From grand palaces to country cottages, these are King Charles III’s homes across the country
Words: Sandra Lawrence
King Charles III’s homes: Buckingham Palace
In September 2022, the United Kingdom was rocked by the passing of its longest serving monarch. Most people had never known life without Queen Elizabeth II, and mourning was both deep and heartfelt. As Britain adjusts to a new king, Charles III himself must come to terms with a new life. We do not yet know which royal palaces will become most associated with him, but it is certain that some of His Majesty’s current houses will remain much loved and visited.
Buckingham Palace was owned by royalty before it became the monarch’s official London residence. James I planted a mulberry plantation there, in an ill-fated attempt to start an English silk industry, but his son Charles I gave the estate away when the project failed. It passed through many hands until John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham, demolished the old manor in the early 18th century for a brand new ‘Buckingham House’.
In 1762 King George III re-acquired the estate for his wife Queen Charlotte, but the official royal court remained at St James’s Palace next door. The Queen had the place remodelled, including some magnificent Robert Adam ceilings, but it was not good enough for her son. George IV commanded John Nash to turn his mother’s house into an enormous, U-shaped palace. Nash rebuilt extensively, enclosing a stunning forecourt and installing a triumphal arch to celebrate Britain’s recent victories.
Nash’s vision broke the budget and after George’s death he was dismissed. William IV preferred Clarence House, and even offered Buckingham Palace as a substitute Houses of Parliament after fire destroyed Westminster Palace in 1834.
Queen Victoria was the first monarch to officially live at Buckingham Palace. Using the proceeds from the sale of Brighton Pavilion she introduced more upgrades, including the famous balcony, a focal point for the nation to cheer their queen. The triumphal arch was moved to Hyde Park Corner and, under her grandson, George V, the huge Victoria Memorial was unveiled outside the palace to replace it. ‘Buck House’ has been a familiar sight ever since.
The public knew the Queen was in residence when her Royal Standard flew, queued to watch jubilees and weddings and, every morning at 10.45, the changing of her guard.
Buckingham Palace is in the midst of a huge renovation programme (due to be completed in 2027), which has seen the ageing electrical and plumbing systems updated for the first time since the 1950s. Hundreds of paintings, chandeliers, mirrors and clocks have been moved elsewhere in the meantime. It seems likely that, like the late Queen who in recent years opted to live at Windsor Castle, King Charles will base himself at one of his other residences. Prince William and his family have also recently moved out of London, settling in Windsor.
King Charles III’s homes: Clarence House
Some have suggested that the King, like his forbear William IV, may choose to remain at Clarence House, which from 2003 was his official London home as Prince of Wales. Coolly Neoclassical, it was built by John Nash when William IV was still Duke of Clarence, and lies in the south-western corner of the mainly Tudor St James’s Palace. The interiors were much more restrained than those at Buckingham Palace but Nash still managed to spend double his budget on the project. Clarence House has been home to members of the Royal Family ever since – not least Princess Elizabeth, following her marriage to Prince Philip, before her accession to the throne.
King Charles III’s homes: Highgrove House
The King is often more associated in the public imagination with his Cotswold home, Highgrove House. Originally known as ‘High Grove’, this mellow stone Neoclassical house was built between 1796 and 1798 and was once owned by Maurice Macmillan, son of 20th-century prime minister Harold Macmillan.
The then Prince Charles arrived in 1980 and, under his care, the estate has been transformed, using modern ecological philosophies reconnecting humanity with the countryside. Highgrove has grown to a magnificent, interlinked medley of organic gardens and managed, sustainable landscapes focusing on the preservation of the planet. The house remains home to His Majesty and the Queen Consort and is not open to the public, but the gardens welcome over 40,000 visitors each year.
Just a 15-minute drive away, Queen Camilla has her own Cotswolds haven: Ray Mill in the village of Lacock. She recently described this manor house as “my refuge, the only place where I can be completely relaxed on my own terms.” The King will not lightly forget that, for 64 years, he was Prince of Wales. The title has passed to his son William, but Charles’s love for the country will remain.
King Charles III’s homes: Llwynywermod
Llwynywermod, his Welsh residence, was originally built as a classic 19th-century ‘model farm’ where the gentry could demonstrate new agricultural ideas and ideals. In many ways King Charles III has continued that thought, albeit using his famed passion for conservation research.
After purchasing the farmhouse in 2006, the King commissioned a sympathetic conversion, using local materials and craftspeople. When the King is not in residence, various cottages on the Carmarthenshire estate are let as holiday accommodation.
King Charles III’s homes: Balmoral and the Castle of Mey
Scotland holds many happy memories for the King, especially Balmoral, so loved by his mother. Prince Albert, Victoria’s consort, first leased the 50,000-acre estate in 1848. He gave Birkhall, a neat, stone lodge, harled (rough-cast) and painted white to his son, the Prince of Wales. Edward (later Edward VII) visited only once, so Victoria took back the 1715 residence for other members of the family. Most famously, in the 1930s, it became the favoured home of the Duke and Duchess of York, whose regular visits with their daughters, princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, only reluctantly stopped when the Duke became King George VI. On his death in 1952, the Queen Mother returned; on her passing in 2002 Birkhall became home to her grandson, Charles.
It is not the King’s only Scottish residence. The Castle of Mey, in Caithness, six miles west of John O’Groats, was built between 1566 and 1572, and enjoys all the classic features of a Scottish castle: high walls, an imposing square tower and crenelated turrets, looking out towards the sea. The King and Queen Consort regularly visit, but when they are not at home, more than 29,000 visitors climb the tower each year in the hope of distant views of Orkney.
King Charles III’s homes: Dumfries House
Another Scottish residence, Dumfries House – an elegant stately home set in 2,000 acres of Lowland landscape – was saved for the nation by the then Prince Charles in 2007. The Neoclassical house and its important collection of Robert Adam architecture and Thomas Chippendale furniture is open to the public.
This is an extract, read the full version in the January/February issue of BRITAIN Magazine available to buy here.