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Author: Grant Quertermous, CAHPT Curator & Director of Collections
While many historic houses in the United States can make the claim that George Washington slept there, only a few, including CAHPT’s Roper House, can say the same about the current King of England.
King Charles III, then the Prince of Wales, stayed at Roper House for several days during a February 1990 visit to Charleston to attend a Business in the Community conference. After the visit, CAHPT’s founder, Richard H. Jenrette, told a reporter that for Prince Charles, “Charleston was very much to his liking, he said the city had a wonderfully human scale—and a good name.”
Surviving photographs in the CAHPT archives show the Prince of Wales chatting with Jenrette in the first floor Reception Room, where they later posed for a more formal photograph that appeared in Adventures With Old Houses. The Prince of Wales also wrote the forward to the book, noting how Jenrette’s passion for classical architecture paralleled his “own interest in that and other forms of architecture in Britain and elsewhere.” The Prince of Wales noted that Roper House displayed “not only Mr. Jenrette’s commitment to preserving the best of America’s architectural heritage, but also his extraordinary collection of classical American art, antiques, and other furnishings.”
While the Prince of Wales was in residence at Roper House, crowds gathered on East Battery Street to catch a glimpse of the future monarch as he was arriving or departing. Additional newspaper clippings now in the CAHPT archives include photographs that show Charles waving to the assembled crowd. The 1990 visit was Charles’ second time in the City of Charleston. He had previously visited in 1977, touring the campus of the College of Charleston and reviewing a Citadel Parade.
One evening during the Prince of Wales’ stay at Roper House, a dinner was held for him and other notable conference attendees. The dinner featured cuisine by well-known Charleston chef, Louis Osteen. According to a newspaper article written the following week, the three-course meal that Osteen prepared included risotto with local shellfish and mushrooms, roast capon breast, fresh fettuccini with stock and lemon zest, pancakes of wild rice and mushrooms, lightly steamed petite green beans, and braised leeks. The dessert included a personal favorite of the Prince, mango ice cream with chocolate truffles flavored with bourbon. The risotto dish was so well received that Chef Osteen received a call to make it again the following day at the request of the Prince of Wales. Among the guests at the dinner was former King Constantine II of Greece, the Prince of Wales’ second cousin and close friend, who reigned as King of Greece from 1964 until the 1973 dissolution of the Greek monarchy.
While in residence at Roper House, the Prince of Wales was given the front bedroom on the third floor, the grandest in the house. The room features floor to ceiling windows that provide sweeping views of Charleston Harbor and Fort Sumter. As Jenrette described the space in Adventures With Old Houses, “from a big four-poster bed, one looks directly to the Atlantic Ocean through tall windows that extend to the floor, with the original wrought-iron balconies framing the view. The sky-blue curtains and carpet which seem to merge with the blue-gray ocean outside, have given this bedroom the nickname, “Blue Heaven.” Today, an autographed photo, a gift from the Prince of Wales to Mr. Jenrette during the visit, can be found in the room. The green leather frame that holds the photo is embossed in gilt with The Three Feathers, the heraldic badge of the Prince of Wales as Heir to the British throne.
Charles III is the first British monarch to use that regnal name since the 17th century. The city of Charleston, originally known as Charles Towne, was named for the previous British monarch who used the name, Charles II, who reigned as King of England, Scotland, and Ireland, from 1660 to 1685. Many of the street names still used in the city of Charleston reflect the origins of the city in the British Colonial Atlantic world. King Street honors the King of England, while Queen Street was named to honor Queen Caroline, the Queen Consort of King George II. The Ashley and Cooper Rivers, the two waterways responsible for creating the peninsula on which Charleston is located, were named after one of the English Lords’ Proprietors of Carolina, Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury. Finally, the name of the colony, Carolina, was derived from Carolus, Charles in Latin, in honor of King Charles I of England.
In much the same way that Charles’ mother, Queen Elizabeth II, holds the distinction of being the longest serving British Monarch, he holds the distinction of being the longest-serving Prince of Wales, a role he had for 64 years. His tenure even surpassed that of his great-great-grandfather, King Edward VII, who was Prince of Wales for almost 60 years during Queen Victoria’s reign. As Prince of Wales, Edward VII, known by his family as “Bertie” was also the first member of the British Royal family to visit the United States. King Edward VIII, Charles’ great-uncle (later known as the Duke of Windsor after his 1936 abdication), visited the United States as Prince of Wales in 1919 and again in 1924. It was Charles’ grandfather, King George VI, who became the first reigning British monarch to visit the United States when he and the Queen Consort visited in 1938.
The late Queen Elizabeth II made her first visit to the United States in 1951 while still known as Princess Elizabeth, when she and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, were guests of President and Mrs. Truman. The 1990 visit to Charleston was just one of more than twenty visits to the United States that Charles made during his lengthy tenure as Prince of Wales. During his first visit in 1970, Charles and his sister Anne were guests of President Richard M. Nixon and family at the White House.
As Charles noted in the preface to Jenrette’s book, “What neither of us realized when I accepted his invitation was the Hurricane Hugo would make a devastating visit to Charleston a few weeks prior to my arrival. Mr. Jenrette’s home overlooks Charleston harbour and the direct hit of the eye of the storm brought five feet of water into the first floor of the mansion and totally washed away the adjoining garden.”
Just four months prior to the Royal visit, Roper House and the rest of the peninsula was slammed by Hurricane Hugo when it made landfall just north of the city after midnight on September 22, 1989. Peak wind gusts in downtown Charleston were recorded at 120 miles per hour, and peak storm tides were more than ten feet above mean sea level in the Harbor, which resulted in water surging over the seawall along the Battery and inundating Roper House. The garden was washed away, and more than five feet of water flooded the first floor. Mr. Jenrette’s nonagenarian mother was upstairs on the third floor of Roper House for the duration of the storm. After power was lost, he called her every twenty minutes from New York to provide weather updates. She later recalled that the house was “quivering” during the storm, but the roof remained intact. The day before Hugo made landfall, the caretaker had moved all the furniture and works of art from the first floor up to the second floor of the house. As soon as flood waters receded, work began to repair the damage. The goal was to make the house ready for the Prince of Wales’s visit. Waterlogged plaster was replaced, walls were painted, and new electrical wiring was installed. Outside, a new garden was designed and quickly installed to replace the one that Hugo had obliterated. Mature palmetto and magnolia trees were hoisted by crane over the garden wall at 3:30 am one morning to not disrupt street traffic. All the needed work was successfully completed in time for the royal visit.
And King Charles III wasn’t the only member of the British Royal family to stay at Roper House during Mr. Jenrette’s ownership. In 2003, his younger sister Anne, the Princess Royal, also stayed in the house during a visit to Charleston.