Less than two months ago, The Sun published the “rural rivals” story about the Duchess of Cambridge’s attempt to “phase out” Rose Hanbury, the Marchioness of Cholmondeley. The two women used to be somewhat good friends, with their homes just a few miles from each other in Norfolk. Anmer Hall, the Cambridges’ country pile, is basically a very nice family home which sits on the Sandringham estate. Houghton Hall, the Cholmondeley estate, is supposed to be one of the grandest and most palatial homes in the area.
Anyway, as we now know, William overreacted to the “rural rivals” story and he ended up causing more gossip than ever, and people are pretty much convinced that William and Rose had an affair and when Kate found out, she tried to blank Rose from their social circle. Ever since I read that Royal Foibles blog post, I’ve become convinced that Rose was the one to originally leak the “rural rivals” story as payback for Kate trying to phase her out. The idea is that affairs happen quite often with this royal/aristocratic country set and no one ever phases anyone out. Kate broke the rule and so Rose made sure everyone knew about it. The affair story has been dutifully buried with significant help from William’s lawyers, and Kate was even given a special honor from the Queen which seemed like a “thank you for sticking by your sucky cheater husband” award.
Interestingly enough, now that the dust has settled a bit, Rose and her husband are back in the pages of Tatler, the official mouthpiece for the aristo set. Tatler did an article about how the Cholmondeleys are opening up Houghton Hall again this year, so that paying visitors can view their beautiful art collection:
North Norfolk boasts huge beaches, bigger skies, a swarm of royals – and Houghton Hall, the ravishing Palladian mansion built for Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first Prime Minister, in 1725. Its public rooms are stunning, an extraordinary testament to William Kent’s decorative genius. And the two majestic stone staircases that sweep up to the piano nobile at the back of the house are themselves a story: the originals, both at the front and the back of the house, were sold to settle gambling debts by Sir Robert’s grandson, the Earl of Orford, and have disappeared off the face of the earth. The splendour that is there now is courtesy of Sibyl, 6th Marchioness of Cholmondeley, who poured some of her Sassoon family money into reclaiming this glorious house from desuetude.
David Cholmondeley, the current Marquess, may yet restore the other set of glorious stairs to the front of his house. For the moment, though, he’s making do with the glorious, gleaming Henry Moore bronze, that’s sitting on the lawn just yards from the entrance: ‘Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae’, made in 1968-1969.
It’s just one of eight Moores in this year’s Houghton art extravaganza – the latest in a series that’s been entrancing the public since 2013, when the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg lent back to Norfolk 70 works originally displayed in Walpole’s Houghton that his spendthrift sold to Catherine The Great of Russia for 40,000 golden sovereigns. It was intensely romantic to see great pictures by Velasquez, Rembrandt, Rubens, Poussin and more back where they once belonged – and intensely gratifying for the Houghton box office. Normally, the Hall receives 16,000 visitors a year; in 2013, 165,000 drank their fill.
David Cholmondeley and his beautiful wife, Rose, have put on three further exhibitions, Richard Long in 2015, Damien Hirst last year, and the best of the bunch, the wonderful James Turrell in 2017. Turrell, who plays meditatively with light, has left Houghton his Skyscape; Seldom Seen – a wooden hut, resting quietly and semi-hidden among trees in a formal garden, part of its roof open to the sky. I sat there, alone, watching clouds, and was transported. Wonderful – but best of all, I was told, at sunrise and sunset. This month, Houghton is putting on six sunset viewings of the Turrell, plus dinners in the Old Kitchen of the Hall, from May 20-25, limited to 30 at a time. I’d grab the opportunity if you can.
It goes on from there, talking about all of the gorgeous art in the Cholmondeley collection and what is being displayed this year. I imagine this is a huge money-maker for the Cholmondeleys, allowing paying visitors to come in and view their collection, or loaned collections. It’s just a reminder of several things all at once: the Cholmondeleys are super-wealthy and well-connected, their house is bigger and grander than anything the Cambridges have currently, and the Cholmondeleys aren’t going anywhere. They’re not hiding. If anything, the affair gossip will probably add to the interest in Houghton Hall this year.
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.