Duchess of Cornwall visits plaque for her great-grandmother in Florence and says she would love to buy her home back

Nick Squires
The Duchess of Cornwall visits the St Mark's English Church in Florence - REUTERS

It was the house in which her great-grandmother spent her last years after earning notoriety for her affair with King Edward VII.

Revealing a little-known connection between her family and the city of Florence, the Duchess of Cornwall said on Sunday that she would love to have the property back.

On the second full day of her six-day tour of Italy with Prince Charles, the Duchess visited St Mark’s Anglican Church in the heart of Florence.

There she laid flowers in front of plaques which commemorate Alice Keppel, her great-grandmother, who was famously Edward VII’s mistress.

Camilla listens to a choir sing inside St. Mark's English Church Credit:  Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

That much is well known; when Camilla Shand, as she then was, first met Prince Charles in the 1970s, she is said to have joked: “My great-grandmother was your great-great-grandfather's mistress, so how about it?”

But on Sunday, the Duchess revealed that her great-grandmother had lived out the last years of her life in Florence, in a property called Villa dell’Ombrellino, and that she regrets that the family home was sold off.

Chatting to the Rev William Lister, the chaplain, she said she remembers playing in the garden as a child.

The house was eventually sold, but Camilla said she regretted the decision and would love to buy it back.

“It’s in private hands but it’s all boarded up. It's such a tragedy. I feel like I should start a campaign to buy it back up. It was a magnificent place and it's such a shame it was sold,” she said. 

Rev Lister revealed, much to Camilla's surprise, that her family had given St Mark's a substantial donation from the sale of the house. “Oh really?” she said, laughing. “Perhaps you should help us.”

The Duchess of Cornwall is shown around by Dr Eike Schmidt (left), director of the Uffizi Gallery Credit: Chris Jackson/PA

The Keppels bought Villa dell’Ombrellino, not far from the Arno River, in the 1920s.

It had been the home of Galileo Galilei, the astronomer, in the early 1600s. The origins of the property date back to the 14th century.

When Mrs Keppel died in 1947, the villa was inherited by her oldest daughter, Violet Trefusis, who is believed to have lived in it until her death in 1972.

A socialite and essayist, she was friends with notable figures such as Francois Mitterand and Vita Sackville-West. Violet’s sister, Sonia, was the Duchess of Cornwall’s grandmother.

While the Duchess toured Florence, her husband was in Amatrice, a hill-top town in central Italy which was the epicentre of last August’s devastating earthquake, which killed more than 300 people.

Wearing a hard hat, he walked amid the rubble of Amatrice’s “red zone” – the almost totally obliterated centre - and saw the remains of the town’s medieval bell tower.

Prince Charles, visits the 2016 earthquake-hit town of Amatrice Credit: Andrew Medichini/AP

It survived the August quake, only to be toppled by aftershocks in October.

“The people of Britain mind very much what's happened to you all here,” the Prince told Sergio Pirozzi, Amatrice’s mayor.

He laid a wreath at a monument to victims of the disaster, bowing his head and pausing in reflection for a few moments.

Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, are in Italy for a week-long trip Credit: Andrew Medichini/AP

Among the fatalities were three Britons – 14-year-old schoolboy Marcos Burnett, and Maria, 51, and William Henniker-Gotley, 55, family friends of the teenager's parents.

They were on holiday with their families in a lovingly restored old stone house in the hamlet of Sommati, a couple of miles from Amatrice, when the 6.1 magnitude quake struck in the early hours.

Mrs Henniker-Gotley worked for Children & the Arts, a charity which was founded by the Prince of Wales, and they knew each other well.

The Prince of Wales lays flowers at the earthquake memorial Credit: John Stillwell/PA

At the time, Clarence House put out a statement in which it said that Prince Charles was “deeply saddened” to hear of her death, and that of her husband.

The Prince on Sunday met a local woman who knew the Henniker-Gotleys.

“I was friends of Maria and William. They used to come to our home and it is a huge loss for us,” said Luciana Cursi.

The Duchess of Cornwall during a visit to the Progetto Arcobaleno Association in Florence, Italy Credit: Tim Rooke/PA

He walked up to the village's civic tower - a grim reminder of natural disaster as its clock had stopped at the moment the 6.1-magnitude earthquake struck Amatrice and nearby villages at 3.36am on August 24 last year.

When Charles first arrived, he told Mayor Sergio Pirozzi: "The people in Britain mind very much what's happened to you all here."

Aftershocks brought more damage to the area and were felt as far away as the capital Rome.

Italy Earthquake, in pictures

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