When Victoria became queen in 1837, she immediately moved to Buckingham Palace and demoted Kensington Palace to a residence for members of her extended family and various retainers.
THE DUCHESS OF TECK
Mary Adelaide was George III’s granddaughter. Prohibited by royal protocol from marrying anyone who wasn’t also a royal, she was a spinster of limited means by the time she was thirty. Her prospects remained bleak until 1866 when Queen Victoria arranged a marriage between her cousin and Prince Frances of Teck. The couple made their home at Kensington Palace and had four children. The eldest, Princess Mary of Teck married Victoria’s grandson, King George V. Their marriage was apparently a happy one. George wrote his wife daily when the two weren’t together and, unlike many monarchs, did not take a mistress.
THE DUCHESS OF INVERNESS
The Duchess of Inverness occupied Apartment 1 while the Tecks were in residence. Her husband, the Duke of Sussex and sixth son of George III, contracted a previous marriage, subsequently annulled, in violation of the Royal Marriages Act of 1772.
The Duke’s second wife, Cecilia Underwood, was also inappropriate. The couple resided at Kensington Palace, but Cecilia was unable to attend any royal functions. In 1840 Queen Victoria created her the Duchess of Inverness. After her husband’s death in 1843, the duchess continued to live at Kensington until she died in 1873.
THE DUCHESS OF ARGYLL
Queen Victoria’s daughter Louise, Duchess of Argyll moved into Apartment 1 with her husband. When she discovered he was sneaking out the window to visit his lover, Louise ordered the windows bricked up. Louise was a well-known advocate of women’s rights and a sculptor. Her statue of Queen Victoria stands on the lawn in front of the main palace entrance.
Princess Beatrice, Louise’s younger sister, also had apartments in the palace. After World War I, so many royal widows resided at Kensington, Edward VIII referred to the palace as an ‘aunt heap.’ In 1955 Apartment 1 was divided into Apartments 1 and 1A and settled into its role as a place of retirement.
Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon
In 1960 Queen Elizabeth’s younger sister Princess Margaret married Antony Armstong-Jones. The couple moved into Apartment 1A after extensive renovations. Workmen gutted the interior and rectified what’s called ‘rising damp’. The new apartment had reception rooms, 3 bedroms with dressing rooms, 3 bathrooms, a nursery, 9 staff bedrooms, 4 staff bathrooms, 2 staff sitting rooms, 2 staff kitchens, a linen store, luggage room, drying room, glass pantry, and a photographic dark room for Lord Snowdon.
The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester moved next door to Apartment 1. Prince and Princess Michael of Kent occupied Apartment 10. Alas, the Snowdons divorced in 1979, after Princess Margart’s affair with Roddy Llewellyn become public.
Diana, Princess of Wales
In 1981 Apartments 8 and 9 were combined to serve as the official residence of Charles and Diana, the Duke and Duchess of Wales. After their divorce in 1996, Diana and her sons continued to live in the apartment.
Six years later Diana died in a tragic car crash, but her presence at Kensington continues. On the annversary of her death, memorials appear at the South Gate. On the grounds of Kensington Gardens two memorials reflect Diana’s love of children: the Memorial Playground and the Memorial Fountain.
Diana’s son William and his wife, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, now reside in Apartment 1A with their three children.
Behind Kensington Palace walls, royal relatives have lived lives both public and invisible, both happy and tragic. I can’t help but hope the currant occupants of Apartment 1A are as happy as they appear to be.
Photo of Queen Victoria statue by Author.
Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck, 1860
Queen Mary, 1905
Cecilia Underwood, Duchess of Inverness
Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, Dutch National Archives
Princess Diana, 2007
Photo of South Gate, Kensington Palace by Author
Photo of Princess Diana Memorial Fountain by Author
Duke & Duchess of Cambridge, 2019 by Minerva97
Photo of Diana Memorial Walk Plaque by Author
Erin Blakemore. “The Torrid Affair That Torpedoed Princess Margaret’s Marriage.” History.
Moniek. “The Women Who Weren’t Allowed to Become Duchess of Sussex.” History of Royal Women. May 19, 2018.
Sandra Wagner-Wright is the author of Two Coins: A Biographical Novel and Rama's Labyrinth. Both books are available in digital and print editions at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and Kobo. Rama’s Labyrinth and Two Coins are available as audiobooks.
Sandra blogs weekly about topics related to her travels, writing life, and the incongruities of life in general.