Potted History of Tudor Palaces

Greenwich Palace no longer stands, but it was the birthplace of Henry VIII, as well as both of his daughters, Mary I and Elizabeth I. It used to be known as the Palace of Placentia and was built in 1433 by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, in the reign of the pious King Henry VI. The Palace fell into disrepute during the English Civil War, and was later demolished and replaced with the Greenwich Hospital (now the Old Royal Naval College) in the late 17th century.

Eltham Palace was the childhood home of Henry VIII and was built in 1295. Henry stayed here even as Prince of Wales, rather than go to Ludlow. At one point, it was bigger even than Hampton Court Palace. Even as Henry got older and when he became king, he continued to prize Eltham, putting some of its features into Hampton Court, and he remodelled Eltham itself 1519-22. Only small sections now remain as it fell into disrepute after Henry’s death.

Hampton Court Palace, built by Cardinal Wolsey.
Hampton Court Palace, built by Cardinal Wolsey.

Hampton Court Palace is one of the best remaining Tudor Palace. Some parts were demolished and rebuilt by William and Mary, but many parts are exactly as the Tudors would have known them. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey originally built it but Henry VIII acquired it after Wolsey fell from power in 1529. He extensively remodelled it for Anne Boleyn, whose stamp can still be seen. His heir, Edward VI, was also born here, and his third wife, Jane Seymour, died here.

Nonsuch Palace was built by Henry VIII in 1538 in Surrey. It no longer stands, but its remains lie in Nonsuch Park today. It was incomplete at Henry’s death in 1547, but he built it to rival the best French palaces like Versailles. The location was close to good royal hunting grounds. It was destroyed around 1683 and sold off piecemeal by Charles II’s mistress, the Countess of Castlemaine, to pay off her gambling debts.

Richmond Palace was a particular favourite of Henry VII. Not much remains now, having been torn down under Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth in the mid-17th century. However, the arms of Henry VII are still above the surviving gatehouse. There had been a manor on the site until it burnt down in 1497 and Henry decided to replace it with Richmond, named after his earldom which he held before his accession to the throne.

White Tower at the Tower of London
White Tower at the Tower of London

Now better known as a prison and a place of execution, the Tower of London is nevertheless a royal palace. Kings and Queens through the ages have stayed here before their coronations, and the exterior is still largely unchanged. The Tudor period probably saw the Tower’s busiest time, with the first English Queen executed there (Anne Boleyn, and later her cousin, Katherine Howard), and a future Queen imprisoned there (Elizabeth I, by her sister, Mary).

Westminster Palace is now better known as the Houses of Parliament, but there was once a medieval palace on the site, which burnt down in 1834. The first palace was built in the 11th century, until destroyed by fire in 1512. It was rebuilt, but largely served as the home of Parliament after this, whereas before it had housed Kings and Queens of England. As it lies so close to the river, it was handy for lords coming from up river.

Whitehall Palace was the main residence of the Kings and Queens of England from 1530 to 1698, when all except the Banqueting House was destroyed in a fire. Before the fire, it was the largest palace in Europe with over 1,500 rooms. Whitehall had formerly been Wolsey’s house, York Place. Henry VIII married both Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour here (in 1533 and 1536 respectively) and he died here in 1547.

Windsor Castle, first built in the 11th Century
Windsor Castle, first built in the 11th Century

Windsor Castle was originally built in the 11th century after the Norman Invasion in Berkshire. It is the longest occupied palace in Europe. Both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I used the castle for entertaining foreign ambassadors and dignitaries. The Chapel at Windsor Castle is the burial place of Henry VIII with Jane Seymour, and Henry VIII finished the work on the chapel that was started by Edward IV in 1475.

Not the same as Hatfield House, which was built much later, Hatfield Old Palace is best known as the childhood home of Elizabeth I. Her half-sister, Mary, was forced to wait on her here, and it was also here that Elizabeth I found out about the death of her sister, and that she was now the Queen of England. Elizabeth continued to visit her childhood home on her progresses as Queen. The current Hatfield House was built in 1611.

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