A history of Kensington Palace and the Glorious Revolution
At some time, no doubt, upon our travels together, we will pass by this royal palace, where once upon a time a prince and princess used to live in happier days – namely the current heir to the throne and the now deceased Lady Diana, who became the Princess of Wales.
So you may ask, what on earth could be the direct connection between this Royal Palace and a revolution that was known as “Glorious”? Why glorious anyway, you may well ask? Well, there we are – the story gets longer and longer, and eventually disappears into the mists of time.
This royal palace, although nowadays no longer a principal royal residence, is still used by certain members of the royal family even after the recent death of the queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, the death of the Princess of Wales on 31st August 1997, and the departure of HRH Prince Charles, following the separation of the couple in 1992.
The idea of this palace came about with the accession of the Prince of Orange, the Dutch Stadtholder, as our William III, who was the son of the eldest daughter, Mary, of the executed (yes executed, in 1649) King of Great Britain, King Charles I. Interestingly, William III was married to an English Princess, also called Mary, who was a daughter of Charles II’s brother the Duke of York, who himself became a King, namely James II. So reader, if you are thinking “but this makes them cousins”, then you are quite correct.
It was the very abdication of James II and the act of fleeing from Great Britain that brought his daughter back home as a Queen in her own right. So again reader, if you have perceived another apparent inconsistency, then you are right again: we did have two monarchs reigning in their own right at the same time! In fact the only time in British History. Thank God they were married – otherwise we would have another revolution and perhaps not such a glorious one. (Remember King Stephen and Matilda in the 11th century? Perhaps you don’t . . .)
Well, why was this revolution so glorious? The new King William III was invited to invade by the nobility, and this invasion and accession was entirely peaceful, as a result of the defection of most of the English army officers, including and especially one John Churchill. This change of leadership in our country lead to our war with France over the question the Spanish succession. This culminated in the Battle of Blenheim, hence Blenheim Palace being gifted, by the next Monarch, Queen Anne, to the newly created 1st Duke of Marlborough, the one and same John Churchill who had changed his allegiance from James II!!
So leadership in those was still as much in the hands of the monarch as Parliament. Incidentally it was from the need and struggle to finance this war that the Bank of England was created. Then, as today, banks seem to have far more to do with lending money than being the keepers of funds. But we digress from our original enquiries. Why was this Palace in Kensington created when there were already perfectly acceptable ones in Westminster?
Well there you are, the story becomes ever more unpredictable. Would you believe it the answer is pollution – yes, pollution. Am I being serious, am I being truthful? No, really I am! There was a very great pollution problem back in those old times 300 years ago. even before the days of the Industrial Revolution. Not from vehicles and modern machines, of course, but in those days every house had quite a number of fires. In fact, open fires were everywhere, causing far dirtier combustion than today’s relatively clean power machines.
So even in those days there was intensive smog in the areas around Westminster, and Kensington was regarded as a country area with wonderful fresh air. In fact the Duke of Nottingham’s house, which is what this was before its purchase in 1689, was probably fairly isolated, before the Court Circle of Ministers, advisers and supporters began building their dwellings around the new royal palace.
You may be surprised to know that the designer of St Paul’s Cathedral was also asked to carry out much modification to the new palace, and this is still in evidence today. So in the middle of his 35-year (1675-1710) supervision of the rebuilding of the Cathedral, this great architect (not that he would have been known as that in the 17th century) was asked to effectively engineer a new royal residence. Wouldn’t be possible in today’s world of Euro laws trying to enforce 35 hour weeks, would it?
So now you are in the know, to a certain extent, about how the Glorious Revolution is connected to Kensington Palace, why the Glorious Revolution was thought to be so, and why Kensington Palace is situated where it is and why it was created in the first place. And if a Blue Badge Guide had not told you these things, would you have been thinking about them as you slid past Kensington Palace? Possibly like may of today’s young, you would only have thought of Kensington Palace in connection with our sad modern Princess of Wales and the carpet of flowers as far as the eyes could see, all around the Palace, in the days leading up to her funeral.
So can you afford not to have the past explained to you as today’s top visual highlights are pointed out?