It is true. People do come to London to see the Queen. They also arrive with the hopes of catching a glimpse of the city’s fabled royal history. The rise and fall of British monarchs has been standard fodder for movies and television.
It forms now as in the past, the basis of speculation that comprises books, newspapers and magazine articles. Royal London, present and past, is very much a part of the attractions of London. Some are better known than others are. Below is a small list comprising several possible sites for a visit.
This enormous, gold-plated, detailed statue sits across from the classical Royal Albert Hall. Both bear the name of the beloved husband of Queen Victoria. This somewhat over-the-top expression of her grief towers.
It is the work of George Gilbert Scott. Note the friezes at the feet. These are thematic representations known as the 4 industries, 4 sciences and 4 continents. You cannot miss the crowning piece of the sculpture. It is a 180’ spire inlaid with semi-precious stones.
The Banqueting Hall (1619) is the only remaining section but 1 of the old Whitehouse Palace. It remains noteworthy for its position as the first Palladian building built within central London. The architect was the famous Inigo Jones.
The Banqueting House has been and still is home to state occasions. It was even the residence of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England. He moved in in 1654 and died here in 1658. Charles II celebrated his return to the throne at Banqueting House in 1660 beneath the ceiling paintings by Rubens depicting the peaceful uniting of Scotland to England under James I and the rulers eventual Apotheosis.
A trip to Royal London is not possible without visiting Buckingham Palace. The current resident of the Queen, this somewhat straightforward building is the product of John Nash who converted a building into a palace for George IV, then Prince Regent.
He did not live there – both he and William died before its completion, but Queen Victoria did from 1837 onwards. The rooms reflect her influence and those of her successors, including George V who hired Aston Webb to overhaul it in 1913.
In the State Ballroom, the furniture is Edwardian. The State Dining Room features portrait after portrait of the royals. The Queen’s Gallery is home to remarkable artwork by Vermeer and Leonardo da Vinci. Note the bow-shape of the Music room with its lapis lazuli columns. The White Drawing Room features alabaster and gold plasterwork. You can also visit the Throne Room and the garden as well as several other of the 660 rooms.
Hampton Court Palace
While Buckingham Palace may disappoint – except in sheer size, Hampton Court Palace does not. This red brick Tudor mansion originally owned by Cardinal Wolsey, is truly a regal residence. Henry VIII received it as a gift in 1528 and remained there, as did all his wives. The Tudor turrets sit amidst gables and chimneys. The Great Hall (1534) is the major Tudor section to survive the renovations and expansions of William and Mary under Christopher Wren.
Like all stereotypical royal homes, it has a priceless artwork, magnificent gardens and a ghost. Only a privileged few have seen the apparition of Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s 6th wife screaming as she runs down the Haunted Gallery seeking to obtain a reprieve from execution from her husband. On the other hand, everyone can enjoy the “world’s most famous Maze.” Laid out in 1714, today’s manifestation features yews instead of hornbeams (1960s) and speaking devices (2005).
Inside, the Chapel Royal has a glorious azure ceiling while priceless tapestries line Henry’s wood-beamed Great Hall. The Queen’s Drawing Room features marvelous trompe l’oeil paintings. In the Mantegna Gallery, you can view 9 canvasses depicting the Triumphs of Caesar. You might also want to take the time to see the Astronomical Clock, the Fountain Court, and the marble chimney piece of the Queen’s Gallery created by John Nost. For a glimpse of everyone else’s reality, stop off in the Tudor kitchens.
Kensington Palace is in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. This small intimate home dates from 1689 when King William III purchased it as a country house.
Christopher Wren converted it with Nicholas Hawksmoor. It quickly became the residence of several royal princesses including Princess Victoria and Diana. King George I and George II also lived here. Queen Anne died here.
Only half of Kensington Palace is open to the public. On the ground floor, you can visit the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection with outfits dating from the 18th century to modern times. Admire the King’s Staircase over which looks an impressive trompe l’oeil painting. In the State Rooms, you can see hanging on rich damask walls beneath a finely painted ceiling, copies of the Monarch’s personal art collection.
The small structure on Kew Gardens is Kew Palace or “Dutch House.” This 3-storey, red brick home features Flemish-bond red brickwork. It is the sole survivor of what were once 3 palaces in the gardens. Both George II and George III lived here.
Be sure to wander through the Queens Gardens. These formal 18th century creations contain a sunken nosegay garden. After viewing this small domicile, you can wander off to enjoy the Duke’s Garden, the Orangery or other delights comprising Kew Gardens.
This is not for everyone. It does, however, meet the needs of Princess Diana-ophiles. It is the ancestral home of the Spencer family. Near St. James Palace, this 18th century townhouse was built by the first Earl of Spencer. It was a family property until 1926. It has recently been restored to reflect the glories of 18th c society.
Spencer House is the creation of first John Vardy then James “Athenian Stuart. It rose between 1756 and 1766. Vardy is responsible for the lavish Palm Room. This features a screen of columns. Covering them are gilded carvings giving the appearance of palm trees. The Painted room on the first floor reveals exquisite decorations.
Like Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey wreaks from royal associations. In fact, of the 2 structures, Westminster has the oldest tradition of royal affiliation. It has played host to every coronation since William the Conqueror rode up its aisle on his horse in 1066. It has also been the place of many a burial and/or memorial. Princess Diana walked up the aisle to Prince Charles in Westminster.
The Abbey is delightfully and impressively French Gothic, this dating from Henry III rebuilding it in 1245. The various chapels contain beautiful examples of funerary art. There is the tomb to Elizabeth I ordered by James I in the Lady’s Chapel. This elaborate memorial overshadows the simple plaque in the floor to her sister, Queen Mary.
The main nave dates from 1503 and positions 100 statues of the saints above the choir stalls. Beneath the altar lies the grave of another monarch, Edward VI. There are also spread throughout the various chapels, nooks and crannies of Westminster the graves and memorials of kings, poets and other noteworthy individuals.