L U X U
R Y T R A V E L E R
The Orangery at Kensington Palace.
Designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor
and built in 1704-5 for Queen Anne.
Photo: Historic Royal Palaces/newsteam.co.uk
NOBLE RESIDENCE: KENSINGTON PALACE
Kensington Palace was once a favoured home of
some of Britain’s famous kings and queens and the setting for many great
events and dramas in royal history. Today, parts of the palace
remain a private residence for members of the Royal Family. The State
Apartments are open to the public and house the lavishly decorated King’s
and Queen’s Apartments and the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection.
Kensington Palace was built as a private
country house called Nottingham House in about 1605. It was purchased by
William III and Mary II in the summer of 1689 from William’s trusted
Secretary of State, Daniel Finch, Earl of Nottingham, at a cost of
Ł20,000. The house was adapted for royal residence by Sir Christopher
Wren, Surveyor of the King’s Works. For the next 70 years the palace was
at the centre of the life and government of the kingdom and played host to
the courts of William and Mary, Queen Anne, George I and George II. However, when George III came to the throne in
October 1760, he made Buckingham Palace his principal London home and
Kensington ceased to serve as the seat of a reigning monarch.
One of the most well-known residents of
Kensington Palace was Princess Victoria. On 24 May 1819 Princess Victoria
was born at Kensington Palace and she was christened the following month
in a private ceremony in the Cupola Room.
Eighteen years later, Princess Victoria was
awakened at Kensington Palace early in the morning of 20 June 1837 with
news of her accession to the throne. Her first Privy Council was held in
the Red Salon on this day, before the young Queen moved permanently to
Buckingham Palace with her mother.
The private apartments at Kensington Palace
continued to be used by members of the Royal Family throughout the 19th
century, however, the State Apartments were sadly neglected and were used
as stores for various paintings and furnishings from other palaces. It was
only Queen Victoria’s love for the palace in which she had grown up that
saved it. In April 1897, Parliament was persuaded to pay for the
restoration of the State Apartments on condition they should be opened to
the public. The State Apartments were opened to the public on Queen
Victoria’s birthday, 24 May 1899.
Today, the State Apartments comprise the King’s
and Queen’s Apartments (interpreted to represent the time of King William
III and Queen Mary II) and the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, all open
daily to the public. The private side of Kensington Palace has been home
in recent years to Princess Margaret, sister of Queen Elizabeth II, and
Diana, Princess of Wales.
Apartment 1A at Kensington Palace
In April 2003, responsibility of Apartments 1A
and 3 (Princess Margaret’s Offices) were transferred from the Royal
Household to conservation charity Historic Royal Palaces. It was opened to
the public for the first time in its 300 year history in 2004.
Princess Margaret was the last resident of the
apartment, living there until her death in February 2002, which marked the
end of three centuries of private residential use.
The south-west wing of Kensington Palace was
constructed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1689 to create a ceremonial
approach to the King’s Grand Staircase and State Apartments (both open to
the public). Some of the upper rooms of the apartment were then occupied
by important officers of state and courtiers, such as the Lord Chamberlain
and Lord Steward.
In 1804, King George III granted his son,
Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, a large suite of rooms comprising the
south and west sides of Clock Court. Although he may not have
occupied the whole of apartment 1A he utilised the corridor above the
Stone Gallery and several other rooms to house his growing book collection
(by 1827 his collection numbered 50,000 volumes and formed one of the most
important English private libraries ever assembled!). In his later years, the Duke achieved great
popularity and at his death, in 1843, his lying in state at Kensington was
attended by up to 20,000 people. After the Duke’s death, his widow lived
at Kensington until her own death in 1873. Photo: Historic
Princess Louise, one of Queen Victoria’s
daughters, and her husband John Campbell, Marquess of Lorne, heir to the
8th Duke of Argyll, moved into the apartment in February 1875. Princess
Louise was an accomplished sculptor – her large marble statue of Queen
Victoria still stands to the east of Kensington Palace. One of the
alterations she undertook was the construction of a new studio in the
garden nearby. Following the death of the Duke of Argyll in 1914, Princess
Louise continued to live at Kensington Palace until her own death in 1939.
After the death of Princess Louise, the whole
apartment remained vacant until part of it was taken over by Princess
Marina in 1954. Following their wedding on 6 May 1960,
Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon lived in another smaller apartment at
Kensington Palace while they set about transforming what is now called
Apartment 1A to new designs. Much of the earlier scheme was removed and
replaced by a modern apartment in 18th century style, largely designed by
Snowdon and Princess Margaret with the assistance of the theatre designer
Carl Toms, one-time assistant to Oliver Messel, Lord Snowdon’s uncle, and
a close friend of the royal couple.
The Queen’s Apartments
When William III and Mary II extended
Nottingham House in 1689, four new blocks, or pavilions, were added to the
main house to provide additional accommodation for the King and Queen. The
Queen’s Apartments were in the north-west pavilion and the King’s in the
south-east. Despite later alterations, the basic layout of separate suites
for the King and Queen survive.
Queen Mary’s Drawing Room is one of a series of small rooms which were used by the Queen as her
private apartments. The room was badly damaged by incendiary bombs on the
night of 14 October 1940; the paneling was destroyed and the walls are now
covered with a modern paper.
giltwood chandelier, which is probably English, c1730, was one of four
originally hung in the Queen’s Gallery. The room contains an
impressive collection of late 17th-century furniture including an inlaid
cabinet containing 17th and 18th-century porcelain and an inlaid ebony
writing table, typical of the style preferred by Queen Mary.
Mary of Modena's bed is reinstated in Queen Mary's Bedchamber at
in London. Photo: Stephen Pond / newsteam.co.uk /
Historic Royal Palaces
Queen Mary’s Bedchamber
This room is one into which only the most
senior of the Queen’s staff were allowed access. The four poster
state bed belonged to Queen Mary’s stepmother, Mary of Modena. It is
sometimes known as the ‘warming-pan bed’ and is traditionally associated
with the birth of Prince James Francis Edward Stuart (the ‘Old Pretender’)
at St James’s Palace in 1688. The young Prince, son of James II and Mary
of Modena, was the Catholic heir to the throne and news of his birth was
not well received by the Protestant supporters of William of Orange (the
future William III). Within hours a rumour was circulating that the infant
was not the Queen’s child but a surrogate baby smuggled into the bed in a
In recent years, the bed has been thoroughly
examined and it appears to have been made up from several beds of various
periods. It is likely that some of the principal hangings were made for
James II and his consort, whose crowns and cyphers appear on the headcloth
Queen Mary II died of smallpox on 28 December
1694, probably in this room. After her death, at the early age of
32, the palace, including the Privy Chamber, Presence Chamber and the
King’s own bedchamber were hung with 4,200 yards of black and purple
The windows in the room were originally in the
south wall (opposite the bed) but were blocked when the old Nottingham
House was rebuilt in 1718-22. The windows in the west wall were opened as
replacements. The bedchamber originally had a splendid marble
chimneypiece decorated with William III’s coat of arms and an overmantel
carved by Grinling Gibbons but the fine cornice is the only decorative
work that remains.
Queen Mary’s Dining Room
Queen Mary’s Dining Room was originally a
square room but was reduced in size in the 19th century by the creation of
a passage along its rear (west) wall. It is the only room of the
State Apartments specifically set aside for eating. Neither William
nor Mary enjoyed dining in public and this room allowed them to eat in
Household records show that William and Mary
had an extremely generous daily allowance of food and drink, although
simple suppers of fish and beer were not uncommon. 17th and
18th-century Chinese porcelain of the type avidly collected by Queen Mary
is displayed on a late 17th-century black lacquer cabinet. The room
still retains its original marble fireplace and paneling, although it may
have been once hung with gilt leather and tapestries.
Queen Mary’s Closet
This small closet was the scene of Queen
Anne’s last meeting with Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough which took place on
the evening of Maundy Thursday, 6 April 1710. The Duchess was Anne’s
closest friend and held several important positions in the Queen’s
household, including First Lady of the Bedchamber. The two corresponded
incessantly, using the invented names of Mrs Morley (the Queen) and Mrs
Freeman (the Duchess) to demonstrate the equality of their relationship.
However, their friendship ended after a disagreement, which was never
resolved and in 1711 the Duchess resigned all her offices.
The original 17th-century paneling in this
room was removed in the 19th century when the closet was converted into a
kitchen. The room has now been restored to its original appearance by the
introduction of new, unstained paneling. The paintings on the west
wall of the room include a profile portrait of Queen Anne and an oval of
her husband, Prince George of Denmark.
Queen Mary’s Gallery
Queen Mary’s Gallery was originally furnished
with fine lacquered chairs, tables and cabinets and 154 pieces of Chinese
and Japanese porcelain. The room was originally lit by four
chandeliers of gilded wood, suspended down the centre of the room.
When the gallery was first built the paneled walls were hung with silk
the colour ‘chosen by the Queen’ – with white damask curtains adorning the
windows. The present curtains are modern.
The Queen’s Staircase
Designed by Wren, this plainly decorated
staircase was primarily used by the Queen to give access between the
private apartments and gardens. The oak paneling was made under the
direction of the King’s Master Joiner, Alexander Fort, who was responsible
for the paneling and the fitting of sash windows throughout the palace.
The staircase leads down to a hall that was once Queen Mary II’s garden
room. The garden door, facing the foot of the stairs, dates from 1690-1.
Outside, William and Mary’s monogram can be seen above the doorway,
surrounded by swags of fruit and flowers.
information on Kensington Palace is available online by following this