For the man who gave up the throne of England to be with the women he loved, living in seclusion became a life sentence. Exiled from England to avoid stirring up trouble for the Royal Family, Edward and his American wife settled in Paris and lived in the beautiful Chateau Le Bois, which became better known as “Villa Windsor”, famous for the glamorous parties attended by the crème de la crème of café society. Lesser-known however, was their much-loved and enchanting weekend home, an 18th century mill at the mouth of the Chevreuse valley. And I bet you wouldn’t believe me if I told you Le Moulin de la Tuilerie, as it was named by the Duchess, could be your own countryside retreat for the price of budget hotel. Now, do I have your attention?
While living in Paris, almost every weekend the Royal outcasts would leave town, heading 20 miles southwest of the city; Edward in his Chevrolet, Wallis in her blue Cadillac, followed by a Citroën for their staff. They typically invited friends to join them– Maria Callas, Elizabeth Taylor, Marlene Dietrich, Cecil Beaton and various celebrities of the day were among the glittering guest list that passed through the gates of the Moulin at Gif-sur-Yvette.
It was the only house Wallis and Edward ever actually owned. They bought the flour mill from artist Adrien Étienne, also know as Drian, a fashion illustrator whose work appeared in all the women’s style magazines of the 1920s & 30s before the days of photography. He painted too, and used the mill as an artist’s retreat, where Picasso and Fernand Leger often came to stay.
In 1951, he leased it to his friends, the Windsors, but Edward became so attached to the charming property that he made it their own, spending 50,000 Francs on a two-year renovation to transform it into the quintessential English country house in the middle of France. For the homesick English ex-King that never was, it was his home away from home.
The Duke called on the great English garden designer, Russel Page to design his beloved English garden, which he maintained passionately with his staff of five gardeners. A swimming pool was also installed with a changing hut with his-and-hers cubicles.
The outbuildings were transformed to accommodate their constant flow of guests. The old pigeonnier (dovecote) became an outside dining room, the large barn converted into “the Orangery”, which served as the main living room and the stables became further bedrooms and a study. The Moulin itself (the windmill) became a space for entertaining and dancing and also housed separate sleeping wings for the Duke and Duchess. Wallis hired Stéphane Boudin, the interior designer who went on to work with Jackie Kennedy on the White House.
After the Duke died in 1972, Wallis sold the home and it was owned briefly by a Swiss business man and then a Lebanese doctor before the Moulin went into a period of decline. Ivy crawled into every room of the former Royal home and the garden that had been faithfully tended to by the Duke was swallowed by vegetation; real-life secret garden.
In 2005, the home was rescued from dilapidation by a British property company hoping to give the buildings a new future as a holiday accommodation. The restoration was a significant undertaking, and in 2009, the Landmark Trust came on board to help with the renovation and furnishing of the retreat for its new purpose as an inspiring place to escape the city.
While little of the Windsor’s plush decoration remains, you can still find glimpses, such as Stéphane Boudin’s mosaic wall decoration in the sitting room of the Pigeonnier and the Dukes walled garden still grows behind the Lodge.
The lavish lifestyle of the exiled English royals has been swapped for simpler, more rustic French décor, but the former home of Edward and Wallis still reveals its own stories of an enigmatic relationship.
The Landmark Trust calls it “an echo of Englishness recalling happy times” and rents out the 7 bedroom moulin for a very reasonable price. A four night stay, if you can fill the property, works out at £22.19 per person per night. Just the right budget for kings and queens in exile.