His succession from heir to the throne to monarch has happened at lightning speed. But one issue will take a little longer to resolve: just where will King Charles III live?
Traditionally, moving up to the top job means a corresponding rise up the property ladder. And in Charles’s case it should mean moving in to Buckingham Palace, the headquarters of the British monarchy.
But where to live is by no means his only dilemma. He will also have to choose what to do about the many royal residences now at his disposal, which could be the most delicate of decisions in these early days of the new reign.
Central to the King’s thinking is the need to strike a balance between cost against the importance of keeping this extraordinary portfolio of palaces, castles and country houses truly ‘royal’ by ensuring they are used. For Charles, the matter has to also reflect his avowed intention to slim down the monarchy.
Inevitably, his success in doing that may be judged alongside any equivalent reduction in the number of Royal Family homes. So who are the likely winners —– and losers — in what courtiers waspishly refer to as ‘Game of Homes’: a royal version of musical chairs?
It was only a few months ago that the then-Prince of Wales let it be known that as King he would live at Buckingham Palace. It was intriguing that it even needed to be said, but then uncertainty has long hovered over his plans.
Unquestionably, he has never much liked the place, complaining that it was too large, too impersonal and too draughty.
This opened the prospect of Charles becoming the first monarch since King William IV not to live ‘over the shop’.
Charles developed his love of gardening at Highgrove (pictured) but the Queen Consort is not very attached, seeing it as Diana’s house
The King is considering handing Balmoral (pictured) over to the nation to celebrate the memory of his late mother
As a bachelor, Charles had quarters there before moving to Kensington Palace after marriage to Princess Diana, followed by an apartment at St James’s Palace on their separation, then settling at Clarence House, the home he inherited from his grandmother the Queen Mother and where he now lives with Queen Consort Camilla.
Returning to the 775-room Palace may not necessarily appeal, but as an aide explained: ‘He is firmly of the view that it is the most distinct symbol of the monarchy in the heart of the nation’s capital and therefore it must be his home.
He also thinks it would be strange to have Buckingham Palace without royals living there.’
The absence of a live-in monarch would surely raise questions about the purpose of the daily Changing of the Guard ceremony, which is one of the biggest tourist attractions in London.
‘What would be the point of putting on such a colourful spectacle for an empty building?’ added the aide. Even so, it says much about Charles’ antipathy to the place that questions about whether or not he will choose to sleep there are swirling even now.
It has been suggested he would prefer to keep the much smaller Clarence House, which he and Camilla have turned into a comfortable home, while using the Palace as a working base and for banquets, receptions, garden parties and investitures.
In other words, it would be treated as the ‘office’ and he would commute there each day up The Mall. Supporting this theory is the fact that Charles is also keen on opening the Palace more to the public. Would he really wish to live like some stately home owners are forced to — with the sound of paying visitors traipsing around?
One factor that may delay any proposed move is that Buckingham Palace is midway through a ten-year, £369 million taxpayer-funded renovation and living among a building site is not a prospect the 73-year old King is looking forward to.
What is certain is that as monarch, Charles will pioneer new living arrangements that won’t follow the familiar pattern set down by his mother: weekdays at the Palace, weekends at Windsor Castle and holidays at Sandringham and Balmoral.
Clarence House (pictured) is the current London abode of King Charles and the Queen Consort Camilla. It has been suggested Charles would prefer to keep this and use Buckingham Palace for work purposes
Charles is currently developing an organic farm on the Sandringham estate in Norfolk (pictured). But will William and Kate retain ten bedroom Anmer Hall, on the Sandringham estate, which was a wedding gift from the Queen?
In addition to these historic properties, he has inherited Wood Farm on the Sandringham estate and Craigowan Lodge on Royal Deeside. They add to an impressively large number of homes already under his control. Apart from Clarence House, they include Highgrove, his family home near Tetbury in Gloucestershire, and his adored Scottish retreat, Birkhall, on the Balmoral estate.
He has described the stone-clad lodge, which also passed to him after the death of his grandmother, as ‘a unique haven of cosiness and character’. But its real charm lies in its grounds, bordering the River Muick, which he has transformed into a peaceful sanctuary.
Then there is the Castle of Mey in Caithness — another of his grandmother’s former boltholes where he likes to spend ten days each summer, Dumfries House, the Palladian mansion in Ayrshire he saved for the nation, Llwynywermod, his Welsh cottage and an estate in Romania.
So what will happen to these homes and how and to whom will he divvy them up?
The destiny of Windsor Castle, for 1,000 years the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world and the home of Britain’s royalty, is the most intriguing.
It is said Charles does not like the castle and finds it too noisy: it lies under the flight path for Heathrow airport. That was not always the case: as a child he loved exploring its ancient rooms, accompanied by the Queen Mother who told him the history of the treasures and artworks they displayed.
For many years he kept away because he considered it his late father’s domain and it brought back difficult memories. But, after the Queen’s health went into decline last year, he began dropping in regularly to see her, sometimes staying in his old suite of rooms in the Edward Tower, the most out of the way part of the ancient castle.
Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s former home, may be too large, impersonal and draughty for King Charles. But the absence of a live-in monarch would surely raise questions about the purpose of the daily Changing of the Guard ceremony, which is one of the biggest tourist attractions in London
There has been a suggestion that he is planning to let William and Kate live there.
However, that will not happen immediately as the new Prince and Princess of Wales have only just settled into their own home in Windsor, Adelaide Cottage.
For a man who knows that if the monarchy is to flourish in the 21st century, it can’t be seen to be too ostentatious, this represents an indecently large collection of homes. Of one thing we can be certain — Charles simply will not have the time to travel between so many different houses in such distant parts of his new kingdom.
His most sentimental attachment is to Highgrove, which was purchased from Tory MP and publishing chief Maurice Macmillan on his behalf by the Duchy of Cornwall.
During the early years of his marriage to Diana it was their weekend home, but the Princess never returned after their separation in 1992. It is where Charles developed his love of gardening, with a stunning transformation of the neglected grounds. It always saddened him that neither William nor Harry share his love of horticulture nor expressed any interest in taking the house on.
And in the absence of their interest he had begun exploring an alternative solution. One plan, which was being masterminded by his former valet Michael Fawcett — forced to quit over the cash-for-honours scandal — was to turn Highgrove into an English version of Dumfries House.
It is believed that His Majesty does not like Windsor Castle and finds it too noisy due to its position under a flight path. He could well give it to Prince William and Kate at some point
It was to be run by the Prince’s Foundation and open to the public with Charles using it for five weeks or so each year — and paying rent for the privilege.
The idea seems unlikely to come to pass, as the Duchy is now under the control of William who would have the final say on what happened to Highgrove. (As Prince of Wales, he is technically his father’s landlord.) Camilla, who has her own home in Wiltshire, is said to be less attached to Highgrove. According to her biographer Penny Junor, she would ‘not be sad to see Highgrove go . . . It is Diana’s house. It is not hers.’
This is an irony that will not be lost on old friends of the late Princess of Wales. She hated Highgrove for the same reason: she considered it Camilla’s.
Indeed, after the couple parted, Charles had the entire interior ripped out and redecorated.
‘Not much of the Princess of Wales remains there today, I can tell you,’ says an old friend.
Meanwhile the King intends to keep Birkhall as his main retreat in Scotland. Its peaceful location has played an important part in helping Charles through many domestic crises. It is also where he and Camilla spent their honeymoon.This could mean a radical change for Balmoral Castle, the royals’ main home on Deeside and where the Queen died on September 8.
One idea that has been floated is that the King is considering handing the castle over to the nation to celebrate the memory of his late mother. This, however, could put him at loggerheads with his siblings and their families, who have grown used to having the castle at their disposal.
But as a courtier cautioned: ‘They can take nothing for granted. Just because the Queen did it this way does not mean the King will.’
As for Sandringham, Charles intends to use it himself. The house was quietly handed over to him to run — he is developing an organic farm there — some time ago. Prince Harry’s exile has added to the complications. At one stage, Charles considered transferring Clarence House to his younger son.
Now, if he does indeed move into Buckingham Palace he may either use it to display the Royal Collection and open it to the public or place it in mothballs for Prince George for when his grandson comes of age in 2034.
Other properties may be simpler to allocate. The cottage in Wales may be handed to William, while the retreat in Romania, which is run as a guesthouse, will probably be quietly sold.
There is one home about which there is more speculation than most — Royal Lodge, Prince Andrew’s grand, Grade-II listed pile in Windsor Great Park
As monarch, Charles effectively is master of all properties on the royal estates. These include the grace-and-favour residences let to old retainers, and the apartments in Kensington Palace and St James’s Palace housing his royal cousins and other relatives.
But there is one home about which there is more speculation than most — Royal Lodge, Prince Andrew’s grand, Grade-II listed pile in Windsor Great Park.
Without the protection of the Queen, many will wonder just how long he can remain there. Once the weekend retreat of the Queen Mother — it was where she died in 2002 — the 30-room house on which he has a 75-year lease has been Andrew’s since selling Sunninghill Park, his former marital home.
He spent £7.5 million renovating the property that was the backdrop to Princess Beatrice’s 18th birthday party, where guests notoriously included sexual predators Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein.
Elsewhere, there are other knotty problems to resolve.
Will William and Kate retain ten-bedroom Anmer Hall, on the Sandringham estate, which was a wedding gift from the Queen? With their lives now revolving around Windsor and with so many other homes potentially available, do they even need it?
And what of Frogmore Cottage? The Georgian house with the deceptively humble name was given to Harry and Meghan only for them to turn their back on Britain. Since their departure for California it has occasionally been used by Harry’s cousin Princess Eugenie, her husband Jack Brooksbank and their son August.
As Charles mulls over his plans to streamline the Royal Family, might Frogmore Cottage be an early victim of that modernising zeal?
It is why this Game of Homes is set to become a new and compelling royal drama.