The estate of Frogmore in Windsor Great Park provides the setting for Frogmore House, which has been used as a royal retreat since the time of Queen Charlotte and continues to be enjoyed as such by the present Royal Family. The house did however become the last home of Victoire, Duchess of Kent, the mother of Queen Victoria, for some twenty years. Following the death of George III’s daughter Princess Augusta, the Crown acquired the House and the Duchess lived there until her death in 1861.
The Duchess of Kent’s rooms may be visited today when the Royal Collection opens Frogmore House for certain charity days in May and August; her Sitting Room, Drawing Room and Dining Room are open to the public, one of the Closets also contains two watercolours painted by the Duchess before her marriage to the Duke of Kent. The Duchess’s Bedroom was in a room off of the upper Gallery, which is not open to the public. The room is commemorated in a series of watercolours which was made for an album after the Duchess died, where the House’s appearance was faithfully recorded for posterity. The Duchess died in the presence of Queen Victoria on a red chaise-longue in this room on 16 March 1861.
The Duchess of Kent was initially interred in St. George’s Chapel in the entrance to the Royal Vault; a gilt plaque in the altar area commemorates this fact. This was because the Mausoleum in which her remains were to rest was not yet completed. This would be the first of the burials which would take place at Frogmore, as The Royal Mausoleum which would house the remains of Prince Albert and in time those of Queen Victoria was not yet built, work only beginning on it in 1862. The Royal Burial Ground in front of the Mausoleum, which would come to form the final resting places of so many members of the British Royal Family, was not consecrated until 1928. The Duchess’s remains were transferred from St. George’s Chapel to her completed Mausoleum at Frogmore in August 1861.
The Duchess of Kent had originally wanted to be buried in the Mausoleum at Coburg, which had been built for her brother Ernest I of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. It is likely that inspiration may have been taken within the family for the idea of a mausoleum from that at Castle Howard and also from the one built at Claremont for Princess Charlotte, first wife of Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and daughter of the Prince Regent. The Duchess later abandoned the wish to be buried at Coburg, persuaded by the fact that it was perhaps more suitable to choose a burial place in England instead.
The location chosen was a spot above the lake at Frogmore. Consisting of an upper and lower chamber, the upper half had originally been designed as a summer house, but as the Duchess died before this could be completed, the project was entirely converted into that of a mausoleum for her. Outside the gates are classical statues of two children which are casts taken from the originals which were a gift to Queen Victoria. The upper chamber contains a life-size statue of the Duchess. A watercolour was made in the 1880’s showing the statue. It is an image of great interest, because it also shows us the decoration of the upper chamber interior and ceiling with a design of blue stars on its vault. This is reminiscent of the ceiling of the room at Windsor Castle where Prince Albert would die in December 1861; after his death, Gruner had the ceiling of this room decorated with stars. Her sarcophagus was made of granite and is located in the lower of the two chambers. The Duchess’s mausoleum was built by the architect A. J Humbert to the designs of Prince Albert’s artistic adviser Professor Ludwig Gruner and in fact, both Humbert and Gruner would also be closely involved with the design of the Royal Mausoleum. The lower chamber has been so built as to give an almost antique impression, with the upper chamber then forming something of a classical temple above these artistic ruins.
The building has never been open to the public. In Queen Victoria’s lifetime, wreaths were placed there. On the Duchess’ birthday of 17 August 1861, the Queen and Prince Albert together with their children brought wreaths, myrtle and immortelles to lay there in her memory. A Latin inscription surrounds the pediment frieze of the roof, with words commemorating the Duchess as a much-loved mother and stating that the temple had been built specifically to house her remains. The Duchess’s mausoleum bears the date ‘MDCCCLXI’.
The Duchess of Kent appears to be largely today, something of a forgotten figure and if she is remembered at all, it is more for her powerful role in the early period of her daughter’s life at Kensington Palace up until the moment that Princess Victoria became Queen on the death of her uncle, King William IV. The troubled relationship between mother and daughter did gradually improve to the point of a genuine closeness and more specifically as the Queen’s family grew and the Duchess took on the role of grandmother. After the Duchess’s death, it is likely that the Queen’s grief may have been mixed with complex feelings of remorse at their earlier relationship. Indeed, it is possible that the Duchess’s mausoleum is a true symbol of the feelings that the Queen felt for her mother at the end of her life; embellished with the Queen’s own words; this building is far more than just a mausoleum, it could ultimately be seen as an expression of love.
Photo credits: Elizabeth Jane Timms, Copyright of the author 2016.
For more about the history of Frogmore House and Grounds, click here to view the post “Frogmore House and Gardens – Profiling a Royal Retreat“, published 18 July 2015.