Under English law at the time a divorcée could not become Queen, something Edward could not accept. After the war the Windsors settled in France where they were offered tax free status. Their main Paris residence was 4, Champ d’Entrainement in the Bois de Bologne, but in 1952 they bought this site in Gif-sur-Yvette to be a weekend retreat. It was the only house they ever owned together.
However, the site clearly has an earlier history. There is thought to have been a mill here since before 1500, although the current main building (Le Moulin) can be dated by its sundial above the main entrance to 1734. The motto on the sundial, Lex His Horis Una Tibi, means ‘The rule of this sundial (or timepiece) is the only one you need.’ Until renamed Le Moulin de la Tuilerie by the Duchess of Windsor the mill was known as the Moulin Aubert after an earlier owner, although the mill probably owes its current form to one Jean Guillery who revived it around 1734. Guillery practised a specialized form of milling to extract the maximum amount of flour from the bran from the first milling. There was a working mill on the site until 1908.
Sometime after this the Moulin Aubert was bought by the artist and illustrator, Adrien Étienne, who became known as Drian. Drian is well known as an illustrator of women’s fashions in the 1920s and 30s but was also an accomplished painter. Drian used the house as a weekend retreat from Paris. In the 1930s he met Edward, then Prince of Wales, and also painted a portrait of his then mistress Wallis Simpson, so the Windsors were already acquainted with the painter when they took a year’s lease of the site in 1951. The Duke especially loved the place so much that in 1952 they bought it from Drian and sold it only after the Duke’s death in 1972. The site was then owned successively by a Swiss business man and a Lebanese, Dr Akhras.
The Windsors at Le Moulin de la Tuilerie
After buying the site in 1952 the Windsors spent two years renovating the main house and creating guest accommodation in the outbuildings (La Maison des Amis and La Célibataire). The Duchess renamed the site Le Moulin de la Tuilerie after the group of nearby houses and oversaw the internal works under the guidance of Stéphane Boudin, a well known interior designer. Only a few traces of their work survive today. Almost every weekend when they were resident in Paris the couple would make the expedition out to Gif, he in a Chevrolet, she in a blue Cadillac, preceded by their staff in a Citroën to get everything ready. Joining them most weekends would be a glittering guest list of nobility and celebrities of the day.
La Célibataire & La Maison des Amis
The Duchess called all her guest accommodation les célibataires (or bachelor’s quarters). The ground floor bathroom in today’s Célibataire (the unit for two people) has its original 1950s half bath and taps. The paneling in La Maison des Amis is also from the Windsors’ day. Guests were always impressed by the Duchess’s thoughtfulness – she thought of everything, from a favourite cocktail to china that matched the bedspreads when the maid brought breakfast in bed.
To read more about the history of La Célibataire in English please click here or for French please click here.