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Cliveden: Meghan Markle’s bridal retreat and its royal past

From the roof, you can see Windsor Castle, but that’s not nearly the most regal thing about Cliveden in Buckinghamshire where Meghan Markle will spend the night before her marriage to Prince Harry. This palatial house, owned by the National Trust and leased as a hotel, has entertained many royals over the years and was once even home to a regal rebel. As Cliveden gets ready to add more majesty to its history, here’s a look at its very royal links.

Three Houses Fit for Royalty

Cliveden, as we know it today, is actually its third incarnation but the house can trace its royal links right back to its first version. The first home was built in 1666 to the orders of George, Duke of Buckingham who had fought for King Charles I in the Civil War and been a favourite of King Charles II after the Restoration. It gets more royal, stand by.

After his death, Buckingham’s Cliveden was eventually sold to George, Lord Orkney. By the time he got his hands on the place, he had fought for William III and married a woman reputed to be one of the king’s former mistresses. George and his wife, Elizabeth, would welcome the first Hanoverian king, George I, to Cliveden to dinner on more than one occasion with his son and successor, George II, also enjoying their hospitality. That was just for starters, though. Cliveden was soon to become a royal residence.

The Grumpy Prince

By the late 1730s, the relationship between George II and his eldest son, Frederick, Prince of Wales, was so bad that the two were in open PR warfare with one another on a daily basis. Frederick was so annoyed with his father that he sought a home away from London and leased Cliveden from Anne, Countess of Orkney who had inherited it from her well-connected father on his death in 1737.

Frederick rather liked Cliveden and made it, for a time, the centre of his own court as well as the hub of his family life. Frederick hosted all kinds of entertainments at Cliveden including one famous masque in which he was portrayed as the successor of Alfred the Great in yet another public swipe at his father’s power. That spectacle, performed in 1740 in the amphitheatre at Cliveden, included the first performance of Rule, Britannia! by Thomas Arne. It didn’t do Frederick that much good – he died in 1751, and his father outlived him by almost a decade.

Comfort of a Queen

But Cliveden’s royal links were about to come under threat. In 1795, the house burned to the ground, and it wasn’t rebuilt until 1824. This new house was sold, in 1849, to George, Duke of Sutherland whose wife, Harriet, served as Mistress of the Robes to Queen Victoria, becoming one of her confidantes.

George and Harriet’s new country home was hit by fire soon after their arrival, and the new owners immediately commissioned Charles Barry to design an Italianate mansion for them which was completed in 1851. In the following years, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited many times, and on the death of her beloved husband, the mourning monarch even donated a statue of him to Cliveden.

The now widowed Victoria would go on spending time at the estate, and she even borrowed the house for a summer holiday in 1866 as she adjusted to life without Albert.

Her son and successor, King Edward VII, would also visit Cliveden which by then was owned by the wealthy Astor family. His hosts were Waldorf and Nancy Astor who had been given Cliveden as a wedding present in 1906 by the groom’s father, William Waldorf Astor.

War Comes to Cliveden

The days of decadence, so associated with the Edwardian era, were about to come to an end. During World War One, Cliveden became a Canadian Red Cross Hospital, named in honour of the Duchess of Connaught. In 1915, King George V visited the facility which ended up treating up to 600 patients at any one time.

When World War Two began, that same hospital was again opened up and again received a royal visitor when the Queen, then still Princess Elizabeth, spent time there to see its work first hand.

The Queen’s Links to Cliveden

It wasn’t her first encounter with the famous house. She had visited in 1938 with her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and her sister, Princess Margaret when the family were invited to the house. And like many a monarch before her, the Queen has been to dinner at Cliveden. In 1957, she was guest of honour at a ball hosted by the Astors at their famous family home.

Now, Cliveden takes its place in the big royal story of 2018 with Meghan Markle set to arrive at its palatial doors on May 18th with her mother, Doria Ragland. It’s here that they will get ready for the Royal Wedding and it’s here that the millions watching around the world will get their first glimpse of Meghan as a bride. She will leave Cliveden as Ms Markle and return one day as Her Royal Highness. A new chapter for an age-old relationship between one house and the Monarchy.

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.