Last year's movie sensation, "The Queen," about Queen Elizabeth II, captured the monarch's lavish lifestyle with footage of her opulent castles and many servants. Not a bad life, but she comes in a mere 11th on our ranking of the world's richest royalty, worth an estimated $600 million. She can take some comfort in the fact that she's the world's wealthiest female ruler and just one of two women to make our list.
In the top spot is the Sultan of Brunei, worth $22 billion, 36 times more than the Queen of England. The Sultan who inherited the riches of an unbroken 600-year-old Muslim dynasty recently celebrated his 40th anniversary as ruler of the oil-rich land. The only other Asian monarch to make the cut is the world's longest-reigning living monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the deity-revered king of Thailand, who we estimate is worth $5 billion.
More than a third of the rulers, six to be precise, preside over oil-rich territories in the Middle East including the Emir of Qatar who funded Al Jazeera, the King of Saudi Arabia who is building a $26 billion city named in his honor and the ruler of Dubai, whose government bought stakes in HSBC and Deutsche Bank this year. The region's richest is Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, ranked No. 2 overall, who rules over the tiny emirate of Abu Dhabi, home to one-tenth of the world's oil reserves.
We estimate his net worth to be $21 billion. He is promoting the territory as the cultural hub of the Middle East and plans to open a Frank Gehry-designed branch of the Guggenheim Museum in 2011. Seventy-eight-year-old Sheikh Sabah Al Sabah took over as emir of Kuwait last year after the crown prince was deemed too ill to ascend the throne; he wasted no time in voting for a significant raise in the royal family stipend.
The list's youngest member and the only one from sub-Saharan Africa is 39-year-old King Mswati III of Swaziland, with a net worth of $200 million. Almost every year, he chooses a new bride from among 20,000 naked bare-breasted virgins; so far, he has 13 wives and is building a palace for each. The list's only bachelor is Prince Albert II of Monaco. Best known as a playboy who fathered two children out of wedlock, he inherited the tiny principality that is just about the size of New York City's Central Park in 2005, after his father died.
Prince Albert's title, and much of his fortune, has been in his family for 700 years. But that's not unusual for these dynasties. Prince Hans-Adam II von und zu Liechtenstein, for instance, resides over a $4.5 billion fortune that stretches back 900 years and encompasses a 400-year-old art collection with 1,600 paintings, including 33 Rubens, the largest such collection in private hands.
The collective worth of the list's 15 rulers is $95 billion, about the size of the gross domestic product of Chile or New Zealand. The only ruler who doesn't preside over a geographic territory is the Aga Kahn. Rather, he is the spiritual leader of the world's dispersed 15 million Ismaili Muslims. A suave businessman, he's been in the press recently because he is divorcing his second wife; his first ex-wife reportedly received a $20 million payout.
Keep in mind that the wealth of the royals is often shared with extended families and often represents money that is controlled by them in trust for their nation or territory. Therefore none of them would qualify for our list of the world's billionaires, regardless of their net worth.
Another note: While we have tracked the fortunes of a few high-profile royals like the Queen of England and Sultan of Brunei for years, this is the first time we scoured the globe in search of a truly definitive list. Monarchs of such countries as Spain and Japan failed to make the cut.