Ok, so this is going to be one of those speculative posts where I *could* just wait a few days or weeks for the actual answer, but instead I’m going to write a few hundred words wondering, in this case, what’s going to happen to the traditional royal residences in the reign of Charles III. A few years back I wrote a post on whether or not Charles would take over Buckingham Palace from Queen Elizabeth based on the fact that there were a few news stories out at the time that reported he was considering keeping Clarence House as his home and converting Buckingham Palace only into office space and, of course, using the State Rooms for official functions. Unfortunately I can’t find it anywhere, and the issue seems to have evolved since.
So, let’s get into it, starting with what everyone’s current arrangements are.
Charles has a number of residences, three of which are in the highest rotation. Clarence House has served as Charles’s London base and he has lived there with his wife, Queen Camilla, since 2005. Their country residence, where they spend weekends when they’re not traveling for work or otherwise engaged, is called Highgrove House in Gloucestershire. Finally, there is Birkhall, Charles’s Scottish residence, close to Balmoral, and which he inherited from his grandmother, the Queen Mother, after her death in 2002.
Now, of course, Charles is in possession of the monarch’s traditional residences – Buckingham Palace in London, Windsor Castle in Berkshire, Sandringham House in Norfolk, and Balmoral Castle in Aberdeen.
With hindsight, my sense is that the idea of keeping Clarence House as his primary home was an idea message tested via media a few years back. In the interim, it’s been unofficially acknowledged that Charles will in fact take up residence at Buckingham Palace with Camilla and use that as his main London residence.
As for the other three, it’s a little bit more of a question mark only because Charles famously wants to evolve the Royal Family into a narrower, more efficient institution.
The last few years, between The Duke of Edinburgh’s retirement, the pandemic, and then Queen Elizabeth’s mobility issues, have been an anomaly. Traditionally, Queen Elizabeth used Buckingham as her primary base, spent weekends and the Easter holiday at Windsor, Christmas (from December through early February) at Sandringham, and summers (July through October) at Balmoral. That schedule evolved here and there over the course of the Queen’s reign, but it bears similarity to the annual movements of her father, George VI, and her grandfather, George V.
The last monarch to really shake things up(!) was Edward VII, who ironically enough succeeded the then-longest reigning monarch, Queen Victoria, in 1901. It was Edward who in fact brought Sandringham into the monarch’s portfolio because he had lived there for 40 years as Prince of Wales with his wife, Queen Alexandra, and it’s where they raised their five children. In the 1890s, when Edward’s son, the future George V, married the future Queen Mary, they were given a home on the estate grounds known as York Cottage, almost universally described as dark, cramped, and ugly. The families were already in the habit of congregating there for holidays and the tradition continued even after Edward became king.
After Edward’s death in 1910, George continued using Sandringham, though it became logistically trickier because he allowed his mother, Queen Alexandra, to retain the “Big House” until her death in 1925, by which point George’s children had already begun to marry. And the “Big House,” understandably, was never meant to house an extended family, as it does during the holidays now – it was meant to be a single family home, albeit on a very lavish, Victorian scale.
As for Balmoral, Edward inherited it alongside Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Both residences had been purchased, designed, and renovated by Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, in the 1840s and 1850s in the hopes of respite from London, away from court (still a presence at Windsor), and with room for their growing family (they had nine children). Edward released Osborne House after his mother’s death, opening it up to the public. Balmoral he kept, using it as a Scottish base and continuing its legacy as a private family residence.
As such, Sandringham and Balmoral are slightly different entities than Buckingham Palace and Windsor – inherited privately, as opposed to publicly.
So, the question remains, how will Charles use them? We know he means to make Buckingham Palace his home, but will he – like Queen Elizabeth – spend as much time at Windsor? It was unofficially signaled in the press earlier this year when it was confirmed William and Kate were moving to Adelaide Cottage that, upon becoming Prince and Princess of Wales, they may take over apartments in Windsor Castle. We don’t know if that’s true. We also don’t know if they would take over the primary royal apartments, or if those would remain open for Charles’s use while the…Waleses (still so weird)…took a smaller suite.
If that’s their intention, then it makes a little more sense that they were willing to take on Adelaide Cottage, a four-bedroom home that doesn’t leave any room for live-in staff or guests. While I do think the coziness and domesticity suits William and Kate personally, it isn’t necessarily practical long-term. It also makes sense that their move was essentially just personal effects – they haven’t done much decorating or adjustments to the house beyond a new coat of paint. Further signs that this house was never going to be theirs for more than a few years. As we now know, another potential move may be much more immediate than planned.
But, like I said, we don’t know. They may want to stay put for a while. They may decide it’s better for the kids to take a beat as they acclimate to the other rather seismic changes going on. The idea that they would move to Windsor Castle at all may just be misinformation. Time will tell.
As for Balmoral and Sandringham, my guess is that Charles will keep them in rotation as they are. If he decides to make changes to the annual pace or how these homes are used, I don’t think it will be immediate. We know that Charles genuinely loves Scotland and he’s made it a point to follow his mother’s tradition of summering there as Prince of Wales. I don’t know that he loves Sandringham, but he has taken over the running of the estate from his father – even before his death – and so if that wasn’t his plan, I think that transition would have gone differently.
But I’d like to return quickly to the Waleses’ move to Adelaide Cottage, because this was something I was going to touch in on a post before Thursday’s events. The online conversation around both the Waleses and the Sussexes is pretty toxic, and this Berkshire move has led to a lot of finger pointing about William and Kate now having three homes between Adelaide Cottage, Kensington Palace, and Anmer Hall. And I will agree that it’s optically unfortunate that Kensington Palace didn’t end up working out for them as a base. I think some lessons were learned along the way when it came to the hypothetical of raising children there versus the reality – particularly as they got older. And while, yes, William and Harry were raised at KP, it was also an era before smart phones.
But now with a little more information, I think it’s also worth considering that William and Kate may well have had a better understanding than us that their elevation to the next phase of their royal careers was coming a lot faster than we knew. Three homes is ostentatious, but it’s not abnormal for the first in line for the throne, as evidenced by Charles. Married together with the logistical challenges of KP and the fact that the rest of Kate’s family has also convened in Berkshire (Pippa Matthews, her sister, just moved into a new home there with her husband and three children), it makes a lot of sense.
I also think we can’t discount another reason for wanting to be close to the Middletons. While Kate is obviously close to them, so too is William. And on the heels of all the drama with Harry, those relationships may be all the more important to him. Once upon a time, he may well have envisioned Kensington Palace as a place where his children and Harry’s could be raised alongside one another. That’s obviously not going to be the case. But Pippa – who welcomed another daughter, Rose, earlier this year – has three children who can very much be those cousins for George, Charlotte, and Louis.
The Waleses taking on a third home has been compared to the media coverage of the Sussexes renovating Frogmore Cottage, and the scrutiny they received for their 2018/2019 renovations. On its face, yes, there is some hypocrisy there. There’s also some context. The media *love* these occasional home renovation stories, across the board. When Kensington and Anmer were under construction for William and Kate, there was absolutely a ton of news articles covering it and detailing how much various fixtures and features cost. There was a slightly different tone, though, and I think that difference comes down to the reality of the Sussexes’ royal trajectory.
To be honest, I don’t think there would have been as much speculation about the Sussexes’ renovation had it been happening at another suite of apartments at KP. But the move to Frogmore was seen as a surprise and going hand-in-hand with William and Harry’s break – an unraveling relationship that we, the public, had less insight into at the time. Between the move to Windsor, the NY baby shower, and how Archie’s birth and christening were handled, the narrative was being cemented in this era that the Sussexes were straining against royal tradition. And that tension drove news.
What we’re seeing right now, William and Kate moving into their new positions, is why the constant comparison of the two couples has always been tricky. Had Harry and Meghan stayed put in the UK and everyone was friendly, then we would have essentially had four years of the Fab Four. But then this was going to happen, and William’s position as the next king would have overshadowed the double act he and Harry once maintained. The only way that was going to work is if Harry understood the reality and implications of the disparity between their positions. Or more accurately, if he accepted them as his lot. Apparently, he doesn’t. And one can certainly follow the logic of why Meghan, an American, doesn’t either.
But for the rest of us, who are in this because we find the institution and history interesting, that’s hardly going to endear the Sussexes to us. And the media aren’t the Windsor rota – they’re the Royal rota. There’s a very nuanced different there.
What remains unfortunate is that as William takes on the mantle of Prince of Wales, he doesn’t have the one person who could potentially understand on a peer level what he’s going through. And without Harry, I understand the appeal and logic of Berkshire.
As for the rest of it, stay tuned.