Over the weekend, King Charles III made his first return to Sandringham, the Norfolk estate where his parents spent much of their married life, including the annual Christmas holidays, since becoming king. The estate, which has housed four generations of British monarchs over the last 150 years, is now owned privately by Charles.
After accepting the resignation of Liz Truss and greeting foreign dignitaries at Buckingham Palace on Thursday, he traveled to the estate, which is about 100 miles north of London. On Sunday, Charles and Queen Consort Camilla walked to St. Mary Magdalene Church for morning services, taking the same route to the church that the royal family often takes on Christmas morning, surrounded by a throng of well-wishers. Due to a downpour, both walked under umbrellas.
The couple’s early visit is an indication of how the Sandringham estate fits into the king’s future plans. Last week, nearly a third of Queen Elizabeth II’s racing horses at the estate’s Royal Stud were put up for sale, raising fears that the new king might be winding down his use of the estate. A source close to the stud told the Mail on Sunday that the stud’s operations are being wound down and it may become a museum over the next three years.
Unlike Prince William and Kate Middleton, whose country home Anmer Hall is on the estate, Charles has never had his own residence in Sandringham, but he has been more involved in its day-to-day management since his father, Prince Philip, retired from his duties in 2017. Later, he declined to renew the lease on the Gloucestershire farm where inputs for his Duchy Originals brand were grown.
Sandringham has now become the place where Charles is focusing his passion for gardening and farming. In 2021, Country Life reported on the estate’s transformation to fully organic agriculture under Charles’s watch. The magazine also spoke to Charles about his hopes for the estate’s future as a climate-conscious business. “There is a near constant flow of ideas, which I discuss with the wonderfully knowledgeable—and long-suffering—estate team” Charles said. “‘This could be innovative sources of organic fertilizer, niche crops, adding value by converting farm produce into products to be sold in the estate shop, targeted habitat restoration for threatened species and carbon sequestration, as well as the new and evolving opportunities around creating a marketplace for biodiversity credits.”
The king’s first trip to the estate as monarch comes as further details about his planned living arrangements for his reign have become public. Last week, the Sunday Times reported that Charles is planning to continue using Clarence House as his London residence and does not plan to move into Buckingham Palace until 2027, when a ten-year, 369 million British pound renovation has concluded, though it will continue to serve as the palace’s operational home. When Charles is in London, the royal standard will now fly over Clarence House and Buckingham Palace simultaneously.
When Charles and Camilla returned to Scotland after Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, they stayed in Birkhall, the home on the Balmoral estate he inherited from the Queen Mother rather than in Balmoral Castle. Soon after the late queen’s death, an aide of Charles told the Telegraph that he was less interested in holding onto the biggest buildings for private use.
“If you look at Highgrove, Birkhall and Clarence House, they are big houses rather than palaces,” the aide told the newspaper. “What does that mean in terms of him hanging on to massive buildings? He has gifted Dumfries House to the Scottish nation. What that means for some of those other buildings, I don’t know, but you can see the logic.”
Listen to Vanity Fair’s DYNASTY podcast now.