Why has King Charles’ name surfaced in the dispute between Disney and Gov. Ron DeSantis?
By Jeff Weiner
As the news broke that Walt Disney Co. had quietly stripped power from the board that oversees Disney World’s government services ahead of its takeover by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ replacements, a reference to British royalty caught the internet’s attention, becoming instant fodder for memes.
A “declaration of restrictive covenants” approved by the board’s former members on Feb. 8 — a day before the Florida House voted to hand control of the district to DeSantis — prohibits the district from using Disney’s name, Mickey Mouse and other characters without the corporation’s approval.
But it was the term of that ban that raised eyebrows.
“[T]his Declaration shall continue in effect until twenty one (21) years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, King of England living as of the date of this Declaration,” the document said.
[ Read more: DeSantis’ Reedy Creek board says Disney stripped its power ]
The mention of the king in a list of covenants dealing with Cinderella’s castle, rather than Buckingham Palace, struck many as odd, if not hilarious.
Some speculated the inclusion was a dig at DeSantis, who has said his goal in removing Disney’s control of the former Reedy Creek Improvement District was “ending the Corporate Kingdom.”
However, there’s a more straightforward explanation, rooted in longstanding legal traditions and a common law concept known as the “rule against perpetuities.”
As explained by Cornell Law School, the rule holds that “no interest in land is good unless it must vest, if at all, not later than twenty-one years after some life in being at the creation of the interest.”
In other words, covenants must be tied to the lifespan of a person living at the time the covenant is signed, plus 21 years.
This rule gave rise to what’s known as the “Royal lives clause” — this is where King Charles III gets dragged into the Disney vs. DeSantis dispute — which is meant to extend a covenant as long as possible by tying it to the lineage of a member of a royal family.
According to the U.K. law firm Birketts, royals came to be used in such clauses because, given their wealth, they tended to live longer than most and their family trees were relatively easy to map.
And the current royal family bears that out: King Charles III’s mother, Queen Elizabeth II, was Britain’s longest-serving monarch, dying last September at the ripe age of 96. His father, Prince Philip, died in 2021 just two months before his 100th birthday. And his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth — also known as the Queen Mother — lived to see 101 years.
The clause addresses King Charles III’s living descendants at the time of the agreement, which not only includes his sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, but their children: Prince George, 9; Princess Charlotte, 7; Prince Louis, 4; Prince Archie, 3; and Princess Lilibet, 1.
The hashtag #longlivelilibet is one of the trending topics.
But not everyone uses the British monarchy. In fact, many in the U.S. over the years have tied covenants to American political dynasties, like the Kennedys.
As the memes died down late Wednesday, the internet began to catch on. By Thursday morning, “Rule Against Perpetuities” was trending on Twitter.
Meanwhile, the new board members for the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, as the former Reedy Creek district is now known, are gearing up for a legal fight to challenge the covenants enacted by their predecessors.
Said Chairman Martin Garcia: “What it looks like to me [is that] because Disney has the Magic Kingdom, they thought they could be king for a day.”
READ MORE ABOUT DISNEY VS. DESANTIS
Kristyn Wellesley of the Sentinel staff contributed.