buyers would not receive any titles with their properties.
ON SALE NOW
But land and nobility titles are not the only goods for sale these days – buyers can also purchase a ghost. In May of 2012, the castle of Blenkinsop was put up for sale, where it is said that a ghost lives. The ghost, supposedly, is the wife of the castle’s former owner, otherwise known as the White Lady; her sole purpose is to guard the treasure chest that her husband hid in the walls of the castle. The castle is estimated at 2,150 million Euros, a steep price that is more likely influenced by the 70-house village that is attached to the property, rather than the White Lady herself.
Natalia Makovik, the Director of "MAK Consulting» (vipzamok.ru), specializes in the sale of historic properties. Here is what she had to say to the WEj:
"The Liechtenstein Principality has been in litigation with the Czech Republic for many years, discussing the possessions of the property that Czechoslovakia confiscated from them back in 1945, on the supposed authority of the Benes Decrees. After the end of the Second World War, several dozen castles, palaces, and fortresses were taken away from the Liechtenstein princes, which will never be returned. If the Czech Republic were to set such a precedent, it would become a dwarf state, in which too much of the land would belong to nobles. Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein was very grateful where a portion of these castles were returned to him, even if the process was just a formality. Today, our company is selling one of these properties, a beautiful deserted castle in the Renaissance style that Liechtenstein owned up until 1945. It cost almost 1 million Euros, and the reconstruction will cost another 2-5 million. The gift registration procedure will take about a year to complete, and the nomination for the nobility title, most likely a barony from the prince himself, will take another year. But the money and time spent for this project are well worth it. Unlike the Anglo-Scottish proposals, which are often dubious in nature, this title will be meaningful and perfect in every way.”
Text: Nadezhda Gordeeva