Frogmore:   Royal Spouse House

Some of you may remember that last spring, the reception for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was held at Frogmore House, which is situated within the grounds of the Home Park at Windsor Castle. It is generally speculated that Frogmore House will become the home of the Duke of Edinburgh, if Queen Elizabeth II should shuffle off this mortal coil before him. Which, you are saying to yourself, is not history, it is not even news, it is just speculation. And so it is, but it echoes the history of Frogmore during the Regency, when Frogmore House was the favorite residence of poor mad King George III’s long-suffering spouse, Queen Charlotte, and her unmarried daughters.

A brief history of the Frogmore Estate and its inhabitants during the Regency …

The low-lying, marshy tract of land which now comprises the Frogmore Estate was located about a half mile southeast of Windsor Castle, near the Thames River, in the county of Berkshire. The area was a natural habitat for several species of frogs, and for that reason, had long been known as the Frogmeare, meaning the frog marsh. The property was acquired by King Henry VIII, in the sixteenth century, and leased to various tenants. Later in that same century, William Shakespeare used Frogmore as one of the settings in his comedic play, The Merry Wives of Windsor. The great Herne’s Oak, which was mentioned in the play, stood on the grounds of Frogmore until 1863. In the early seventeenth century, King James I granted use of that tract of land to William Holt and William Gwyne, on a thirty-one year lease. They drained part of the land for use as a farm, at which time it became known as Frogmeare Farm. After the execution of King Charles I, the Commonwealth government sold off the land. However, it was returned to the Crown upon the Restoration of King Charles II. Through the rest of the seventeenth century and most of the eighteenth century, that tract of land was successively leased to various other people on similar long-term leases. During that period, even more of the property was drained, most of it being converted to farmland or pasture.

Initially, the only structures on the property were barns and other farm buildings. Then, in the 1680s, Thomas May and his wife, Anne Aldworth, were leasing the property, which, by then, had come to be known as Frogmore Farm. Thomas commissioned his uncle, Hugh May, Charles II’s architect, working at Windsor Castle, to design and build a manor house for him on the property. Through the eighteenth century, the various leaseholders who lived at Frogmore steadily increased the farm and pasture acreage available by further drainage. However, some of that land was given over to a formal parterre garden, a bowling green and a small lake near the manor, known as Frogmore House. Despite the ongoing effort to more fully drain the land, at least some of the indigenous frogs remained in residence on the grounds of the estate well into the nineteenth century. In June of 1790, the Little Frogmore property was acquired by Queen Charlotte. In 1792, upon the expiration of the lease on the Great Frogmore estate, the King combined that with the adjoining property of Little Frogmore. He gave his wife, Queen Charlotte, a ninety-nine year lease on the now combined Frogmore Estate, for use as a private rural retreat. That lease, which essentially gave the Queen, and the Royal Princesses, perceptual use of Frogmore, was confirmed by an Act of Parliament, in 1807.

King George gave Queen Charlotte the Frogmore Estate in large part so that she would have a secluded and private place to walk and enjoy nature without interference from the public. That had been an ongoing problem for her when she attempted to walk on the grounds immediately surrounding Windsor Castle. Queen Charlotte was rather shy, and the area around Windsor Castle was usually bustling with courtiers, retainers and residents of the nearby village, all going about their business. The Frogmore Estate had long been private, so Queen Charlotte could be sure she and her family would have the grounds to themselves. To further ensure the Queen’s privacy, a public pathway which ran across Frogmore, between Windsor Castle and the town of Old Windsor, was diverted so that it no longer ran across the estate. This diversion ensured no one would have any reason to come onto the property unless they had specific business there. The old pathway was grassed over to remove it completely. In order to enlarge the size of her private country retreat, the Queen also purchased the small adjoining farm which belonged to the Honorable Mrs. Egerton. With the addition of the Egerton property, the size of the Frogmore Estate was increased to over three hundred and thirty acres. The manor house which stood on the Egerton estate was demolished, as were the buildings on the Little Frogmore property.

Soon after she acquired Frogmore, Queen Charlotte engaged the noted architect, James Wyatt, to refurbish and enlarge Frogmore House. In addition to the refurbishment of the manor house, Queen Charlotte also commissioned the creation of a large garden near the house in the then fashionable picturesque style. The garden design work was done by the Queen’s Vice-Chamberlain, Major William Price, the younger brother of the author Uvedale Price, who had written the seminal work on the picturesque. Major Price was ably assisted by the Reverend Christopher Alderson, who had also served as assistant to the poet and landscape gardener, William Mason. The small formal parterre garden on a parcel of flat land near the manor house and the seventeenth-century bowling green were obliterated. They were replaced on a much grander scale by wooded hills and glades, a rustic grotto and a hermit’s hut, in addition to meandering waterways over which arched several charming and decorative bridges. A number of specially designed walkways enabled the Queen, her family and guests to enjoy the many beautiful aspects of this new garden. One of the most picturesque features of that garden, the summer house in the guise of a Gothic Ruin, was designed by James Wyatt, in addition to his renovation work for Frogmore House. A model dairy was another of the features of the grounds at Frogmore, and was said to be especially popular with the Prince of Wales, and his royal brothers, for the occasional tryst with a paramour. Their father, King George III, was very pleased with the picturesque garden which Queen Charlotte had created at Frogmore. Many believe that is why, though he was an avid amateur botanist, the King never made any effort to create a similar garden at Windsor Castle.

Queen Charlotte herself had long been an avid amateur botanist, so she was actively involved with the designs for the garden and grounds at Frogmore for the duration of her life. Over the course of the years of her possession of the property, it is estimated that she incorporated over 4,000 species of trees and shrubs into the landscape at Frogmore. Not content with the flora which surrounded her country house, the Queen commission the noted artist and flower painter, Mary Moser, to create a faux open-air garden arbor in one of the new rooms which had been added to Frogmore House by James Wyatt. That large room, situated in the South Pavilion, was decorated with both oil paintings on canvas, as well as a number of murals which were painted directly on the walls and the ceiling. Moser, who had become a close friend of the Queen, used many of the plants in the Queen’s own botanical collections as models for the plants which she included in her painted decorations. Mary Moser’s floral room in the South Pavilion of Frogmore House was probably completed in the early autumn of 1793. It proved to be Moser’s last large commission, as she married a few weeks later and retired from professional painting. However, she continued her friendship with the Queen and she retained her membership in the Royal Academy of Arts. In addition to Mary Moser’s South Pavilion, the Queen’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth, a talented artist in her own right, painted a number of floral garlands as a mural on one of the walls of the Cross Gallery at Frogmore.

Frogmore House was also used by the Queen to house a substantial portion of her extensive library. Queen Charlotte was an avid reader and loved books. In addition to her considerable collection of books on botany, she had many books on the theatre, as well as a large collection of literature. In fact, the Queen enjoyed poetry so much that in a small room just off her library in Frogmore House, she even set up a small printing press and book bindery. This press could be used to print poetry which she had written, as well as verses which had been written by some of her family and friends. A number of small print run books were printed on this press and bound at Frogmore with fine bindings, as gifts to Queen Charlotte’s close friends. Some of these special edition books even had engraved illustrations. The Queen also personally directed the printing of a number of religious broadsides on her press over the years. In addition, she had printed what we would now call flash cards, that is decks of cards, on one side of each was printed a snippet of the history of Rome, France, Spain, Germany, and Portugal, among others. These history cards were intended as learning tools for her daughters.

The writing of poetry was not the only art which was enjoyed at Frogmore House, an essentially a feminine domain. Queen Charlotte and her four unmarried daughters used the newly renovated and expanded house as a place in which they could spend time drawing and painting. Some of their favorite subjects were the many beautiful and exotic plants which grew in the extensive gardens surrounding the house. A number of these paintings and drawings were framed and hung on the walls of Frogmore House. The Queen and some of the princesses also enjoyed needlework and it was not uncommon for them to use their own drawings and paintings as the source for a number of their needlework pattern designs. Other paintings and drawings which they had executed were later incorporated into the craft of japanning, or decoupage, which was a craft in which the princesses regularly engaged. Princess Charlotte sometimes spent time with her grandmother and her aunts at Frogmore House, usually engaging in some of the same pursuits which they enjoyed.

A great deal of time, effort and expense went into making Frogmore an idyllic country retreat for Queen Charlotte and her royal daughters, and the Queen often referred to it as her "little paradise." Despite all that, until the Regency, the royal ladies seldom actually lived in the house. Rather, their usual habit was to walk, or be driven, over to Frogmore House from Windsor Castle most mornings that the Royal Family was in residence there. They then spent most of their time botanizing in the gardens, drawing or painting the plants there, reading about them, or engaging in other crafts and activities of which their mother approved. Late in the afternoon, the Queen would gather her royal brood and return to Windsor Castle for dinner. The family would then spend the night in their quarters at Windsor Castle. Though the Queen thought this was a perfectly proper and respectable routine for her daughters, they did not share that view. In fact, at every opportunity, one or more of them found some excuse to avoid the daily trip to Frogmore House. Their favorite bolt-hole was their secret cave under the North Terrace of Windsor Castle.

Even though Frogmore had been acquired as a private country retreat for Queen Charlotte, local interest in the new gardens was so intense that, from time to time, the Queen allowed a small number of tickets to be issued to the neighboring gentry, and even a few prominent merchants, tradesmen, and their families, to tour the gardens. Then, in May of 1795, a grand public fête was held on the grounds, with decorations supplied by James Wyatt and Princess Elizabeth, to celebrate the Queen’s birthday. That was followed by other celebrations, for the marriage of the Princess Royal, in 1797, the recovery of Princess Amelia, in 1799, and thanksgiving for a failed attempt to assassinate King George III, in 1800. From the turn of the nineteenth century, Frogmore continued to be used for special celebrations from time to time. One of the most grand was the celebration of King George III’s Golden Jubilee, in May of 1809. It is reported that at least one thousand guests attended that event. Another important fête held at Frogmore was on 7 January 1815, in honor of Princess Charlotte’s nineteenth birthday. Other celebrations were held on the grounds of Frogmore though the Regency, the last being held in July of 1817, in honor of the young gentlemen of nearby Eton College.

Sadly, less than two years after celebrating his Golden Jubilee, King George III suffered his final descent into madness. Initially, there were hopes that he would recover, as he had done in the past. But by the beginning of 1811, it was clear to nearly everyone that there was little hope that the King would ever regain his senses. His erratic behavior had so frightened his wife that she was unwilling to be left alone with him. The King was confined in his chambers at Windsor Castle, and it appears that from that time, Queen Charlotte then elected to take up residence at Frogmore House whenever she came to Windsor Castle. It appears that some of her daughters also sometimes chose to live at Frogmore House while they were at Windsor Castle. At other times, they followed their usual routine of spending the day at Frogmore House, then returned to Windsor Castle in the evenings.

During the Regency, Queen Charlotte began to spend more and more time at Frogmore House, which had become known locally as the Queen’s Lodge. Upon her husband’s descent into mental illness, she was plagued with a serious and ongoing mental depression. That, along with her natural timidity, caused her to shun most public events. The Queen traveled to London less and less frequently as the years passed. However, she did occasionally journey to Bath, to take the waters and visit with old friends. During the first few years of her son’s Regency, the Queen’s relationships with most of her children had grown very strained. But by the last few years of that period, perhaps aware of her own mortality, she had begun making a concerted effort to mend those relationships. By the time of her death, in November of 1818, Queen Charlotte was on fairly good terms with most of her children. Those who lived in Britain even came to Frogmore House from time to time to visit their mother.

Though Queen Charlotte died at Kew Palace, she was to return to Frogmore one more time. Her grand funeral procession stopped briefly at Frogmore, on the way from Kew to Windsor Palace. It was there that her sons, the Royal Dukes, joined the procession for the last leg of its journey to St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. Some months later, Queen Charlotte’s most intimate personal possessions where all laid out in the rooms of Frogmore House, in preparation for being distributed among her surviving children. Once her immediate family had made their selections, other family members were allowed to choose from what remained. After all of the members of the royal family had acquired the mementos of the Queen which they wanted, the remainder of her property was taken to London and sold at public auction. The sale of her books alone took twenty-three days.

By the time of her death, only two of the Royal Princesses remained unmarried. Therefore, in her will, Queen Charlotte specified that her second, and oldest unmarried daughter, Princess Augusta, who had recently turned fifty, should have the use of the Frogmore Estate for the rest of her life. Princess Augusta had become very fond of Frogmore, but she did not seclude herself there after her mother’s passing. Though she did not marry, Princess Augusta enjoyed an active social life, and spent much of the social Season in London, residing at Clarence House. However, she spent most summers at Windsor, in Frogmore House. One of her most frequent house guests was her unmarried sister, Princess Sophia. Princess Augusta also often invited her young niece, Princess Victoria, to spend time at Frogmore. When Princess Augusta died, on 22 September 1840, she lay in state at Frogmore House, prior to her burial in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

Soon after the death of Princess Augusta, the Crown purchased the Frogmore property from the executors of Augusta’s estate. In 1841, the estate was officially added to the royal domain at Windsor, by an Act of Parliament. That same year, Queen Victoria offered the property to her mother, the Duchess of Kent, as a home, since the Duchess was very displeased to be denied quarters in Buckingham Palace. Though she complained that the house was too large, the Duchess accepted and lived at Frogmore nearly continuously, until her death, in 1861. Princess Augusta had made few changes to Frogmore House during the time she lived there. However, the Duchess of Kent did not share her predecessor’s taste in decor. She made many changes to the house, nearly obliterating how it had appeared during the occupancy of Queen Charlotte and the Royal Princesses. Fortunately, many of those Victorian changes were reversed when the house underwent an extensive restoration in the 1980s. Today, Frogmore House and Gardens is one of the most private of all royal properties. The gardens and a few rooms of the house are open to the public, for charity, just three days each year.

Since her mother had eventually come to like Frogmore very much, Queen Victoria had an elegant mausoleum built on the property to lay her to rest. When Prince Albert died, the following year, the Queen had another mausoleum built on the grounds of Frogmore. This second mausoleum was in the Italian Renaissance style, which Prince Albert considered the finest expression of art. Victoria intended that in this special place, she and Albert could lay at rest, side by side forever. In the end, that would not happen for another forty years. A royal burial ground also grew up on the Frogmore Estate, where a number of members of the royal family were buried, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the former Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. Neither mausoleum, nor the burial ground, are open to the public.

Dear Regency Authors, might the extensive picturesque gardens of Frogmore, or Frogmore House itself, serve as the setting for a yet-to-be-written story of romance in our favorite decade? Perhaps some of your characters might be invited to Frogmore for one of the elegant fêtes which were given there from time to time? One or more of them might be disconcerted by the many frogs which inhabited the property. Queen Victoria herself once noted, after a picnic on the grounds there, that there were so many frogs the grass appeared to be moving. Though Queen Charlotte only invited a very select group of family and friends to visit Frogmore House, she did occassionally engage ladies who could teach her daughters new art or needlework techniques, or how to execute a new craft. Mayhap your heroine is one of those select few who spent time at Frogmore House during the Regency. Or, might the heroine be engaged to print small runs of books on the Frogmore printing press, and/or to bind those books with high-quality bindings. Will one of those engagements lead to each heroine’s meeting with her hero? Are there other ways in which the Frogmore Estate, or its inhabitants might find a place in a Regency romance?

About Kathryn Kane

Historian with a particular interest the English Regency era.   An avid reader of novels set in that time, holding strong opinions on the historical accuracy to be found in said novels.
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3 Responses to Frogmore:   Royal Spouse House

  1. Funnily enough, I’ve been reading about the fetes at Frogmore and other places, in a wonderful book called ‘Magnificent Entertainments; temporary structures for Georgian Festivals’ by Melanie Doderer-Winkeler.
    The wedding of Prinny and Princess Caroline was celebrated there with a two-day Dutch fete with a collection of articles for sale ‘from dairy to a lady’s toillette’ and the purchase price a donation to the charity schools at Windsor.
    The rural entertainment in 1800 included tumblers, ropedancers and fortune-telling gypsies, ballad singers in the grotto, and Peter Ducrow, the Flemish Hercules demonstrating near the Hermit’s Cell.
    George III’s golden jubilee involved a ‘marine car and sea horses’ which was later exhibited at Vauxhall and on the Thames, massive carven horses apparently drawing a fancifully shaped vessel with non-functional wheels on each side, which looks tremendously tippy and you wouldn’t get me in it for all the tea in China. Also there was a temple built to Princess Elizabeth’s design in the centre of the lake which was dug for the jubilee, reached by a bridge. It was the focal point of the festival, and the sea car was on this lake.

    • Kathryn Kane says:

      I am wicked jealous! I saw that book in the catalog at my local library, but it is checked out and I am on a waiting list to get my turn to read it. But at least now, I know it is worth waiting for!

      And on behalf of other visitors here, thank you for providing the reference, and a nice tease with regard to its contents.

      Regards,

      Kat

      • it was nearly thirty quid secondhand and worth every penny. I got it as a Christmas present to myself, an ex library copy without a dust cover. I’ve already used it to describe a fictional fete

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