Osborne House is a former royal residence in East Cowes, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom. The house was built between 1845 and 1851 for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as a summer home and rural retreat. Prince Albert designed the house himself in the style of an Italian Renaissance palazzo. The builder was Thomas Cubitt, the London architect and builder whose company built the main façade of Buckingham Palace for the royal couple in 1847. An earlier smaller house on the site was demolished to make way for a new and far larger house, though the original entrance portico survives as the main gateway to the walled garden.
Queen Victoria died at Osborne House in January 1901. Following her death, the house became surplus to royal requirements and was given to the state, with a few rooms being retained as a private museum to Queen Victoria. From 1903 until 1921 it was used as a junior officer training college for the Royal Navy, known as the Royal Naval College, Osborne. In 1998 training programmes consolidated at the Britannia Royal Naval College, now at Dartmouth, thus vacating Osborne House. The House is now open to the public for tours.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bought Osborne House on the Isle of Wight from Lady Isabella Blachford in October 1845. They wanted a home removed from the stresses of court life. Queen Victoria had spent two holidays on the Isle of Wight as a young girl, when her mother, the then Duchess of Kent, rented Norris Castle, the estate next door to Osborne. The setting of the three-storey Georgian house appealed to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; in particular, the views of the Solent reminded Albert of the Bay of Naples in Italy. They soon realised that the house was too small for their needs. They decided with advisors to replace the house with a new, larger residence.
The new Osborne House was built between 1845 and 1851 in the style of the Italian Renaissance, complete with two belvedere towers. Prince Albert designed the house himself in conjunction with builder Thomas Cubitt, the London architect and builder whose company also built the main façade of Buckingham Palace. The couple paid for much of the new house's furnishings by the sale of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton.
The house's original square wing was known as 'The Pavilion,' containing the principal and royal apartments on the ground and first floors, respectively. The principal apartments, particularly, hold reminders of Victoria's dynastic links with the other European royal families. The Billiard Room holds a massive porcelain vase that was a gift of the Russian Tsar. The Billiard Room, Queen's Dining Room, and the Drawing Room on the ground floor all express grandeur.
In marked contrast is the more homely and unassuming décor of the royal apartments on the first floor. These include the Prince's Dressing Room, the Queen's Sitting Room, the Queen's Bedroom, and the children's nurseries. Intended for private, domestic use, these rooms were made as comfortable as possible. Both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were determined to bring up their children in a natural and loving environment. They allowed the royal children to visit their parents' bedrooms frequently, at a time when other children of aristocrats often lived at a remove from their parents in nurseries, joining them occasionally in public rooms, rather than in shared intimate spaces.
The 'main wing' was added later: it contains the household accommodation and council and audience chambers. The final addition to the house was a wing built between 1890 and 1891. This wing was designed by John Lockwood Kipling, father of the poet Rudyard Kipling. On the ground floor, it includes the famous Durbar Room, named after an anglicised version of the Hindi word durbar, meaning court. The Durbar Room was built for state functions; it was decorated by Bhai Ram Singh in an elaborate and intricate style, and has a carpet from Agra. It now holds gifts Queen Victoria received on her Golden and Diamond jubilees. These include engraved silver and copper vases, Indian armour, and a model of an Indian palace. The first floor of the new wing was for the sole use of Princess Beatrice and her family. Beatrice was the Queen's youngest daughter, and she lived near Victoria during her life.
Osborne House expresses numerous associations with the British Raj and India, housing a collection of paintings of Indian persons and scenes, painted at Queen Victoria's request by Rudolf Swoboda. These include depictions of Indians resident or visiting Britain in the 19th century, and scenes painted in India when Swoboda traveled there to create such works.
The royal family stayed at Osborne for lengthy periods each year: in the spring for Victoria's birthday in May; in July and August when they celebrated Albert's birthday; and just before Christmas. In a break from the past, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert allowed photographers and painters to make works featuring their family in the grounds and in the house. This was partly for their own enjoyment and partly as a form of public relations to demonstrate to the nation their character as a happy and devoted family. Many thousands of prints of the royal family were sold to the public, which led Victoria to remark, "no Sovereign was ever more loved than I am (I am bold enough to say)." Writing to her daughter Victoria in 1858 about the gloominess of Windsor Castle, Queen Victoria stated, "I long for our cheerful and unpalacelike rooms at Osborne."
In December 1861, Prince Albert died at Windsor Castle. During her long widowhood, Queen Victoria continued to visit Osborne House as one of her favourite homes.
In 1876, as a tribute to Queen Victoria, the Government House of the colony (now State) of Victoria, Australia, was constructed as a copy of Osborne House.
The Prince Consort participated directly in the laying out of the estate, gardens and woodlands to prove his knowledge of forestry and landscaping. At the more official royal residences, he had been overruled by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, who had official responsibilities for the grounds. Below the gardens was a private beach, where the Queen kept her own private bathing machine.
The grounds include a 'Swiss Cottage.' The cottage was dismantled and brought piece by piece from Switzerland to Osborne where it was reassembled. There, the royal children were encouraged to garden. Each child was given a rectangular plot in which to grow fruit, vegetables and flowers. They sold their produce to their father. Prince Albert used this as a way to teach the basics of economics. The children also learned to cook in the Swiss Cottage, which was equipped with a fully functioning kitchen. Both parents saw this kind of education as a way of grounding their children in the activities of daily life shared by the people in the kingdom despite their royal status.
Queen Victoria died at Osborne on 22 January 1901 with two generations of her family gathered around her. Although Victoria had adored Osborne, her children were less attached to it. Victoria's will left strict instructions that Osborne was to stay within the family, but nobody wanted it, so the new King Edward VII presented it to the nation. With the exception of Princess Beatrice and Princess Louise, who both retained houses on the estate, the rest of the royal family considered Osborne as something of an inaccessible white elephant. The royal apartments on the upper floors of the pavilion wing, including the late Queen's bedroom, were turned into a private museum accessible only to the royal family.
In 1903, the new stable block became a junior officer training college for the Royal Navy known as the Royal Naval College, Osborne. Initial training began at about the age of 13, and after two years studies were continued at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. The college closed in 1921, with the last students leaving on 9 April 1921. The traditions of Osborne helped inspire the operations of the Nautical College Pangbourne, after its founding in 1917. The NCP has now become Pangbourne College, but its students continue the tradition of wearing naval uniform, and maintaining certain naval traditions.
Former students of Osborne included Queen Victoria's great-grandsons, the future Edward VIII and George VI, and their younger brother George, Duke of Kent. Another well-known alumnus of the college was Jack Llewelyn Davies, one of the five Llewelyn Davies boys who inspired J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan. The case of George Archer-Shee from 1908, who was expelled from Osborne after being falsely accused of stealing a 5-shilling postal order, inspired the play The Winslow Boy.
In some continuity with the former Royal Naval College is the nearby T.S. Osborne Sea Cadet unit.
During World War I, the secondary wings of Osborne House were used as an officers' convalescent home—Robert Graves and A. A. Milne were two famous patients. Known as King Edward VII Retirement Home for Officers, this later included convalescents from military and civil service backgrounds, until the late 1990s for retired officers of the British Armed Services.
Today, Osborne House is under the care of English Heritage and is open to the public. The former Naval College's cricket pavilion was converted into a holiday cottage in 2004.
English Heritage has a management contract to run Osborne House as a historic tourist attraction. The house's ownership since 1971 has been held in a private trust connected to Historic Royal Palaces, the agency covering, among others, Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London.
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