A Peek Behind the Royal Curtain

Over Champagne and carrot cake, I celebrated Meghan and Harry’s marriage…long distance, watching the telly. Now, with champagne in hand, I am where 600 people celebrated them in person: on the leafy grounds of Frogmore House, amidst centuries-old trees. Giant evergreens frame the way down the path to the resting places of Queen Victoria and Prince Edward, and other notables connected to the crown. “Celebrating” along with me are Londoners who traveled the 40 minutes to Windsor for an exclusive early evening tour of this 17th-century house, beloved by Queen Victoria and Queen Mary. Fifteen signed up a year in advance for these coveted spaces.

The young royals and little Archie live in newly renovated Frogmore Cottage on the same grounds nearby. The actual place where the royal knot was tied is St. George’s Chapel right near Windsor Castle. Anyone is welcome to attend services there any day of the week. This Gothic structure is full of ancient crypts, stone arches, kaleidoscopic stained glass and white marble. It is tranquil and hushed. The best room is where Harry and Meghan wed, the Quire. Its gold and marble altar is quietly imposing. Here, docents can tell you anything you want to know about the room and the Knights of the Garter.

Frogmore House

Frogmore Estate has been in the family for centuries. British royalty has inhabited this house from King George III to Queen Victoria. Just a half-mile from Windsor Castle, George wanted it for his daughters to protect them. They, in turn, called it “the nunnery.” (The young Sussexes live in nearby Frogmore Cottage). At larger Frogmore House, Queen Mary’s rooms are kept just as they were, with mother of pearl inlaid furniture. Many rooms feel homey and comfortable, some even downright cozy. Notable is the big bright Bow Room, which was the family sitting room, kept as it was during Queen Victoria’s reign. Paintings of family members decorate the walls in almost all rooms, and white marble sculptures of many of the royals as children adorn the colonnade leading out to the grounds. Two elegant bigger rooms are used for fundraisers by the royal family these days: The Duchess of Kent’s Drawing Room and The Britannia Room. Both are large, gracious, and chock full of royal memorabilia.

Looking out from the green and gold long-windowed doors are the mature trees and the pebbled paths to the garden where lucky visitors can sip Champagne. Beyond the wood benches, gravel path, and softly rolling mounds of grass are the Royal Mausoleums for Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, a remarkable building of the Victorian age. Others of British royalty are buried in the area, including Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, later known as the Duchess of Windsor. Closer to the house, lily ponds, in the ornamental lake, surround a small island. It is a fairytale setting come to life. Windsor Castle is just a few minutes’ uphill walk from St. George’s Chapel. The Castle is staggeringly big, and full of history and grandeur. Windsor, with its 1,600 gigantic intimidating rooms, is the oldest inhabited castle in the world. Filled with art by the most famous names in the world, the castle is designed to impress and reveal who has the power. Queen Elizabeth spends weekends there and uses it for state occasions.

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan holding their newborn son, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, flanked by (l-r) Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Charles, Ms. Doria Ragland, Lady Jane Fellowes, Lady Sarah McCorquodale, Prince William, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, in the Green Drawing Room at Windsor Castle, July 6, 2019.

For more tradition, you can walk from the castle to Eton, the most famous prep school in the world. Twenty prime ministers and a slew of contemporary actors have attended this boarding school. In its well-worn classrooms and on its verdant playing fields (everyone must play a sport), students adhere to special language, customs, and dress code. When it was founded, students were allowed to speak only in Latin. Today, they have an immense choice of subjects, as did Princes William and Harry, who both attended.

To be close to the royals, you can set out on the Long Walk, in crisp cool air, to a great swath of green, all part of the royal province. The seemingly neverending path stretches to the horizon. This is Windsor Great Park, near to which dwell the Sussexes and little Archie at Frogmore Cottage.

Frogmore Cottage (circled) is situated in the north of Frogmore Estate.

Windsor bustles with tourists. I got the best out of it by staying in nearby Bray, a charming village loved by the well-to-do. My hotel was Monkey Island Estate, the former fishing lodge of Princess Diana’s distant relative, the Earl of Spencer. Recently renovated, with glorious hydrangea and manicured lawns, it has its own dock; prime rooms face the Thames. They treat you like royalty here, but no one walks out backward bowing.

A small boat arranged by the Estate carried me along the river to Waterside Inn, a Michelin three-star restaurant. It manages to be a temple of food without being stuffy, and everything is perfectly delicious. I enjoyed a drink at The Crown, owned by Heston Blumenthal, Bray’s other three-star chef, and had dinner at his Hare and Hounds, housed in a 15th-century building. This acclaimed chef puts a special spin on everything from snails in cream to chocolates spiced with orange and caraway.

Guardsmen stand in formation at Windsor Castle for the arrival of then-President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, 2016.

The River Thames was key to the creation of Windsor Castle back in the 11th century, as the Thames provided a direct route into London. All those centuries, all that culture, and all that grace make this experience like no other. Windsor and Frogmore have the distinction of being regal, but in a bucolic country setting. Perhaps that’s why the young royals chose it for their home. I would, too.

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry.