The Royal Bundle Revives a Biltmore Memory
Written By Leeann Donnelly
This week’s arrival of William and Kate’s baby – His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge – has us thinking back to the summer of 1996 when the child’s grandfather, Prince Charles, visited Biltmore.
The occasion? To launch the first American Summer School of the Prince of Wales’ Institute of Architecture. Biltmore House hosted the school’s students for a week that summer. They studied drawing while immersing themselves in the works of the estate’s designers Richard Morris Hunt and Frederic Law Olmsted.
The idea for hosting the school came after William A.V. Cecil Sr., George Vanderbilt’s grandson, attended a dinner party at the Prince’s Gloucestershire estate in 1995. The Asheville Citizen-Times reported Mr. Cecil said the Prince was interested in supporting good architecture in the aftermath of World War II. The war devastated many historic structures in London, and the city’s reconstruction wasn’t to everyone’s liking. That sentiment, he said, inspired Prince Charles to start the school.
While the Prince was at Biltmore, William and Mimi Cecil hosted a reception for him and his staff on the Loggia of Biltmore House. As the photo shows, the Prince’s visit caught the attention of lots of news photographers and of course, Biltmore guests!
Planning for such a visit during Biltmore’s high season was no small task, having started many months ahead of the June visit. Countless phone calls between Biltmore and Buckingham Palace took place, says Debbie Robinson, who works in Biltmore’s Marketing Department.
Bill Alexander, Biltmore’s Landscape and Forest Historian, was part of the welcome party that day, and with Bill Cecil, Jr., toured the Prince and his party through the gardens and Conservatory. So impressed with the gardens and Bill Alexander’s knowledge about the history of Biltmore and gardening in general, the Prince offered a special invitation.
“He said that I was welcome to visit Highgrove, his country estate in Gloucestershire,” says Bill, noting he’d shared his upcoming plan to lead a tour group through the English countryside with stops at notable gardens along the way. Bill made an immediate change to the group’s itinerary and later that fall, he and his tour group were welcomed by the Prince’s staff at his home. Unfortunately, an emergency took the Prince away from home that day, but his staff received Bill and the group like honored guests, treating them to an elaborate tea held in the Prince’s dining room after a grand tour by the head gardener.
It’s a lovely footnote in Biltmore’s recent history. We hope that Prince Charles is enjoying his new grandson. And our most heart-felt congratulations to William and Kate!
About the Photos
Main photo: William A.V. Cecil Sr. greets Prince Charles at the front door of Biltmore House, Summer 1996. Photo courtesy of the Asheville Citizen-Times, by Debbie Chase-Jennings.