London: Frogmore Cottage on Queen Elizabeth II's estate in the town of Windsor, which was recently announced as the new home of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, has a curious Raj era connect with India.
The cottage had been a royal gift to Abdul Karim by Queen Victoria, the then Empress of India, in recognition of his service and as a sign of her affection towards her Indian aide and confidant.
Karim, whom the monarch referred to as her "Munshi"(attendant), was just 24 when he arrived in England from Agra to present Victoria with a special mohar, or gold coin, to mark her Golden Jubilee in 1887.
He quickly grew close to the ageing monarch, who bestowed many gifts on him including Frogmore Cottage for his own use. "Queen Victoria gave it to Abdul Karim as a special gift. She would often visit the cottage and have tea with his wife and him. He had decorated the house with many exotic things, including presents given to him by European royalty," said Shrabani Basu, the author of Victoria and Abdul: The Extraordinary True Story of the Queen's Closest Confidant'.
"There is also a sad angle to the story. Hours after Queen Victoria's funeral, the new king, Edward VII, ordered that all the letters written by his mother to Karim be seized from his house. They were burnt in a bonfire outside Frogmore Cottage and Abdul was ordered to return the home," said Basu, whose book formed the basis of the Oscar-nominated film Victoria and Abdul' last year, starring British actor Dame Judi Dench as Victoria and Indian actor Ali Fazal as Abdul.
Basu had stumbled upon the rare friendship during her research and then followed it up with a visit to Windsor Castle and asked to look at Queen Victoria's Hindustani journals a collection of notebooks filled with the monarch's handwriting practicing Urdu with her "Munshi" Karim.
"His story is now well known in Britain and around the world. Despite Edward VII's attempt to destroy the letters, Abdul could not be deleted from history," adds the author.
Kensington Palace had confirmed last month that the newly-wed Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who are expecting their first child in the spring of 2019, are set to move out of their west London home at Nottingham Cottage in Kensington Palace before the due date and make the 10-bedroom Frogmore Cottage their family home.
"Windsor is a very special place for Their Royal Highnesses and they are grateful that their official residence will be on the estate. The Duke and Duchess office will continue to be based at Kensington Palace," a spokesperson for the couple said.
The heritage cottage, which has been a favourite royal retreat for many years, will undergo a multi-million-pound refit for the new family.
It is set within the peaceful and secluded Frogmore House estate, near Windsor Castle, surrounded by 35 acres of lush green Berkshire countryside. The estate has its own man-made lake, Frogmore Lake, and is home to the Royal Burial Ground and the tomb of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are expected to move in to their home as soon as the renovations are completed next year.