English royals visit Mount Vernon

English royals visit Mount Vernon

By Jordan Wright (Photo/Jordan Wright)

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 on March 18.

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 D.C. region since they first toured as newlyweds in 2005.

The royals always have shown a fondness for Mount Vernon, a love that stretches back to the 19th century. Queen Victoria’s son, who would go on to become King Edward VII, inaugurated the royal family tradition in 1860 and many of his descendants followed. In 1991, Charles’ mother and father, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip arrived.

And 15 years later, his brother Prince Andrew presided over a ceremony marking the start of the restoration of George Washington’s distillery. It seems they delight in historic attractions as much as the swarm of tourists and scrum of official photographers who braved the chilly afternoon.

After signing the register and touring the mansion’s bespoke rooms, the couple emerged onto the porch along with an august group that included Gov. Terry McAuliffe; Mount Vernon President and CEO Curt Viebranz; Barbara Lucas, regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association; and Carol Cadou, senior vice president for historic preservation and collections at the estate.

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 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 more than a million pounds of shad each year and guide him around the walled organic gardens, which are 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.

The entourage, who were joined by Steve Bashore, Mount Vernon’s director of trades, 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 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 Prince Charles, who graciously shook hands with her children. When 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, the estate’s director of horticulture, whose crew was busy — to borrow a phrase —painting the roses red in advance of the royal visit. Noting that Washington pored over English gardening books of the period and looked to the English for guidance on farming techniques, Norton remarked, “The prince’s cause is a noble one in which we share a common thread.”