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Frogmore House and Gardens – Profiling a royal retreat

For many, Frogmore’s associations are chiefly with those of royal burial. The estate, located between Windsor Great Park and Home Park, is indeed the setting for two important royal mausoleums – the Royal Mausoleum of Queen Victoria and Albert, the Prince Consort, together with that of the Queen’s mother, Victoria Duchess of Kent – with the royal burial ground in front of the Royal Mausoleum. However, the estate’s roots reach further back into the previous century, with the building of Frogmore House, whose occupants left their own mark upon the estate. Frogmore House remains a popular choice within the Royal Family today, also having been the place where the future George VI and Queen Elizabeth spent part of their honeymoon.

Its earliest mention as a royal estate dates from the mid-sixteenth century, when it was owned by a series of Crown tenants. The Crown lease was at this time in the possession of one Anne Aldworth and her husband Thomas May, whose uncle Hugh May was the Windsor architect of King Charles II. Much of the essential appearance of the late sixteenth century house can be still seen today, with its fine entrance front and seven-bay structure. The House came to acquire the byname of Great Frogmore at about this time, when it was given to the Duke of Northumberland (1665-1716). It subsequently enjoyed a series of owners including the brother of Horace Walpole, Edward Walpole, before being purchased for Queen Charlotte’s personal use in 1792. However, Queen Charlotte chiefly used the so-called Little Frogmore estate to begin with, which had been formerly used by members of the Aldworth family from around the turn of the 18th century onwards.

This place was later renamed Amelia Lodge – following the birth of the Queen’s fifth daughter Princess Amelia. Amelia Lodge was much loved by Queen Charlotte but, following the purchase of Great Frogmore in 1792, both estates were united, which resulted in the eventual demolition of Amelia Lodge and the focus turning instead to the Great Frogmore estate and House. It was very much the intention of the architect James Wyatt, to turn Frogmore into something of an “English Trianon”, after the French model of Queen Charlotte’s exact contemporary, Marie Antoinette at Versailles.

Queen Charlotte would come to love Frogmore as a place of private retreat and recreation – various accounts exist of her and her daughters engaging in pastimes such as painting, drawing, needlework, reading, music and japanning. Queen Charlotte is perhaps best known for her passion for botany which she had nourished at Kew and was able to put to good use at Frogmore, but following the repeated illnesses of King George III, the gardens at Frogmore came to represent for the Queen a very necessary place of refuge, supplying a natural source of peace which she had greatly come to prize.

However, the gardens also formed the setting for receptions and in particular, for the Frogmore Fete of 1795. Her second daughter Princess Elizabeth, later Landgravine of Hesse-Homburg, was a particularly talented amateur artist, who welcomed the idea of turning the gardens at Frogmore House into areas that contained follies such as were fashionable at the time – including a Gothic ruin and a Temple of Solitude – the latter was removed to accommodate the building that later became the Mausoleum of the Duchess of Kent. There are even references to a garden ballroom, a hermitage and moss huts. The Gothic ruin of Princess Elizabeth, designed with the assistance of James Wyatt, survives today. A delightful vignette survives of a children’s ball being given at Frogmore House in honour of Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prince of Wales in what was probably the so-called Cross Gallery in Frogmore House on the first floor which contained panels of flowers painted by Princess Elizabeth.

Of the interiors within Frogmore House, much remains that commemorates Queen Charlotte, chiefly in the room known as the Green Pavilion which has portraits of many of her immediate family and the so-called Mary Moser Room, named after the artist. It is important to mention however, that much of the contents of Frogmore House were sold after the death of the Queen, after which the house passed into the ownership of her daughter, Princess Augusta. Following the death in turn of Princess Augusta in 1840, the Crown bought the Frogmore estate and it was granted to Queen Victoria’s mother, Victoire Duchess of Kent the following year.

The Duchess of Kent would occupy Frogmore House for just under twenty years. Several of the Duchess’s rooms may be viewed today, including her Sitting Room, which she used for reading and writing, together with her Drawing and Dining Room, the latter being in the space formerly used to accommodate Queen Charlotte’s Library. Following her engagement in November 1860 to Prince Louis of Hesse, Queen Victoria’s second daughter Princess Alice took to visiting her grandmother at Frogmore House, spending most evenings either reading aloud to her or playing the piano to her, as later she would do in turn to her beloved father, Prince Albert. It is pleasant to note that a piano is still in the Duchess’s Sitting Room today, which bears a strong resemblance to the instrument in the watercolours made after the Duchess’s death.

The Duchess of Kent’s health had gradually declined but took a rapid turn for the worst in 1861, when after suffering from an abscess on her arm, she was operated on following a diagnosis with erysipelas. The Duchess finally died on 16 March 1861 in her bedroom at Frogmore House, a room off of the Cross Gallery, which is not open to the public. A special album of watercolours was made to record the appearance of the Duchess’s rooms at the time of her death, showing the red chaise-longue on which she died. Princess Alice was one of the Queen’s children who treasured the memory of her beloved grandmother, writing to the Queen on the third anniversary of the Duchess’s death that she still remembered the moment when her father Prince Albert, led her to the Colonnade after the event.

Designed by the architect James Wyatt, the Colonnade is a beautiful light space and forms something of an open gallery with views onto the sweeping lawn. Today it contains plaster casts of all Queen Victoria’s children, made after the casts to be found at Osborne House by the sculptor Mary Thornycroft. One of the most charming of these shows her youngest daughter and last child, Princess Beatrice as a baby inside a shell.

In this connection, Frogmore House formed the setting for at least several royal births in the time that it was a royal residence. The future Queen Alexandra gave birth to Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence there in 1864. The House was also used between the years 1866-1872 by Princess Helena and her husband, Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, before they moved to Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park. Their daughter Princess Helena Victoria was born at Frogmore House in 1870, as was Prince and Princess Louis of Battenberg’s son, the future Lord Mountbatten in 1900.

In later years, Queen Mary came to use Frogmore House as a space in which to store the Family Museum, a collection of objects relating to the Royal Family within several rooms. Two rooms at Frogmore House are directly associated with the Queen – the so-called Flower Room and the Black Museum. Queen Mary also initiated a programme for redesigning the Frogmore gardens following the end of the First World War.

The grounds so beloved of Queen Charlotte and Princess Elizabeth came to be filled with memorials to Queen Victoria’s family. These include a sundial commemorating the accession to the Belgian throne of the Queen’s uncle, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and smaller memorials such as a fountain to the Queen’s ghillie, John Brown and an Indian Kiosk. Other memorials include a cross in memory of Baron Stockmar and a Swiss Seat, which was recently restored and bears the initials “E.R”. Also at Frogmore is the grave of the Duchess of Kent’s beloved dog Sambkin, marked by a simple stone.

One of the most charming of the garden features is that of Queen Victoria’s brick Tea House, which was built in around 1870. Queen Victoria would often work in the gardens, breakfasting or reading in Princess Elizabeth’s Gothic Ruins and writing in tents erected under the trees. Following his engagement in 1894 to Princess Alice’s daughter, Princess Alix of Hesse, the future Tsar Nicholas II of Russia came on a blissful summer visit to the Queen at Windsor. His diary records morning drives in a char-a-banc after breakfast to Frogmore for coffee with the Queen, or of walking by the lake with Princess Alix and attending service in the Royal Mausoleum. He also commented on the rhododendrons, which happily are in full May bloom every year when the gardens are open for three charity days.

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