What once was the Duke of York’s sanctuary must now feel hollow – a haunting reminder of a gilded life once lived
As stomping grounds go, it is set to be pretty solitary. Prince Andrew’s home of Royal Lodge, where he has lived since 2004, has been on a “war room” footing since his return from Balmoral after the summer – as Team York strategised its plan to fight his lawsuit. Now that it is settled, he faces cutting a lonely figure on the Windsor estate, where he is likely to spend the decades ahead in exile.
Since he stepped back from public duties in 2019, the sprawling Grade II listed residence has been Andrew’s world. He has been spotted occasionally riding in the grounds of Windsor Great Park, or driving to Windsor Castle to see his mother, the Queen. Now even those outings seem diminished since he was stripped of his military honours and HRH title last month.
Although the Duke still lives there with his ex-wife Sarah – their daughters, Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice visit regularly, with the grandchildren – his lack of purpose and eerily empty existence now only look set to solidify.
I caught a glimpse of the prince in his secluded home during the spring of 2018, a year before his ill-fated Newsnight interview. Even then, he seemed aimless and bored.
Researching my biography of Wallis Simpson, I had asked if I could visit Royal Lodge to sit in the drawing room and soak up the atmosphere in which Andrew’s great uncle, Edward VIII – the most recent royal to be exiled in disgrace – had spent his last evening with his mother, Queen Mary, before abdicating in 1936. The Yorks kindly gave me permission.
It never occurred to me that Andrew would be there when I arrived with my husband and our friend, Nicky Haslam, one rainy Saturday in February. We were climbing out of our wellies when some plump Yorkshire terriers greeted us, followed by, to our surprise, the prince in monogrammed slippers.
He was an extremely affable host, taking us up to the Gothic drawing room, which occupies the heart of the house; a grand saloon with sage green panelling, soaring ceilings, vast oils depicting the surrounding park and acres of worn Persian carpet, where history hung like an invisible mist.
Designed by John Nash, with later additions by architect Jeffry Wyatt and tucked away from public view inside the royal park, the lodge has been a royal residence since 1662, Andrew told us. More recently, it was the home of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, from 1952 to her death in 2002.
He then led us to a corridor where, among other military regalia, he showed us the sword with which, he recalled with a chortle, Princess Beatrice had accidentally cut Ed Sheeran’s face while she pretended to knight the singer James Blunt.
As Andrew was alone and seemed slightly at a loss – the golf playing on a huge television in a room next door to his study – what was to be a fleeting visit turned into over an hour’s private tour. It was odd to hear him refer to his mother as “The Queen”, while I was agog that every surface boasted expensive floral displays and what appeared to be a shrine-like devotion to Sarah. There were so many framed photographs of his former wife.
The garden is a beautiful sweep of land extending into Windsor Great Park, which, Andrew told us, is spectacular when the rhododendrons bloom. My wish, when I had finished my book, was to go to nearby Frogmore and put flowers on the Duchess of Windsor’s grave. Again, the Yorks kindly gave me permission.
I returned to Royal Lodge on a baking June day, soon after Harry and Meghan’s wedding, where I was instructed to go to a separate building where the Yorks’s aides worked and Andrew’s butler arrived in his boss’s gleaming Range Rover.
We drove less than three miles to Home Park, in the heart of Windsor Great Park, where I was waved through a strict police cordon as “a guest of the Duke of York”.
After placing my bouquet where Wallis and Edward’s graves lie, opposite the Royal Mausoleum, the resting place of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, I was shown the informal grounds of Frogmore, with wildflower meadows leading to the lake, and dog bowls dotted along the Queen’s favourite routes.
For Andrew, now expected to hide away ad infinitum, this may be his sanctuary. But the lodge – once fully-staffed and accustomed to non-stop entertaining – must now feel hollow; a haunting reminder of a gilded life once lived.