Wide-eyed tourists were gobsmacked to shake hands with and get hugs from His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, and his wife, Camilla Parker-Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall, as the couple toured George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate last Wednesday. In town for four days the Prince was eager to return to the historic home he had visited in 1970 when he was accompanied by his sister, Princess Anne, and the daughters of then-President Richard Nixon, Julie and Tricia. For Charles and Camilla it was their third visit to the area since they toured as newlyweds in 2005.
The royals have always shown a fondness for Mount Vernon, despite rocky relations with the monarchy in Washington’s day. Queen Victoria’s son, King Edward VII inaugurated the first royal family visit in 1860 and many of his descendants followed. In 1991 Charles’ mother and father, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip arrived. Fifteen years later his brother, Prince Andrew, presided over a ceremony marking the beginning of the restoration of George Washington’s Distillery. It seems they delight in the historic destination as much the swarm of tourists and scrum of official photographers who braved the chilly afternoon for an epic photo op or hoped-for ‘selfies’.
After signing the register and touring the mansion’s bespoke rooms, the couple emerged onto the porch along with an august group that included Virginia’s Governor Terry McAuliffe; Mount Vernon’s President,Curt Viebranz; Regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, Barbara Lucas; and Senior Vice President for Historic Preservation & Collections, Carol Cardou. Fashionistas take note – – the Prince sported bright blue casual trousers with a dark navy overcoat and patterned blue silk tie while the Duchess looked elegant in a slate gray coat with Greek key embroidery by Bruce Oldfield, one of her favorite designers.
While Camilla stayed behind admiring the artworks, Charles headed down along the river to view the wharf his mother had dedicated so many years before. Much has been written about the Prince’s passion for organic gardening, conservation and sustainable farming and fishing and Viebranz was eager to show him where Washington once netted over a million pounds of shad each year and walk him around the walled organic gardens so much like the Prince’s own gardens at High Grove.
Greeting school children along the way, Charles took note of the newborn lambs and later stopped for a quiet moment to lay a wreath at the tomb of the American general who led the army that defeated his kinsmen. Apparently all is forgiven.
The entourage, who were joined by Director of Trades, Steve Bashore, then strode briskly up the hill. The Prince paused briefly to greet the heritage breed Austrian oxen with a gentle pat on the head before entering the sixteen-sided Pioneer Barn where he watched ponies tread the wheat.
All smiles, local resident, Kitty Morgan, a British ex-pat who had allowed her two boys to play hooky for the historic moment, was thrilled to glimpse the Prince who graciously shook hands with her children. When was asked how her countrymen felt about Americans since the Revolutionary War, she was quick to say, “Oh, we love the Americans!”
Just as excited was Dean Norton, Mount Vernon’s Director of Horticulture, whose crew was busy painting the roses red (to borrow a phrase) in advance of the royal visit. Noting that Washington pored over English gardening books of the period and looked to the English for guidance as to how to farm the land, Norton remarked, “The Prince’s cause is a noble one in which we share a common thread.”
[All photos by Jordan Wright].
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