Ever wondered where those badly-behaved royals would meet up with their lovers for a secret rendez-vous? Or where they met for the first time? Throughout British history, members of the royal family have had liaisons, some dangereuses, some carried out in secret and others, the cause célèbre of the day. Let’s look at some British royal love stories and see where Elizabeth, Charles, George, the Edwards and Margaret got it on in London.
British Royal Mistresses and Lovers
Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley
The Virgin Queen had one great love during her lifetime: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. The two powerhouses met in 1554 in the rather unromantic setting of the Tower of London. She was imprisoned there by her half-sister Mary for her alleged involvement in the Wyatt rebellion. Dudley was on death’s row thanks to his family’s involvement in Lady Jane Grey’s nine-day ascension to the throne. Did they or didn’t they is a question to which historians don’t have an answer, but it was a fiery royal romance and an enduring friendship which lasted some 40 years.
Visit the Tower of London and look out for the Bell Tower where Elizabeth was imprisoned. The bell still rings today, announcing the closure of the Tower to visitors.
Charles II and Nell Gwynn
I could write an entire article dedicated to our merry monarch and his bevy of lovers, but let’s talk about the nation’s favourite saucy lass and royal mistress, Nell Gwynn. Nell would become the apple of Charles’ eye during her on-stage performances at the Drury Lane Theatre, the “Oldest Operating Playhouse in the World”.
A tunnel in the theatre’s basement connects the theatre to the Nell of Old Drury Lane pub across the road. Rumour has it that the actress would use it to meet her king for a post-performance meal followed by a little you know what upstairs.
Head over to 79 Pall Mall where you’ll come across Nell and Charles’ love nest. Here, they would entertain the who’s who of London, throwing intimate soirées late into the night. This was a domestic sanctuary where they could pretend they were man and wife. Nell spent considerable amounts of money on furniture and interior design, including her famous silver bed which in today’s money cost £100,000.
As a Hammersmith resident, I’ve always loved the idea that Charles and Nell would meet up at The Dove pub for an evening shindig. Sadly, this urban legend never happened. Charles II was dead for some 60 years before the pub opened.
George IV and Mary Robinson
Staying with the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, this was where the other playboy monarch, George IV, met his first mistress. Enter the actress and writer Mary Robinson (or Perdita as she became known). In 1779, the 17-year old prince went to see David Garrick’s production of Perdita and Florizel. Robinson was the lead and immediately attracted the attention and advances of the young monarch. She was 21, married and the toast of London. The prince was smitten, writing passionate letters to her for several months before taking her as his mistress. A year later, George’s roving eye turned to another woman, but their short-lived affair had a profound effect on the rest Robinson’s life.
The future George IV and Mary Robinson would also often meet in Kew Gardens and at Kew Palace.
Edward VII and Lillie Langtry
London’s oldest restaurant, Rules, is home to London’s most famous royal table for two. Its patron was Edward (VII), Prince of Wales and the famed actress Lillie Langtry. The lovers would sneak in through the tradesmen’s entrance up to the first floor and into a separate dining area cordoned off with a heavy red curtain.
The royal and his mistress would also meet up at Kettners (now a Soho House restaurant). Rumour has it that the king built a secret tunnel linking the Palace Theatre to the restaurant so that Langtry could join him for supper and a little hankie-pankie in the rooms upstairs. What is it with the royals and their love tunnels?
Although Langtry and “Bertie-wertie’s” affair only lasted three years, they would remain firm friends.
Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson
Bryanston Court in Marylebone (once home to yours truly) is where Wallis Simpson and Edward, Prince of Wales embarked on the romance which would eventually lead to his abdication. This was a most controversial royal affair and one which led the country into a constitutional crisis.
The ground floor flat, decorated in shades of apricot, lime green and apple, provided a social hub for the Prince and future Duchess who enjoyed regular cocktail dos and ritzy dinner parties.
You might expect to see a blue plaque outside, but you won’t find one. It was alleged that Simpson was having an affair with Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s ambassador to London, and on that controversial basis, English Heritage refused to install one.
Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones
Maggie Jones, just off Kensington Church Street, was once a favourite hangout for Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong (Lord Snowdon), although it was known as Nan’s Kitchen back then. This cosy, quintessentially British restaurant was re-named after the princess who used the alias Maggie Jones whenever booking a table. The lovers always occupied the same two tables, tucked away at the back of the ground floor, slipping in incognito around 9.30pm. Their favourite dish was the chicken pie which you can still order today.