So the happy Royal couple, our new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, have taken just the long weekend for their honeymoon leaving an interesting question as to whether they are breaking with the tradition of spending their first days of marriage in an British country house? With the twin demands of luxury and privacy, the country houses of the UK have often proved particularly attractive, though Royal palaces even more so.
In an earlier age, the Royal family would often simply use one of their own palaces as a convenient venue. Already secure and well-established for the great demands of catering and supporting a King or Queen, they had a natural advantage. One often used has been Hampton Court Palace, in Surrey, one of the finest Royal residences ever built and a worthy equal to the splendour of Versailles. Construction started in 1514 by Thomas Wolsey, an Archbishop of York, who built a palace which rivalled any that King Henry VIII then possessed. With over a 1,000 rooms and accommodation for 280 guests, Wolsey wisely answered, when asked by the King in 1526 why he had built such a magnificent house, “To show how noble a palace a subject may offer to his sovereign.”
Having now taken ownership, Henry then embarked on his own ambitious programme, adding a third courtyard and stamping his mark on all aspects of the palace. It was in this sprawling residence which he enjoyed at least two of his honeymoons; with Jane Seymour, his third wife, in 1537, and with Kathryn Howard, his sixth, who he married at Hampton Court in 1543. Due to his unhappiness with the looks of his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, and the very short marriage (Jan-July 1540), it seems unlikely that he would have made any significant arrangements and so possibly used Hampton Court as his most convenient palace near London.
Henry VIII’s daughter, Mary I, also spent her honeymoon with Philip I at Hampton Court in 1544. It was used again by King James I on his marriage to Henrietta Maria in 1625 and then by Charles II and Katherine of Braganza in 1662.
Henry VIII obviously had several opportunities to honeymoon, though his first was more a working tour as, following his marriage to Catherine of Aragon in 1501, he was sent to Ludlow Castle to preside over the Council of Wales and the Marches. His second, with Anne Boleyn in 1533, was at Shurland Hall, Isle of Sheppey in Kent, which has recently become the 70th building to be rescued by The Spitalfields Trust (and which is currently for sale). His honeymoon with Catherine Howard, his fifth wife, in 1540, was spent at Rycote Park, in Oxfordshire. It’s not entirely clear who originally built this Tudor mansion but it certainly of a status to attract the Royal couple. The house suffered a devastating fire in 1745, but was rebuilt before being emptied in a contents sale in 1779, and then sold for materials in 1807.
The tradition of the Royal family using their own houses has largely continued, though in more recent times they have also used suitable private houses as the retinues required have shrunk making it unnecessary to require a palace.
Queen Victoria and HRH Prince Albert enjoyed only a mini-honeymoon of three days in 1840, which was spent at Windsor Castle. The Queen, unwilling to ignore her duties and responsibilities as monarch which require frequent contact with her ministers, wished to stay close to London – even if her husband might have preferred a quieter break further away. They did take a belated honeymoon in 1842 to Scotland where they stayed at the impressive Taymouth Castle, seat of the Marquesses of Breadalbane, owners of one of the largest estates covering 450,000-acres, which took over 40 years to build and had only recently been completed but to standard above almost any other seat in Scotland. Designed by James Gillespie Graham, it was a convalescence home in WWII and a school but is currently unused whilst negotiations continue about turning it into a ‘seven star’ hotel.
In the early part of the 20th-century, King George VI and his new bride, later the Queen Mother, stayed in 1923 with the remarkable society hostess, Mrs Ronald Greville, at her country retreat Polesden Lacey in Surrey (now National Trust). An accomplished hostess, Mrs Greville and her staff were well used to catering for the cream of society. Once home to Richard Brinsley Sheridan, after his death it was largely demolished and rebuilt by Thomas Cubitt in 1821 as, essentially, a neo-classical seaside villa. After being bought by the Grevilles in 1906, she employed Mewes and Davis, architects of the Ritz, to remodel the interior. The new opulence was matched by with an equal measure of intimacy, with rooms flowing between each other and the outside to create a fluid social space lined with portraits by Lely, Raeburn and Reynolds and cabinets full of Meissen china – a perfect venue for a Royal honeymoon. Continuing the tradition started by Queen Victoria, they also spent time in Scotland at Glamis Castle, ancestral home of the Earls of Strathmore, and that of the future Queen Mother.
On her marriage in 1947, our current monarch, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, continued this practice and stayed at Broadlands in Hampshire, one of the best mid-sized Georgian houses, which largely appears to day as it was when it was finished in 1766. Elizabeth II also stayed at the family’s Scottish estates at Balmoral Castle and Birkhall, which were also destinations for the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1981 along with Birkhall which also used by Prince Edward and Sophie Wessex in 1999 and by the Prince of Wales and Camilla in 2005.
Alternatively, if they do wish to go abroad, they have the examples of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor who, in 1937, who spent three months at Castle Wasserloenburg in Austria, or Princess Anne who, in 1973, chose to spend her honeymoon cruising in the West Indies. So, seeking peace and security, perhaps we’ll see the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge take a short break in a smaller country house before spending time in Scotland – or perhaps jetting off, but either way is in keeping with a long history of Royal honeymoons.
For sale: ‘Shurland Hall, Kent‘ [Jackson-Stops & Staff]
Thanks to Andrew for his help.