Frogmore House, the glamorous venue for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s post-wedding party has attracted Monarchs and lords since the reign of George III and his equally glamorous wife, Queen Charlotte.
Harry and Meghan even chose the enclosed gardens of the house as the place for their official engagement photos. The venue has a history to rival many of the royal houses in the country, and here’s why.
The ‘White House’, as it is commonly referred, has been in royal ownership, on and off, since the 16th century and was leased to crown tenants for hundreds of years. Architect Hugh May, who worked on Windsor Castle under Charles II, designed Frogmore in 1680 for tenants Anne Aldworth and Thomas May, the nephew of the architect. The early years of the house were rather ordinary, until it changed hands once more, back to the Royal Family.
King Charles II hid his mistress, Barbara Palmer, 1st Duchess of Cleveland and their illegitimate son, George FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Northumberland in the house, hidden away from the public gaze behind high walls. Even though Duke George died at the house in 1716, his mother continued to live at Frogmore until 1738. A number of tenants then purchased the house, including politician and son of Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole, but in 1792 it was bought by King George III for his wife Queen Charlotte.
Queen Charlotte and her unmarried daughters used the house as a royal country retreat away from their royal duties; they enjoyed painting, drawing, needlework, reading and gardening at Frogmore – the Queen’s love for all things floral is evident in various rooms throughout the house, including a room decorated in floral paintings by painter Mary Moser. You can view some of the items in the Royal Collection that are in the house here.
Between 1795 and 1804, neo-Gothic architect James Wyatt was employed to extend the house, adding the second floor, flanking pavilions to the north and south of the house and extensions to make room for a new dining room and library.
In 1840, when Princess Augusta Sophia died, Queen Victoria passed the house over to her mother, The Duchess of Kent.
Victoria visited her mother at the house often, including hosting important state occasions there and casting an eye over the alterations that the duchess had made. On a visit to the house Victoria wrote: “All is peace and quiet and you only hear the hum of the bees, the singing of the birds and the occasional crowing and cackling from the Poultry Yard!”
There are watercolours by Princess Victoria and Louise, the great Matriarch’s daughters, in the house, which is also where Earl Mountbatten of Burma was born in 1900.
Throughout the 19th century, Frogmore House became gradually less important for the Royal Family as everything was centralised at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. Princess Alexandra – future Queen – gave birth to her first child, Prince Albert Victor, there in 1864, however, and it was home to Queen Victoria’s third daughter Princess Helena and her husband Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein.
George V and Queen Mary resided at Frogmore on various occasions, and Mary used the house as a museum of royal memorabilia, housing countless royal souvenirs there until her death.
George V allowed his first cousin, Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna of Russia, to live at Frogmore during the February Revolution in Russia.
In recent years, Prince Philip has modified rooms in the house, including the former library which he decorated with parts of the Royal Yacht Britannia after it was decommissioned; it is now known as the Britannia Room. The Royals have posed for numerous family photos in the grounds, especially when Prince Andrew and Prince Edward were young.
In May 2008, the house was the venue for the wedding reception of Peter Phillips and Autumn Kelly.
In the grounds of the house is where Victoria, Albert and her mother are buried; Edward VIII also has his resting place here, along with many royal relatives. The Mausoleum is undergoing renovation work to make it safe for visitors once more.
Frogmore’s garden and lake are largely the creation of Queen Charlotte, stemming from her love of botany. A number of Spanish chestnut trees, laburnums and birches that were planted for Charlotte are still standing in the extensive gardens today, part of the 4,000 trees and shrubs of the picturesque landscape, featuring a series of small buildings and pavilions around a serpentine lake and island.
In the last century, the garden was restored by Queen Mary and enhanced for The Queen’s Silver Jubilee. An 18th-century Gothic ruin, built by Queen Charlotte and used by Queen Victoria as a breakfast and reading room, blooms with wisteria in summer.
Nowadays, the Royal Family only occasionally use Frogmore, mostly for evening receptions and dinners relating to their royal duties. However, for a few days each summer, the house to opens to the public. This year it’s between 5-7 June – you can experience a little of what the royal couple experienced!
The three-day open house will raise money for the National Garden Scheme, the Armed Forces charity SSAFA, and Prisoners’ Education Trust through the sale of tickets. Book here.
We can certainly imagine the french doors open in the warm May weather, and a faint noise of music going on late into the night in a few week’s time…