Traditionally, the story has gone that marrying into the royal family translates to a life of hearing a lot of ‘yes’ – yes to tiaras, yes to hot and cold running footmen and yes to zipping off to Mustique whenever the mercury plummeted or one of these pesky German relatives wants to visit.
However, if there is one thing that the experience of Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex has taught us is that tying the knot with a prince can come with a lot of ‘no’. In fact, reportedly, the Suits star-turned-HRH reportedly heard that little, two-letter word with serious frequency during her scant 20 months behind palace gates.
There was the ‘no’ to her original tiara of choice (allegedly), the ‘no’ to her request to use air fresheners inside St George’s Chapel for the wedding, and ‘no’ to her and husband Prince Harry setting up their own court. But, this week there is another particular ‘no’ that we need to talk about: Their request, long before Megxit entered the mainstream lexicon, to live at Windsor Castle with the Queen.
Because while Her Majesty might have “firmly” turned down the couple’s petition to take up residence in the 1000-year-old pile several years ago, now it turns out she is reported to be ‘discussing’ the exact same thing with William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Quick, someone sound the ‘double standard’ klaxon! All of this comes down to the question of who gets to live and where, a decision over which the 95-year-old monarch has complete discretion. The Crown Estate boasts more than 230 properties, meaning that Her Majesty has incredible variety when it comes to gifting family members a grace and favour home. (Translation: Here, have a free house.)
When Harry and Meghan wed, in 2018, it was believed they would be moving out of the tinky Nottingham Cottage in the grounds of Kensington Palace, where they had been living, and into one of the palace’s massive private apartments. Instead, in November, 2018 it was announced they would instead live in Frogmore Cottage, a property on the Windsor estate.
It later emerged that this had not been the couple’s first choice and that in fact they had originally asked his grandmother if they could live in Windsor Castle. In August 2019 the Times broke the news that Harry and Meghan “initially had higher hopes” than Frogmore Cottage.
Her answer? Nein. Non. Niente. “The couple are understood to have set their hearts at first on Windsor Castle, and are believed to have asked the Queen if living quarters could be made available after their marriage,” Times royal correspondent Roya Nikkhah reported. “The Queen politely but firmly suggested Frogmore Cottage on the Windsor estate.”
Hugo Vickers, royal author and a deputy Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire, said at the time, “There are empty bedrooms and suites in the private apartments which the Sussexes may have had their eye on, or perhaps some former living quarters in the castle grounds converted into other things. But I can see how it might not be entirely appropriate to have a young family living there.”
(During non-Covid times, the Queen spends her weekdays at Buckingham Palace and her weekends at her beloved Windsor. Since the pandemic began Her Majesty has spent the vast majority of her time sheltering in ‘HMS Bubble’ at the castle with staff carefully rotated in and out.)
Now, reports are circulating that William and Kate might be about to be given exactly what Harry and Meghan had initially asked for – an apartment inside the 1000-room castle. (It’s the largest inhabited castle in the world, don’t you know. The imagination truly boggles at the hide and seek possibilities.)
“William and Kate have been talking to their close friends about leaving Kensington Palace where they feel very overlooked,” a royal source has told Vanity Fair’s Katie Nicholl. “William and Kate are very seriously considering a move to Windsor, and it has been discussed with the Queen. There are options at Windsor Castle, which is vast, and being close to the Queen, who is 95, makes sense to the family.”
As an added bonus, this relocation would also put the Cambridges less than an hour’s drive from her parents Michael and Carole Middleton and closer to her sister Pippa Matthews and her family. While nothing has been confirmed so far, the fact that multiple, credible sources are reporting that a change of homebase is on the cards would suggest the duke and duchess are one step shy of calling in the movers.
If the Queen was to open her adored home up the Cambridges, after having denied Harry and Meghan the same request, it would be hard not to read this as something of a slap in the face for the self-exiled Sussexes. (Clearly Her Majesty is no longer worried about small, jammy fingers touching her Sèvres porcelain collection or Play Doh ending up on the Gainsboroughs.)
However, if this relocation does come to pass, it will only provide more ammunition to those who have argued that there has long been one rule for William and Kate and another for Harry and Meghan. There are broader implications to this possible change of address than just how it might affect the already parlous state of relations between William and Harry.
Crucially, the move would be a clear sign that the palace is preparing for the sad, but inevitable, day when the seemingly indefatigable sovereign shuffles off this mortal coil and the new reign of Charles III will begin.
“Since Prince Philip’s death, the future of the monarchy is a topic of conversation. Plans are being drawn up for the next reign and the Cambridges making a move to Windsor is one of those plans,” the royal source said.
If Harry and Meghan were still living down the road at Frogmore Cottage, it is hard not to wonder how the Duke of Sussex would have fared having to daily deal with the blunt reality of his heir status while his brother prepped for the throne a stone’s throw away. (And living in the home he had wanted.)
This latest situation is fitting really because Windsor Castle has been the setting for a number of royal disasters. During the Civil War it was seized and turned into a prison for the royal family. In 1936 King Edward VIII chose the castle to deliver his history-making radio address announcing he was abdicating and in 1992, fire ravaged 115 rooms in a blaze that took 225 firefighters 15-hours to fully put out.