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York Cottage: The Haunting History Of Harry And Meghan’s New Country Home

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No one does wedding gifts like Her Majesty. Though her grandson Prince Harry and his new wife Meghan Markle asked for charitable donations to celebrate their marriage, in lieu of actual presents, the Queen plays by her own rules. Not only has she conferred a shiny new Dukedom and a handful of titles upon the newly-weds (making them Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Earl and Countess of Dumbarton, Baron and Baroness Kilkeel), the monarch is also set to provide them with a stately home on the Sandringham estate in Norfolk (because one residence is never enough).

Earlier this month, reports suggested that York Cottage has been earmarked by Her Majesty as a suitable property for the Sussexes (just as Anmer Hall was assigned for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge after their wedding). Built to house the overflow of extra guests at Sandringham during the hunting season and originally known as the Bachelor’s Cottage (because the majority of said guests were unmarried), it currently acts as a base for the estate’s office, with part of the building converted into flats for staff, meaning that extensive renovations would be required should Harry and Meghan choose to move in. The newlyweds, however, might also be a little perturbed to learn of the house’s dark associations with one of the most notorious royals of recent history.

Prince Albert Victor Christian Edward, the Duke of Clarence and Avondale known as Eddy to his family, was the eldest son of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra – and arguably York Cottage’s most infamous inhabitant. Often touted as ‘the worst king we never had’ (a dubious honour if there ever was one), Eddy’s short life was plagued by the sort of scandal that makes all the back and forth about Thomas Markle’s royal wedding no-show look spectacularly tame. When he reached 20, there were reports of a secret marriage to an artist’s model. Then there was the affair with chorus girl Lydia Miller (who later committed suicide); there was the rumoured involvement in the Cleveland Street Scandal (a shocking episode which centred around a police raid of a male brothel) and whispers (albeit whispers that were later disproved) that he might actually be Jack the Ripper.

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When the royals eventually found a suitable bride for this undisputed catch (distant cousin Princess Mary of Teck was somehow corralled into the role of royal fiancée), the Prince caught influenza. Allegedly weakened by gonorrhoea, he died soon after at the age of 28. In a plot twist straight out of the royal family’s own playbook (Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, anyone?), Eddy’s younger brother George, the new heir to the throne, proposed to his dead brother’s fiancée. In another plot twist, she accepted (which is perhaps why she seems so miserable and foreboding in the first season of The Crown...)

The couple carried on living in Eddy’s former residence, leaving his room just as it had been during his lifetime. ‘All was left just as it was,’ the Empress of Prussia wrote in a letter at the time. ‘[His] dressing table with his watch, his brushes and combs […] His bed covered with a Union Jack in silk, and his photos and clothes in a glass cupboard.’ It’s this uncanny set-up that led to reports of York Cottage being haunted by its notorious former tenant – and since George (by this time King George V) swapped the house for Sandringham in 1925, no royal has lived there.

As far as back stories go, then, York Cottage's isn't exactly the most promising. But surely there's nothing that brings a couple together like being haunted by the memory of a dissolute ancestor, hey Harry and Meghan?

Look back at royal wedding dresses through history in the gallery below...