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Kensington Palace: The First Occupants

For more years than I’m going to mention, I’ve stayed in the Kensington area of London when I travel for my urban fix and British Library research.

If you’re familiar with London’s layout, you’ll quickly point out that the library is on the other side of the city. Thankfully, it’s a quick trip on The Tube.

Usually, I’m too busy frantically going through library material before I run out of time. That was especially the case when researching Two Coins. But my currant visit didn’t require so much library time, and the weather was conducive to spending time in one of my favorite spots, Kensington Gardens, attached to the palace of the same name.

If you follow royal gossip, and probably even if you don’t, you known Kensington Palace is the home of the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge. But the palace history tells a much more interesting story — of kings, queens, and unhappy princesses.

Kensington Palace began as a two-story Jacobean mansion built in 1605. It took its name from what was then Kensington Village until 1619 when the first Earl of Nottingham bought the property which became known as Nottingham House. 

The house was nothing special until William and Mary assumed the English throne in 1689. William suffered from asthma. Whitehall Palace, the royal residence, was too close to the Thames River. He soon purchased Nottingham House for £20,000 and embarked on an extensive plan to remodel and expand the house to its present appearance.

In 1702 Mary’s sister Anne became Queen and lived at Kensington Palace with her husband, Prince George of Denmark. Anne endured seventeen pregnancies, but died without an heir. If you’ve seen The Favourite, you have some idea of life at Anne’s court. Though not entirely accurate, the falling out of the queen and her then favorite Sarah Churchill did occur. Anne died in 1714.

The throne passed to the House of Hanover. The marriage of George I and Queen Sophia was not a happy one. [One story says that when told who she would marry, Sophia declared, “I will not marry the pig snout!” But marry him, she did.]

George II was the last monarch to live at Kensington Palace. His wife Caroline, once dubbed “the most agreeable princess in Germany” tolerated her husband’s affairs, and had an apparently happy marriage. Queen Caroline died giving birth to her eighth child. Her husband didn’t remarry. When George II died in 1760, Kensington Palace ended its role as the monarch’s official residence while continuing to host royal family members, including young Princess Alexandrina Victoria who moved to Buckingham Palace shortly after she inherited the throne.

Next week’s blog looks at what happened to Kensington Palace after Queen Victoria moved out.

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Kensington Palace by Jan Kip.

Queen Mary II by Godfrey Kneller

Queen Anne I by Michael Dahl

Queen Sophia by Friedrich Wilhelm Weidermann

Queen Charlotte by William Beechey

Photo of Kensington Palace by Author

Author Sandra Wagner Wright

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 is available as an audiobook.

Sandra blogs weekly about topics related to her travels, writing life, and the incongruities of life in general.

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