Villa Wolkonsky is not an obviously Roman name. The story of how it came to be there and of how and why it became the Residence of the British Ambassador to Italy is not widely known. With its Roman aqueduct and extensive gardens behind high walls it has an air of romance, deliberately fostered by its creator, the emigrée Russian princess Zenaïde Wolkonsky, who bought it in 1830. Assumptions have been made, but little has been known about the construction and extension of the main house. The mystery hanging over it was deepened by the unsavoury reputation it acquired during the German occupation of Rome in 1943/4. Such as it is, the conventional wisdom on this, as on many other aspects of the Villa’s story, is unreliable, as research into official and legal archives in Rome, Berlin and London is showing.
John Shepherd lived for much of his formative years in Rome, though he was educated in the UK and the USA. He spent over 38 years in the UK Diplomatic Service, mainly in Europe and the Middle East, including two spells in Rome: 1970-1973 as a junior Commercial Officer, and 2000-2003 as Ambassador. After “retiring” he became the first Secretary-General of the Global Leadership Foundation, established by F W de Klerk, of which he remains a board member, and has served on the boards of several charities involved in music and the arts. He is not a trained historian, but is greatly enjoying this foray into historical research.