When Britannia Ruled the Waves; Cliveden’s Royal Connections

Cliveden's spring Long Garden

Cliveden has not only been a residence for members of the British Royal family but as a political power house, has hosted Royalty from King George I to Queen Elizabeth II.

The military hero of the War of Spanish Succession the Earl of Orkney (1666 – 1737) had close links to the Courts of the first two Hanoverian Kings, George I and George II. He was a modest man whose quite nature and loyalty was rewarded with the appointment to Gentleman of the Bedchamber to George I in 1714. He spent most of his post- military career at Cliveden and his home in Albemarle Street, London. He entertained George I at Cliveden in 1717 when as the Weekly Packet of August 31, described;

On Wednesday morning the King went to Windsor Castle from thence to the Duke of Marlborough‟s Lodge in the Park and did the Earl of Orkney the Honour to dine with him at his Seat at Cliveden‟

In the same year, Orkney was honoured with place on the Royal barge, consolidating his place at Court. Later, he received George II and his family in 1729. Cliveden was therefore known to the Hanoverian dynasty and may account for the fact that, George II’s son, Frederick Lewis, Prince of Wales (1707–1751) became the Royal tenant at Cliveden in 1738.

Cliveden’s dramatic setting was the perfect backdrop to Fredrick’s counter court to that of his father’s in London. He and the Princess of Wales, Augusta, championed British culture through their patronage of the theatre, British goods, public appearances and mingling with the modern and fashionable crowd at Bath.  Frederick’s major contribution to patriot propaganda was his commissioning of the famous ‘Alfred, a Masque’ written by James Thomson and David Mallet, with music by Thomas Arne. In the performance, Frederick was projected as the successor to Alfred the Great, depicted as ‘piously English’.  The event was first performed at Cliveden by the Covent Garden Company in the small amphitheatre in the gardens. The Masque which was open to the public by ticket included the rousing anthem, Rule, Britannia! which remains Frederick's most obvious contribution to Britain's self-image.  

The Amphitheatre, Cliveden
The grass amphitheatre at Cliveden in Buckinghamshire
The Amphitheatre, Cliveden

Cliveden continued to be at the heart of British power politics when on Queen Victoria's accession in 1837, the Duchess of Sutherland (1806–1868) was appointed Mistress of the Robes. The Duke of Sutherland had purchased Cliveden in 1849 and the Duchess, an ardent Whig and politically liberal, threw herself into her role with vigour. She was a renowned political hostess and close confident of the Queen and a great admirer of the work and ambition of Albert, the Prince Consort. The Queen appreciated The Duchess’s support for Albert and wrote in 1850;

“I must ever love the Duchess of Sutherland for her very great and sincere admiration of the Prince. … There is not a work he undertakes … which she does not follow with the greatest interest, being herself so anxious to do good, so liberal-minded, so superior to prejudice, and so eager to learn, and improve herself and others”

In recognition of the shared friendship the Queen gifted a statue of Prince Albert to the Duchess in memory of the Prince and the many visits that the Royal couple made to Cliveden in the 1850s.

Like the Duchess of Sutherland, Nancy Astor (1879–1964), drew members of the Royal Family to Cliveden. A hospital had been established in the grounds of Cliveden during World War I for wounded Canadian service men and King George V and Queen Mary, visited in the summer of 1915. The Royal couple would find themselves guests of Nancy in 1924 along with the senior members of Ramsay Mc Donald’s Labour government. Nancy was no respecter of party divisions and in this gathering she brought the King and Queen into not only the company of socialists but republicans!

George VI and Queen Elizabeth were guests at Cliveden with their two daughters, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. One estate worker remembered in an oral history how the Royal guests came to a party at Cliveden and how ‘a great big carpet was put out on the terrace so that the guests could dance all night. In the morning everyone was served a cooked breakfast and so enjoyed themselves.

Although he doesn’t mention whether the Royal Princesses danced through the night, it would be rather sweet to think of our present Queen, as a young girl enjoying the fun that was Cliveden during the time of Nancy Astor.