Earlier this year, the leaseholder of a three-bedroom farmhouse near Llandovery gave notice to his landlord he would be moving out, having recently inherited several other properties. The gentleman in question was King Charles III, and his landlord was the Duchy of Cornwall, now held by his son the Prince of Wales.
After owning it via the duchy for 16 years, the King had decided Llwynywermod should no longer be part of his property portfolio, which had grown to eight residences on the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
It prompts the obvious question of whether His Majesty will be giving up any of his other homes, and of where he and the Queen intend to spend their time.
Llwynywermod, it must be said, was the most modest of the King’s many British homes. As well as Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Sandringham and Balmoral, he has Highgrove, Birkhall and Clarence House, all of which he regularly uses.
And that’s not to mention his holiday home in Romania, where he and the Queen are now enjoying a break; the Castle of Mey and Dumfries House in Scotland, properties owned by his charity where he also stays; or the Queen’s family home at Ray Mill in Wiltshire.
“It’s an issue that needs to be addressed,” said one royal source. “The strategic thinking hasn’t been fully worked through yet, because there have been other priorities such as the coronation.”
Any thoughts of the King handing in the keys to Highgrove, Birkhall or Clarence House, however, would be premature, at least in the short term. Instead, he is determined to find ways to make them viable both for himself and for the taxpayer, with the “direction of travel” being towards much more public access to several of the residences so they can pay their way.
His favourite homes are Birkhall on the Balmoral estate and Highgrove in Gloucestershire, while Clarence House has always been his marital home in the capital with Camilla (as opposed to Kensington Palace, where he lived with the late Princess Diana) and has sentimental attachment as the home of his beloved grandmother Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
Having expended decades of thought and energy refining these grand homes into his own personal sanctuaries, he is understandably reluctant to walk away from them at the age of 74.
So while Queen Elizabeth II and her court processed between Buckingham Palace, Windsor, Balmoral and Sandringham, the King intends to live a far more itinerant life, spending time each year at no fewer than 12 residences.
Some of them belong to the nation, some are owned by charitable trusts and others are his or the Queen’s personal property, meaning there are particular arguments in each case.
His Majesty already has a get-out clause when it comes to the Buckingham Palace versus Clarence House conundrum, because the palace is undergoing a 10-year overhaul, paid for with taxpayers’ money, which means the sovereign’s apartments are unavailable.
The £370 million ($760m) refurbishment, which includes replacing wiring, water pipes and the heating system, which all date back to the 1950s, will not be completed before 2027, giving the King another four years before he will be under any pressure to move back into his official residence.
At that point he will struggle to justify retaining his own living quarters at Clarence House, which could be passed on to the Princess Royal or the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh, who already have apartments in St James’s Palace, which is effectively part of the same building. Birkhall and Highgrove, though, seem to be non-negotiable.
The King uses his private income to rent Highgrove from Prince William’s Duchy of Cornwall, meaning it is not taxpayer funded. The gardens are open to the public, raising money for the Prince’s Foundation, which provides training in the sort of heritage skills showcased at Dumfries House, the 18th-century manor he restored in Ayrshire.
He stays at Dumfries House two or three times each year, and his supporters say that helps to inject “drive and commitment and expertise” to the project, which not only saved a historic house and its contents for the nation, but is keeping alive rare traditional skills that might otherwise die out. Dumfries House is owned by the Prince’s Foundation, which is headquartered there.
The foundation also owns the Castle of Mey, where the King and Queen stay for a short period every summer, and which is open to the public at other times. The King is fully aware having access to so many residences could be seen by some as an extravagance, but he believes that having a tangible royal connection is important to their future.
The same principle applies to his property in Zalanpatak, Transylvania, that can be rented out by the public when he is not there, supporting his local charity foundation.
“Having that connection with the monarch acts as a magnet to attract and support heritage crafts, as well as tourism, which helps to keep them alive,” said one supporter. It is certainly an arguable point.
As for Birkhall, which is the King’s personal property as part of the Balmoral estate, he has no intention of changing his habit of staying there every summer, and using Balmoral itself for family gatherings and for hosting prime ministers and other VIP visitors.
But, like so many other owners of stately homes, he is prepared to allow greater numbers of paying visitors when he is not in residence, to help cover its costs.
“Ways are being actively explored to widen public access to Buckingham Palace and to other royal residences, Balmoral being one,” said a senior royal source. “In any royal home or palace there are lots of things to consider in terms of making sure facilities are there for public access while preserving the fabric of the historic building, but the principle is certainly there.”
Buckingham Palace is already open every summer and Balmoral is open from April until the start of August, though the ballroom, which is used as an exhibition space, is one of the only parts of the interior the public is allowed to view. Unlike Windsor, which is open to the public all year, there is scope for both residences to welcome far more paying visitors.
Llwynywermod in Carmarthenshire, which the King bought via the Duchy of Cornwall in 2007 and first used in 2008, is different. Because he no longer owns the duchy, he was having to pay rent to his son the Prince of Wales, and decided his increased duties as King meant it was “unlikely” he would be able to use it as often as before, insiders say. He gave notice earlier this year and the lease will expire at the end of the summer, meaning there is still time for him to stay at the farmhouse one last time. After that, it is likely to be made available to the public. Other properties on the same plot are already available as holiday rentals.
It is often said the King does not have any great affection for Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle, and while there is some truth in that, he is acutely aware of his duty to use them as homes so that they remain living royal residences rather than museums.
“He knows that his presence at Buckingham Palace, Windsor and elsewhere attracts the tourist revenue and having them as part of the royal estate is part of the mystique,” said one royal aide.
Speculation in some quarters that the Prince and Princess of Wales would move into Windsor Castle has proved wide of the mark, partly because they are happy living in their relatively modest family home on the Windsor estate, and partly because the King never had any intention of giving it up.
As well as staying there for official engagements, he likes to hold “dine and sleep” evenings, where he gets an eclectic mix of guests together for a dinner party after which they stay the night in the castle’s guest rooms.
It is hard to escape the impression, however, that the King intends to spend rather less time at Windsor and Buckingham Palace than his late mother did.
While the late Queen Elizabeth would typically stay at Windsor from Thursday until Monday morning and at Buckingham Palace on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the King is likely to use Windsor as a staging post on his way to Highgrove at weekends (or Ray Mill for the Queen, where the King sometimes joins her), while he is likely to spend many weekdays on official visits up and down the country.
For now, at least, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Balmoral, Sandringham, Clarence House, Birkhall, Highgrove, the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, Dumfries House, the Castle of Mey, Ray Mill and Zalanpatak all remain home sweet home for their Majesties.