The second day of our London trip (we’re back-tracking a bit here…) started with a visit to Kensington Palace. I’d never visited Kensington Palace before, not that I can remember at least; and our hotel was just around the corner which didn’t hurt!
Kensington Palace has been a Royal residence since the late 1600s when William and Mary bought Nottingham House, as it was then called, from the Earl of Nottingham for £20,000. They then began immediate expansion of the property which was continued by consequent monarchs. George II left his wife, Queen Caroline in charge of Kensington. She proceeded to ask Charles Bridgeman, the Royal gardener, to redesign the gardens. Many of his changes are still there today, including the Serpentine, the Round Pond, and the Broad Walk.
Now, Kensington Palace is the residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as well as Prince Harry, who relocated from Clarence House back in 2012. Obviously all of their areas are closed off to the general public and security is tight, so sneaking in sadly wasn’t an option.
After looking around the new Diana exhibition (details of which will follow in another post), we headed into the Queen’s Apartments which were built by Queen Mary, when her and William bought the Palace in 1689. They chose to make Kensington their official Royal residence as the air outside the hustle of the city centre was better for William’s asthmatic tendencies. What I didn’t know was that during William and Mary’s joint reign, the Bill of Rights came into being, thus balancing the power between Crown and Parliament, and essentially creating the Constitutional Monarchy we have today.
The next part of the visit takes you to the King’s Apartments, which are shown as they were in the reign of George II, and Queen Caroline. George ruled from 1727-1760, and was the second Georgian monarch after taking over from his father, George I. The Georgian era was a time of great change in Britain, socially, culturally, and economically.
Romantic poets, such as Wordsworth, Keats, and Blake became more and more popular, and architecture and interior design developed into the now iconic Georgian style, epitomised by buildings and complexes, such as The Circus in Bath.
The Industrial Revolution was just beginning towards the end of the reign of George II, and class divisions between the rich and poor became more prominent. Economic depressions led to a greater level of social unrest, and rebellions were fairly commonplace throughout the Georgian era. New political parties, like the Whigs, who essentially opposed the King’s ideals, quickly gained traction in political spheres.
International trade began to take off in Britain with the colonisation of many ‘new worlds’, including America. This trade, however, was entirely mercantilistic, meaning British colonies were only allowed to trade with Britain and her other colonies with the aim of increasing wealth and political power.
But none of this really has anything to do with Kensington Palace…
In the late 1800s, the Palace was falling into quite a bit of disrepair, and many called for its demolition. However, Queen Victoria would not allow for the house in which she was born to be destroyed. Parliament was eventually persuaded to pay for the restoration works. Two years later, the works were complete and the State Rooms were opened to the public on 24th May 1899, which just so happened to be Victoria’s 80th birthday! Kensington Palace also has a smaller exhibition near to the end of the visit dedicated to Victoria and her life at the Palace. It shows some of her belongings, and highlights her relationship with Prince Albert, her husband, and also her first cousin!
I realise this has been a very information-heavy lecture of a post, but there really is so much history in Kensington Palace, and it was very hard for me to stop waffling on and on about its entire Royal timeline. I only have one more London holiday post to come which will cover the new Diana: Her Fashion Story exhibition. So keep a look out for that!