The Houses of Windsor: Reveries of Home in Late Colonial Kenya

Lecture by Stuart Ward

In April 1947, Princess Elizabeth broadcast her 21st birthday speech from South Africa on the BBC; a coming of age ritual that attracted a worldwide audience. She prefaced her message with a solemn proclamation: ‘As I speak to you today from Cape Town, I am six thousand miles from the country where I was born. But I am certainly not six thousand miles from home’. Her words invoked Greater Britain in the nineteenth-century tradition of Dilke and Seeley, a world unbounded by geography or statehood. The image of royalty equally ‘at home’ in each of the Monarchy’s many realms was fundamental to upholding the popular legitimacy of empire in the post-WWII world. Within months of her broadcast, Elizabeth’s message was put to effect in the most literal sense when the Kenyan settler community offered her a home of her own in the foothills of Mt Kenya. Sagana Lodge was undoubtedly one of the more elaborate wedding gifts to Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip in November 1947. Although it is well known that the royal couple was in residence at Sagana at the time of George VIs death in February 1952, historians have shown remarkably little curiosity about the circumstances that made them homeowners in this improbable part of the world. Yet the gift reveals much, not only about the Monarchy as a symbol of the enduring purchase of Greater Britain in the post-war era, but also about the (in)security of tenure of Kenyan settlers during the early onset of decolonization. By the time the royal couple occupied the lodge in 1952, the Mau Mau uprising was on their doorstep (quite literally so, as the forests of the Mt. Kenya foothills were a major hideout for insurgents) and a return visit therefore never materialized. Yet the violation of British notions of ordered domesticity became a potent means of mobilizing empathy in Britain for the embattled settler community of Kenya. This paper examines the intersecting story of Sagana Lodge and the Monarchy as symbolic projections of home at empire’s end, and as an index of the diminishing reach and resonance of Britishness in Africa.