United Kingdom

Medieval house where Charles courted Diana and saw Camilla goes on sale for £3.75million 

The scent of the past still lingers behind its mullioned windows. It is a heady past of romance and moonlit flits, of star-crossed lovers and thwarted love, too.

Almost every inch of its fabric carries some tantalising echo of bygone days even though much inside has changed.

The shabby-chic interiors of cartoons, framed photographs, pot plants and knick-knacks on every surface that were its most famous owner’s signature look, have been replaced by gentle pastels and lacquered antiques.

The bedroom where she pursued a secret affair when her husband was away has lost its reputed four-poster bed and is now a picture of prim respectability.

There is one part of Bolehyde Manor, however, where time has stood still: the vegetable garden. Peacefully warmed by the noon-day sun, it remains filled with the ghosts of royal history as the place where the Prince of Wales proposed to the teenage Lady Diana Spencer.

Bolehyde Manor, near Chippenham, Wiltshire, was the former home of the Duchess of Cornwal (then Camilla Parker-Bowles) during her first marriage. It is now up for sale at £3.75million

The medieval house near Chippenham, Wiltshire, is back in the news after a scandal-free 35 years. As the Mail’s Sebastian Shakespeare reported this week, the former home of the Duchess of Cornwall is up for sale at £3.75million, and what an intriguing address it is.

The eight-bedroom pile comes with a swimming pool, tennis court, dovecote, treehouse, guest annexe and staff cottages, stables and 70 acres of organic farmland. And, of course, there are also a fair few royal skeletons rattling around its nooks and crannies.

As ever there is a premium on historic houses, but those that can boast a royal link have an added cachet of their own. And what an extraordinary story this house could tell if its walls of yellow Cotswold stone could talk.

Despite the Grade II-listed property dating back to the 14th century, it is its much more recent provenance that will excite potential buyers. For this was not only the place which set in train Charles and Diana’s doomed marriage, but also where the Prince’s enduring love affair with his second wife Camilla was incubated.

The manor house was said to be a favoured destination when Prince Charles was initially wooing Princess Diana some years earlier (both pictured by the River Dee during their 1981 honeymoon)

She, of course, was also married but, when cavalry officer Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles was away, Charles’s Aston Martin was often to be seen parked on the driveway.

The house is said to be haunted but it is not by a tormented Princess of Wales stalking through its oak-panelled rooms, rather an apparition possessing a sense of humour.

According to Camilla, she would become aware of its presence when she was watching television and the ghost would sit beside her and change the channels. According to her biographer Penny Junor: ‘She never saw it, but she could feel it next to her and she would laugh about how she and the ghost always wanted to watch different programmes.’

Camilla and Andrew — then Major Parker Bowles — were newly married in 1974 and looking for a country home not to too far from Newbury where they liked to go racing. Bolehyde Manor was ideal: close enough to London for Parker Bowles’s Army commitments and just inside Beaufort country, with the biggest and oldest fox hunting pack in England — a big draw for Camilla.

This was not only the place which set in train Charles and Diana’s doomed marriage, but also where the Prince’s enduring love affair with his second wife Camilla was incubated. Pictured: Charles and Camilla meet a polo match in July 1975

With its stone-flagged reception rooms and big open fireplaces, it was ideal for entertaining. And to start with, the newlyweds did just that. That vegetable plot and an orchard meant there was a lot of home-grown food on the table.

By the time they moved in, she was pregnant with their first child, Tom, now the food writer and broadcaster. A live-in nanny was hired.

Although a magnificent place to live in, Bolehyde with a 7,500 sq ft floor plan was an expensive house to maintain. Its listing, while part of its charm, meant that nothing inside or out could be altered without permission.

For Camilla, the grounds were its greatest feature. Sculpted yew hedges led into secret gardens connected by formal walkways.

‘Camilla didn’t have the gardening bug when she was growing up but, when they moved to Bolehyde, it became her therapy,’ Junor writes in her 2017 book, The Duchess. ‘Andrew was already a gardening enthusiast.

‘He would say Camilla didn’t do much more than dead-head the roses — and only then because, when he went off to London for the week, he would leave her a list of things to do in his absence. She and her friends used to laugh about the lists — most of which she ignored.’

Bolehyde Manor was previously home to the now Duchess of Cornwall while she was married to her first husband, Andrew Parker Bowles (pictured, Camilla and Andrew Parker Bowles on their wedding day)

Camilla adored the gardens. Vases of fresh flowers that she had grown helped lighten the interiors which were naturally gloomy because of the leaded windows, low ceilings and endless wood panelling.

Her main focus was to make it a happy home for their children — a daughter, Laura, was born in 1978.

Unlike most Army families who were often on the move because of manoeuvres and promotions, Camilla put her foot down. She refused to live in married quarters or to follow Andrew from one posting to another.

While this undoubtedly contributed to Tom and Laura’s contented childhood, it did mean husband and wife spent a good deal of time apart.

On the surface it seemed a happy marriage, but Parker Bowles took full advantage of those absences from home with a series of liaisons with other women, some married, some not, assuming his wife was none the wiser.

If anything his reputation as a ladies’ man had increased on marriage rather than diminished. It certainly, at that stage, did not appear to harm the couple’s closeness to the Royal Family.

Socially, Parker Bowles had the relaxed, courteous ease of manner bestowed on those who have grown up in or around Court circles. His father Derek Parker Bowles, a High Sheriff of Berkshire, was one of the Queen Mother’s closest friends. And when Derek died it seemed natural to transfer that affection to his son.

A general view of Bolehyde Manor near Chippenham in Wiltshire. The plush country home where Prince Charles courted Lady Diana and conducted his affair with Camilla is on sale for £3.75million

She would sometimes stay with Andrew and Camilla for the duration of the Cheltenham racing festival. In return they would receive prized invitations to spend a few summer days at Birkhall, her home on the Balmoral estate or at the Castle of Mey, her other Scottish retreat.

Into this cauldron of royal friendships and marital infidelity stepped the Prince of Wales.

Charles first met Camilla Shand, as she then was, in the summer of 1971. They were introduced by his old Cambridge friend Lucia Santa Cruz, a diplomat’s daughter who lived in the same block of flats as the debutante.

There was an immediate attraction, with the Prince loving the way this worldly young woman smiled with her eyes as well as her mouth.

With Andrew, her on-off boyfriend of six years away with the Army in Ulster and Cyprus, Charles often had her to himself. Often the lovers met at Broadlands, the home of Lord Mountbatten, who encouraged his great-nephew to sow his wild oats.

While Charles was smitten, Camilla’s motive may have been more to do with making Andrew jealous. If so, it worked, because not long afterwards he proposed and Camilla accepted, breaking Charles’s heart. Even a week before the wedding he wrote imploring her to break it off.

He never forgot the brief, passionate affair he and Camilla enjoyed and he remained friends with both her and Andrew, who had also dated his sister Princess Anne. The two men played in the same polo team, shared friends and social or sporting occasions.

The living room and study area, with sitting chairs, bookshelves lining each wall and extensive desk space

Pictured, one of the manor house's comfortable living areas, including a stunning dark wood feature wall

When their son was born, the Parker Bowleses asked the Prince to be godfather and he agreed, cementing the friendship further. Tom was also given the middle name of Charles. The date for the christening was chosen to fit in with the Prince’s naval schedule.

By now there was a fascinating new sport in town — the Prince and his ladies. The world’s most eligible bachelor had his pick of pretty girls. But were any of them marriage material?

Having once said that 30 was a good age to marry, as he approached that landmark the interest in his love life intensified.

Charles, however, hated the attention. Whenever he could, he would escape to the reassuring welcome of Bolehyde Manor. Friends dropping in would get used to seeing the Prince sitting cross-legged on the floor watching television with his godson.

And in Camilla he had found a deep kinship and a source of sensible, unvarnished advice. He adored talking to her about his life and frustrations, knowing that it would go no further. On summer days they would walk in the gardens and in winter sit around the big open fire in the drawing room. Camilla became increasingly pleased to see his car draw up on the drive. Rumours of Andrew’s behaviour had been reaching her ear, which made her miserable.

At first, the friendship with Charles was platonic, but they were drawn to one another and an affair began.

The Prince, meanwhile, was determined to find his own rural idyll — and he wanted it to be close to Bolehyde. He settled on Highgrove, only a 25-minute drive from the Parker Bowleses.

He was also still trying to find that elusive bride, having declared: ‘I’ve fallen in love with all sorts of girls and I fully intend to go on doing so, but I’ve made sure I haven’t married the first person I’ve fallen in love with.’

Camilla was still a forceful object of his affection. At a polo club ball he attended with the Parker Bowleses, he spent the evening dancing with Camila and kissing her.

Parker Bowles was later quoted as saying: ‘HRH is very fond of my wife. And she appears to be very fond of him.’ All the same by the summer of 1980, and feeling under pressure from his family and an increasingly inquisitive Press, he had met the 19-year-old Lady Diana Spencer at a house party in Sussex and set about wooing her.

He was determined to keep this budding romance secret for as long as he could, but he confided in Camilla. And it would not be long before he was taking the aristocrat’s daughter to be vetted by Mrs Parker Bowles.

Soon Lady Diana was a Bolehyde regular. She would help out around the house and was good with the children.

To start with, theirs was a genuine friendship — one weekend they all went to watch the Prince compete in an amateur steeplechase at Ludlow on his horse, Alibar. And when, the following day, Andrew and Charles went hunting, Camilla and Diana spent the day together.

Years later, Princess Diana said she had known before the engagement there was somebody else in the Prince’s life. ‘I’d been staying at Bolehyde with the Parker Bowleses an awful lot and I couldn’t understand why she kept saying to me: “Don’t push him into doing this, don’t do that.”

‘She knew so much about what he was doing privately and about what we were doing privately….’

On another weekend, when they left Bolehyde to visit Highgrove, which Charles wanted Diana to decorate, it was clear to the Prince’s girlfriend that Camilla not only knew the house, but must have helped him choose it.

The official announcement of their engagement in February 1981 came at Windsor Castle. In fact, it had already happened in the Parker Bowleses’ vegetable garden.

Not long afterwards they were back at Bolehyde for a celebratory dinner.

As Junor wrote: ‘It was a happy evening. As they sat around the dinner table, neither Camilla nor Charles was scheming to carry on an affair behind Diana’s back. Once he had asked Diana to marry him, the physical side of their relationship was over, even if he hoped the friendship might continue.’

Events would decide otherwise. Meanwhile, the Parker Bowleses decided they, too, wanted a change of scene that might just save their marriage.

With Tom now away at prep school, Bolehyde was too big for their needs and, in 1985, it eventually changed hands for £600,000,

It was bought by Old Etonian City tycoon Earl (Simon) Cairns, a former receiver general of the Duchy of Cornwall, and his wife Amanda. That might have been the end of Bolehyde’s royal connections, but for a brief flutter of interest from the Duchess of Cambridge’s parents.

In 2011 — the year Kate and Prince William married — Carole and Michael Middleton looked over the house which was being offered for sale privately at nearly £5 million. They didn’t make an offer and Lord and Lady Cairns decided to stay on. Now this house, with its rich royal pedigree, is on the market again and a new chapter can begin.

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