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Queen Victoria and Cliveden

Praised by Alexander Pope in his Moral Essays as possessing a ‘proud alcove’ in which one might happily be ‘galant and gay’, the great house of Cliveden, Taplow, where Meghan Markle spent the night before her wedding to Prince Harry, was visited by Queen Victoria in 1866, who stayed as guest of the Duchess of Sutherland from 26 May to 5 June. It was not the first time she had visited Cliveden, however. The Buckinghamshire mansion, which the diarist John Evelyn described as that “stupendous natural Rock, Wood & Prospect of the Duke of Buckinghams”, he also compared to being like Frascati, the villa of Aldobrandini which had sweeping views as far as Rome, just as the vista from the roof of the present Cliveden stretches as far as Windsor Castle.

Queen Victoria had visited Cliveden, the site of the splendid mansion which had been leased to her paternal great-grandfather, Frederick, Prince of Wales in 1738 by Anne, 2nd Countess of Orkney. It was where the composer Thomas Arne’s legendary patriotic aria Rule Britannia was performed for the prince in the amphitheatre in the grounds by the Covent Garden Company, the day after the third birthday of his daughter, Princess Augusta, in 1740. It was given as part of his commission, ‘Alfred, A Masque’. The mansion was sold to the Sutherland family on the death of Sir George Warrender, who had purchased the estate from the 4th Countess of Orkney.

On Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne in 1837, the Duchess of Sutherland – of whom the Queen was extremely fond – was made the Queen’s Mistress of the Robes; notably, the Duchess accompanied Queen Victoria and the Queen’s mother, the Duchess of Kent in the carriage on the Queen’s wedding day, as the royal procession drove to St James’s Palace on 10 February 1840 from Buckingham Palace. Ten years later, the Queen wrote: “I must ever love the Duchess of Sutherland for her very great and sincere admiration of the Prince [Albert]”. A mark of gratitude came in the form of a statue, which the Queen gave to the Duchess of Sutherland. The present house dates from 1851, rebuilt by the Duchess’s husband, the 2nd Duke of Sutherland following a fire, to the designs of the architect Charles Barry, the second occasion in its history that the house of Cliveden had burned down.

There are early fleeting references to Cliveden throughout the Queen’s journal before Albert’s death, with descriptions of driving out there to visit the Duchess of whom she was so fond. The Duchess of Sutherland drove over to Windsor Castle from Cliveden less than two months before the Prince Consort’s death, in 1861. By far the most extended visit that the Queen made to the Duchess lasted some nine days in 1866, as part of which the Queen was given the Duchess of Sutherland’s rooms, whilst the Library at Cliveden became her drawing room for the duration of her stay. The luxury hotel which now occupies Cliveden House featured the Sutherland Suite as an illustration in one of its former brochures, showing the original bed and dressing table which had both belonged to the Duchess of Sutherland during the time she lived at Cliveden, from 1849-1868. The Spring Cottage, now available as private family accommodation, was a place where the Queen apparently took tea with the Duchess. Its pleasant situation being a most peaceful one, the lush waters of the Thames lapping at its edge, as they do still today.

Unsurprisingly, the Queen picked up her paintbrush during this extended stay at Cliveden; we might expect her to do this in a residence in which she has stayed, capturing a view from a window or a favoured spot, such as she did at White Lodge, Richmond when she stayed there. Fittingly, the watercolour made by Queen Victoria was completed in June 1866 and shows the view from one of the windows of the rooms assigned to her at Cliveden, awash with lush greenery. The Queen’s journals recall taking tea in the shade, reading, sketching or driving in the surrounding area accompanied by her third daughter, Princess Helena, whose wedding to Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein would take place the following month, in the Private Chapel at Windsor Castle. References continue of Cliveden in the late 1860s and early 1870s. Perhaps touchingly, the Queen even briefly mentions passing it, without stopping, in 1881.

Cliveden was also the chosen place where Princess Helena’s daughter, Princess Marie-Louise of Schleswig-Holstein, spent her honeymoon with her bridegroom, Prince Aribert of Anhalt, following their wedding at St George’s Chapel on 6 July 1891.

Another link, therefore, of Cliveden’s royal connection to Queen Victoria’s family and a further connection with an earlier royal wedding at St George’s Chapel.

©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2018
About author

Elizabeth Jane Timms is a royal historian and writer, specializing in Queen Victoria's family, Russian royalty and the Habsburgs. An independent scholar of royal studies, she has studied historic British and European royalty for nearly twenty years, speaking on the subject for both TV and BBC radio.