The Sunday Times  - 3 April 2017  Text: Tom Kington  Photography: Chris Jackson

Camilla lays flowers for a royal mistress

The Duchess of Cornwall viewed paintings in the Vasari Corridor in Florence

The Duchess of Cornwall has paid tribute to her great-grandmother Alice Keppel, who became a mistress of King Edward VII. The duchess laid flowers at a plaque to Keppel at the Anglican church of St Mark’s in Florence. It was her first official visit to honour the woman who became the lover of the future king when he was Prince of Wales and remained his mistress until his death in 1910. The duchess is on a tour of Italy, Romania and Austria with the Prince of Wales that is designed to shore up British relations in Europe as the Brexit process begins. Alice Keppel was a married 29-year-old society hostess when she became the mistress of the Prince of Wales in 1898, four years before his coronation. After his death she moved to Tuscany, buying the 14th-century Villa Ombrellino, once home to Galileo.

The duchess said that she had childhood memories of the villa’s statue-filled gardens and regretted the decision by her family to sell the property. “It’s in private hands but is all boarded up. It’s such a tragedy. I feel like I should start a campaign to buy it back,” she said. The Prince of Wales visited Amatrice in central Italy to visit survivors of last August’s earthquake, which killed nearly 300 people. He described the town as a “scene of terrifying devastation”. Carmine Monteforte, 75, who had waited with a group of locals waving Union flags, said that he had been given a big hug from the prince. “It was a lovely gesture of human warmth, I teared up. His visit has certainly raised morale here,” Mr Monteforte said. The prince and duchess will meet Pope Francis at the Vatican tomorrow.

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