Marking the former site of Greenwich Palace

While this review is to draw your attention to the former Greenwich Palace commemorated by an easily missed stone plaque I will also outline, in a very summary form, the royal connection with Greenwich.

In 2012 and as part of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations the hitherto plain Borough of Greenwich became a member of a very exclusive club with only three other members (Kensington and Chelsea, Kingston upon Thames and Windsor and Maidenhead). Greenwich was granted Royal status and became the Royal Borough of Greenwich.

While the word royal and words related to royal have been, and continue to be, used with gay abandon in Greenwich for hundreds of years it has been a long time since the Royal family has lived here.

The first recorded royal link with Greenwich is that of Edward I making offerings at the chapel of the Virgin Mary in the 13th century. Edward II acquired Eltham Palace (on the outskirts) in 1305 and it became a royal residence. This remained the main focus of royal activity in the borough until the 16th century when it was eclipsed by Greenwich Palace.

A royal manor called Bella Court belonging to Henry IV existed on this site before Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, half brother of Henry V, built Greenwich Palace here on the banks of the Thames in 1447. Subsequent occupants renamed the palace, Placentia, the pleasant place, and it became a royal favourite for the next two centuries.

King Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger

In this time Placentia was the birthplace of three of Britain’s most famous (Tudor) monarchs – Henry VIII (1491), Mary I (1516) and Elizabeth I (1533). Henry was also christened in the nearby Church of St. Alfege. The stone plaque you see today, laid on 7 September 2003 (Elizabeth I’s birthday), is directly above the foundations of Placentia.

Queen Elizabeth I by George Gower

Elizabeth particularly liked this palace and it was here she signed the orders that dispatched her fleet against the Spanish Armada.

Post Elizabeth I, Greenwich lost its pre-eminent position amongst London’s royal residences – by this stage they had lots of choice. Henry VIII, in addition to his collection of wives for which he is most famous, had also amassed quite a collection of palaces – some twenty-one in fact.

After the English Civil War the royal court was swept from Greenwich and Placentia was first used as a biscuit factory and, between 1652 and 1654, for housing Dutch prisoners of war. By the 1660s it was in decay and was demolished (after an attempt to rebuild it) by Charles II.

From the seventeenth century onwards, royal attention focused on Greenwich’s relationship with the sea and this is what you can see around you to-day. The only remaining former royal property in central Greenwich is the Queens House – also put to alternative use post the English Civil War. This is a short walk inland from the former Greenwich Palace.

This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on many trips to London. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Old Royal Naval College Chapel – Not All That It Seems – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – London…as much of life as the world can show.


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