Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle’s new home, a 19th century cottage with an Indian connection on Windsor estate, cost the UK taxpayers a whopping £2.4 million in refurbishment, according to annual royal accounts released on Tuesday.
Frogmore Cottage on the grounds of Queen Elizabeth II’s Windsor estate was chosen by the royal couple as their family home last year.
The couple’s new home has an Indian connection as a royal gift to Abdul Karim by Queen Victoria, then Empress of India, as a sign of her affection for her Indian aide and confidant.
In 2018, it was a gift from Harry’s grandmother, the Queen, to the newly-wed couple who are now settled into the cottage with new-born baby Archie.
According to the latest royal accounts, months of renovation work to turn the property spread over five separate spaces into one single home was paid for by the UK’s Sovereign Grant.
“The property had not been the subject of work for some years and had already been earmarked for renovation in line with our responsibility to maintain the condition of the occupied royal palaces estate,” said Michael Stevens, Keeper of the Privy Purse, in charge of the 93-year-old monarch’s finances.
The refurbishment took about six months with some areas yet to be completed, such as repainting the exterior. Any upgrades to standard fixtures and fittings were paid for by Harry, 34, and Meghan, 37, — the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, palace officials said.
The cottage is set within the peaceful and secluded Frogmore House estate, near Windsor Castle, surrounded by 35 acres of lush vegetation and Berkshire countryside.
The estate has its own man-made lake, Frogmore Lake, and is home to the Royal Burial Ground and the tomb of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
It is already on the tourist trail as Harry and Meghan’s new home, with its Indian history linked to Karim also attracting some attention as a result of a 2017 film starring Judi Dench as Queen Victoria and Ali Fazal as Abdul.
“Queen Victoria gave it to Abdul Karim, as a special gift. She would often visit the cottage and have tea with his wife and him. He had decorated the house with many exotic things, including presents given to him by European royalty,” said Shrabani Basu, the author of Victoria and Abdul: The Extraordinary True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant which formed the basis for the screen adaptation Victoria and Abdul.
Born in Uttar Pradesh, Karim, known as “the Munshi”, was an Indian attendant of Queen Victoria. He served her during the final fourteen years of her reign.
High renovation costs
The work on the cottage began after Harry and Meghan announced plans to move out of Kensington Palace in London, where they were neighbours of Harry’s older brother Prince William and Kate Middleton.
The high renovation cost, met by UK taxpayer funds will revive questions over the decision to move out of the London palace amid speculation of a deepening family split between the two brothers and their wives.
The Queen’s official expenditure is met from public funds in exchange for revenue from the Crown Estate – or the extensive property owned by the monarch.
The “core” Sovereign Grant or expense allowance is usually based on 15% of the net surplus of the Crown Estate.
The 2018-19 accounts, which included the cost of renovating the new cottage, amounted to £82 million, with £33 million set aside for maintenance.
The Queen’s official expenses last year were £67 million, a 41% year-on-year increase, with a large amount of the rise attributed to the ongoing renovation at Buckingham Palace.