A King's mistress in Italy

Fifteen years after Edward VII’s death in 1910, his last mistress, Mrs Alice Keppel (with whom he was extremely happy), bought a villa in Tuscany. On 2 April, the Duchess of Cornwall, a great-granddaughter of Mrs Keppel, visited the villa, prompting the following letter from Alistair Lexden which was published in The Daily Telegraph on 8 April.

SIR--The Duchess of Cornwall (report, 8 April) should not grieve unduly that the Villa dell’ Ombrellino in Florence, acquired by her great-grandmother Alice Keppel in 1925 with Edward VII’s legacy, was sold after the death in 1972 of her great-aunt, Violet Trefusis (the lover of Vita Sackville-West, among others), who diminished the family’s resources by leaving five million lire to the poor and another million to the local Anglican church.

In his Tuscan Villas (1973), Harold Acton described the property as “a pretentious pastiche”. Though Mrs Keppel got rid of the “tawdry Victorian palm” that disfigured the house for years, she took great pride in a hideous Union Jack garden designed on her instructions. She would poke it with her umbrella and tell the bemused gardeners, in her shaky Italian, “Bisogna begonia”, though that flower disliked the local soil. Her proudest moment came when Winston Churchill arrived with his paint box. 

As regards the villa, a curious misunderstanding took root. For years after her death tour guides would point out the villa to visitors, explaining “There lived Mr Keppel, the last lover of Queen Victoria”.

Lord Lexden
London SW1