Your history guide to Frogmore Cottage
How much do you know about the history of Frogmore Cottage, previously home to Prince Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex?
Where is Frogmore Cottage?
Frogmore Cottage, set in the grounds of Frogmore House, is part of the Frogmore estate in Windsor, Berkshire. Frogmore is situated around half a mile south of Windsor Castle, within Home Park (the private estate of the castle). It’s close to the river Thames and built upon historically wet marsh ground, which led to the estate’s name; the low-lying plot attracts a high number of frogs from the nearby riverbank.
Today the cottage, nestled in a quiet corner of the estate grounds, is a private residence, serving as the current home of Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. The cottage is not open to the public, though Frogmore House and estate can be visited on a number of charity days held each year.
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When and why was Frogmore Cottage built?
The cottage has served as a royal refuge since it was built in 1801. It was commissioned by Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III, who bought the Frogmore estate as a country retreat for herself and her unmarried daughters in 1792.
Her husband, often referred as ‘Mad King George’, ruled Great Britain and Ireland from 1760–1820 and suffered from an illness (probably porphyria, a rare hereditary disease) that prompted episodes of eccentric behaviour. Historian Sean Lang explains how the king once ordered his carriage to stop in Windsor Great Park while he popped out to have a chat with an oak tree, apparently under the impression it was the King of Prussia.
The royal couple had 15 children over the course of their marriage, and historian Helen Rappaport has suggested that Frogmore Cottage was designed to provide respite for the king’s family.
“The king had episodes of frenzy. He was most likely very hard to live with and [Queen Charlotte] presumably utilised Frogmore Cottage as a retreat.”
Who else has lived in Frogmore Cottage?
Another famous resident of the cottage on the estate was Abdul Karim, an Indian Muslim clerk who became a close confidant and teacher to Queen Victoria.
Karim was sent to England to wait at the queen’s table during the 1887 golden jubilee celebrations when the 68-year-old monarch wanted servants who reminded her of her status as Empress of India. She was taken by the handsome young man and Karim quickly rose within Victoria’s affections, as well as in status to the title of ‘Munshi’ (teacher or clerk), teaching the queen Hindustani and advising on all matters concerning India.
The relationship between queen and clerk, recently explored in a book by historian Shrabani Basu and dramatised in the film Victoria and Abdul, is just one story of a steady stream of Indian migrants coming to Britain during the 19th century. As Basu told History Extra, “[it’s] fascinating that a young Indian Muslim man was at the centre of the royal court at a time when the British empirewas at its height. It is a part of history that the royal family tried to destroy after Queen Victoria’s death.”
Karim lived in Frogmore cottage with his family, and refurbished the property in 1893. The queen visited him at the house “each second day”, explains Basu. Yet following the queen’s death in 1901, Karim was forced to return to India by Victoria’s son and successor, Edward VII, who had “abhorred” his mother’s companion.
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In the early 20th century, the cottage also hosted royal refugees from Russia. Following the killing of Tsar Nicholas II and his family in July 1918, who were shot by their Bolshevik guards, some relatives of the tsar fled the country. One such royal group was offered sanctuary in Frogmore Cottage by King George V, and included the king's cousin Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna. The royal refugees' financial situation meant the cottage soon fell into disrepair, and when King Edward VIII offered Xenia and her family Wilderness House (in the grounds of Hampton Court to the south-west of London), the family left Frogmore.
What else can be found on the Frogmore estate?
Frogmore House itself dates from 1680–84, built by an architect of Charles II for the king’s nephew. It was later the home of Queen Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent, for more than 20 years from 1840, and artworks by both the duchess and Queen Victoria are on display in the house. A teahouse built for Queen Victoria also remains on the estate, alongside a 18th-century summerhouse in the form of a Gothic ruin designed by English architect James Wyatt.
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The estate has long been a bolthole for the royal family. King George VI and his wife Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) spent part of their honeymoon at Frogmore in 1923, and it’s reportedly where the current Queen walks her beloved corgis. The house hosted the wedding reception of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in May 2018, as well as that of the Queen’s eldest grandchild, Peter Phillips, and Autumn Kelly in 2008.
The Frogmore estate is also the site of the Frogmore Mausoleum, the burial place of Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert. The mausoleum, not open to the public during tours of the estate, is currently undergoing restoration works to protect against ongoing damp problems due to its riverside location.
The site on the west side of the gardens at Frogmore House was chosen by the queen just four days after Albert’s death at the age of 42 in 1861, and construction began three months later. Following her death at Osborne on the Isle of Wight and a state funeral, Queen Victoria was buried at Frogmore on 4 February 1901. King Edward VII and his grandson, the six-year-old future Edward VIII, knelt as the queen was slowly lowered in to the crypt to be laid to rest beside her beloved husband.