Le Moulin de la Tuilerie

Gif-sur-Yvette, L'Essonne, Île-de-France

Built in 1734, for the merchant miller Jean Guillery, however, it became best-known between 1952 and 1972 as the country retreat of the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson. Their weekend home - that was also the only home they ever actually owned - constitutes the old mill house and a warren of similarly picturesque outbuildings on the outskirts of Gif-sur-Yvette, south of Versailles, and 22-miles southwest of Paris. Every weekend, a small and unusual convoy made up of the Duke in his Chevrolet, the Duchess in her blue Cadillac, and their staff rattling behind in a Citroën, converged upon their country idyll, then just a forty minute drive from the Villa Windsor....

This house is best associated with...

Edward, Duke of Windsor

H.R.H. the Duke of Windsor, formerly Edward VIII of England


Wallis Simpson

Bessie Wallis (Warfield), Spencer, Simpson; Duchess of Windsor


Originally known as "Le Moulin Aubert" until renamed by the Windsors, a flour mill had existed here since about 1500 and was still operational up until 1908. The build date of the mill house is inscribed on the sundial over the front door that also offers all who enter a gentle reminder of how life is to be led here: "Lex His Horis Una Tibi" meaning, "the rule of this timepiece is the only one you need". This no doubt resonated perfectly with the man who abhorred the idea of having to follow rules, and quit his job as a ruler.

Albeit the most famous, the Windsors were not the only famous people to live here. At around about the time of their marriage at the Château de Candé in 1937, they became friendly with the French fashion illustrator known as "Drian" (Adrien Désiré Étienne) who lived at Le Moulin that he in turn had purchased from the cubist artist Fernand Léger. Drian's portrait of Wallis was the first acquired by the Windsors (a wedding present from the artist according to Wallis) and currently hangs at the Villa Windsor.

After the War, the Windsors lived a nomadic lifestyle between France and the States, staying with friends or in hotels. Their tacit support of Hitler before the war now ensured their exclusion from a large part of society and even after 1949 when they took a lease at 85 Rue de la Faisanderie in Paris - the former home of Willie K. Vanderbilt - they continued to keep a low profile. In 1950, an invitation to stay with Drian at Le Moulin came as a welcome respite and the Duke fell in love with the place on first sight. When it became clear that a return to England was not on the cards, they chose to settle in France.

"Our Only Real Home"

In 1952, a year before they acquired the Villa Windsor for a comparative peppercorn rent from the French government, they succeeded in obtaining £80,000 from the British government to purchase the Moulin from Drian, topped up the following year with a further £20,000 to renovate and decorate. It was the only home they would ever own and according to Wallis, "our only real home". The Duchess renamed it "Le Moulin de la Tuilerie" after the group of nearby houses, but it was unlikely that she didn't also have the Tuileries Palace in mind - up until the monarchy was abolished, the principal residence of the French Royal Family in Paris. But, they referred to it casually as "The Mill" - despite all their years in France, the Windsors never grasped the French language.

The 23-acre property lies in a valley often shrouded in fog and divided into two halves by the fast-flowing River Mérantaise. Aside from the mill house with its solid stone walls two feet thick there is a gardener's lodge, guest cottage, bachelor's quarters, and a barn that the Windsors referred to as the 'Trophy Room,' all draped in vines, with their own private terrace, and connected by a maze of cobbled pathways. Behind them, following the stream that drops into the river below, are the gardens and flowerbeds that lead off into ancient rocky woodland on the hillside that the Duke jokingly referred to as 'Cardiac Hill'. These gardens were the creation of the famous English landscape architect Russell Page in conjunction with the Duke who had very fixed ideas about what he wanted.

"Home" to the Duke meant a garden in which he could immerse himself, and escape. In later years even if he wasn't pruning, planning, digging or clearing, he would slip away into the garden to read comics with the head gardener's children in the wigwam he bought them. Not speaking French, but having grown up speaking German at home, he found a happy medium when he employed Edouard Kruch (1914-2008) from German-speaking Alsace as his head gardener, to lead a permanent team of four groundsmen.

"More Palm Beach than English or French"

The Mill as inherited from Drian was only half renovated and while the Duke busied himself in the gardens, the Duchess focused on the renovations and decorations that took two years to complete under the guidance of Stéphane Boudin, the lead designer at Maison Jansen in Paris. The Duchess insisted: "I wanted to have a fling with rich, bright colours... Every house should have a theme, then the decoration becomes something like a musical composition; each room carries the theme but with variations of mood and pace." She may have thought she was creating her own rusticated Petit Trianon here, but others begged to differ and while her dressmakers had succeeded in making her the best dressed woman in the world, her ideas on informal interior design won her little praise.

Her friend Lady Diana (Mitford) Moseley, wife of Britain's most famous fascist, found it, "very bright with patterned carpets, lots of apricot, and really more Palm Beach than English or French". The usually fawning photographer Cecil Beaton was unable to mask his disgust: "overdone and chichi. Medallions on the walls, gimmicky pouffs, bamboo chairs. Simply not good enough". The New York interior decorator Billy Baldwin was no more complementary: "Most of the Mill was awfully tacky but that's what Wallis had - tacky southern taste, much too overdone, much too elaborate and no real charm". 

Striking - and telling - among her personal flourishes was the Crown of England she had painted on top of the circular pool house at the foot of the garden, visible to all above; and, on the main wall of the upstairs reception room she commissioned a mural of a water mill under which is written: "I'm not the miller's daughter, but I've been through the mill," in reference to the bitterness of exile, the humiliation she felt on being excluded from the highest rank in society, and being denied the title, "Royal Highness". 

The Duke's input inside the house was minimal, but he enjoyed showing guests a map in his bedroom perforated with small lights, illuminating all the places he'd travelled to as the Prince of Wales. On the opposite wall was his most treasured possession, a framed collection of regimental buttons from every British unit that fought in the trenches.

"They'll Hate You if You Destroy the Myth"

The Windsors confined large scale entertaining to Paris and it was only the select few who were extended invitations to the Mill. Among one of the first groups to be invited here were Princesse Ghislaine de Polignac and Jimmy Donahue, the otherwise homosexual playboy twenty years the Duchess' junior with whom she had an affair from 1950 to 1954. Other guests of note included Elizabeth Taylor, Marlene Dietrich, Henry Ford, and of course Cecil Beaton. Whatever their thoughts about the décor, guests were always impressed by the Duchess’ thoughtfulness, whether it was remembering their favourite cocktail or matching their bedspreads with the breakfast china the maid brought in.
When the guests left, as Hugo Vickers put it in his book Behind Closed Doors, "it was hard to live out the myth of the greatest love story of the 20th century". He relates a story told by the Duke's longtime secretary, John Utter: "He said that when the Windsors were alone at the Mill without guests, they would go through after dinner and a decanter of whisky would be brought in. They were not tired enough to go to bed but they had nothing to say to each other, so the contents of the decanter just went slowly down, down, down". Asked if he'd write his memoirs for the Royal Archives he declined, reminded of the line he had repeated many times before: "They'll hate you if you destroy the myth".

Money and the Millstone

The Duchess had always preferred the South of France to her husband's foggy idyll, and as the years passed she became increasingly resentful of the Mill and the proverbial millstone it placed around her neck. In 1968, as their money concerns became harder to ignore, they set in motion an elaborate plan to develop the property with 537-houses and 560-parking spaces all centered around a tennis club. They tugged on every ear they could to push through the planning permission, but the local Mayor fought them every step of the way and eventually succeeded in consigning their plan to the trash. Even the Duchess' old friend Diana Mosley took a dim view of their unenlightened approach to preservation.

Ground Control and Major Tom

In 1971, the ever obedient but now dying Duke instructed his secretary to place the Mill on the market and find something for him and Wallis in the South of France. The Duke died in May the following year and soon afterwards the Mill was sold for 2-million francs to the Swiss Industrialist, Edmond Artar, along with most of the contents that he promptly auctioned off. Arta took his own life in 1977 and when it was on the market in 1980 David Bowie was among those who considered buying it. Eventually it was sold to a Dr. Akhras from Lebanon who over the years allowed it to fall into an ever-decreasing state of repair.

The Landmark Trust & La Tuilerie Today

In 2005, the Mill became the first property in France to be owned and managed by the Landmark Trust - a British charity that specializes in caring for historic properties and letting them out as holiday rentals. Ironically, the patron of the Landmark Trust is the Duke's grand-nephew, Charles III, who fortunately has never espoused his great-uncle's ideas on preservation. For better or worse depending on your sunglasses, the Duchess' interior was eradicated in the 1970s and the décor today follows a more restrained smartness, although her miller's mural looks exactly as it might have done in the 1950s. Accommodation is split across the main house "Le Moulin" that sleeps twelve; "La Maison des Amis" that sleeps four; and, "La Célibataire" (the bachelor's quarters) that sleeps two. 

In 2019 it was placed on the market with 'Vingt Paris' for 6.5-million euros. Having been sold for an undisclosed sum, it is once again a private family home.

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 12/10/2022 and last updated on 17/10/2022.
All images Courtesy of the Sales Catalogue with VingtParis.com; Live like a King in France, by Charlotte Higgins for the Guardian; A Secret Garden, by Robin Lane Fox for the Financial Times: The Landmark Trust: Le Moulin de la Tuilerie; That Woman (2011) by Anne Sebba; Behind Closed Doors (2011), by Hugo Vickers; Hero: David Bowie (2016), by Lesley-Ann Jones; Ville de Gif, Le Moulin de la Tuilerie; La Maison de Campagne Parisienne du Duc de Windsor et Wallis Simpson, Les Amants Maudits de la Royauté Britannique, Vanity Fair;


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