13 Remarkable And Historic Palaces In England
England is a historically and culturally abundant country, and as a result, is filled with hundreds of architecturally and physically beautiful buildings - houses, castles, and palaces ranging from all sizes and styles. Ravaged by recurring fires and war, these buildings still stand here today, undeterred, as a testament to the sheer creativity and indomitable will of the proud English nation. All of these 13 historically grand, diverse, and fascinating palaces are great places to visit, most of them are open for the public to enjoy, and some of them are even open free of charge.
Palace of Westminster in London
The Palace Of Westminster is located in the heart of London, England, on the banks of the Thames River. The original Palace of Westminster was built in the eleventh century, and it remained the primary residence of the English monarchy in London until a fire destroyed much of the complex in 1512. Since that time, it has been the home of Parliament, which had began meeting there in the 13th century. In 1834, an even greater fire destroyed much of the rebuilt Palace, and only a few significant structures survived. The subsequent reconstruction of the Palace was conducted by the architect Charles Barry in the Gothic style, and this is the Palace that can be seen today.
Image Source - Cover Photo
The new, larger replacement of the Palace of Westminster boasts 1,100 rooms, built symmetrically around two series of courtyards. One famous aspect of the Palace of Westminster is the King Richard the Lionhearted statue, shown above, which was placed there in 1860, but which, interestingly enough, is a bronze copy of the original statue by Carlo Marochetti.
Today, the Palace of Westminster is the official seat of the British government, housing both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The Palace's Clock tower, which is commonly referred to as "Big Ben", after its bell, is a commonly recognized symbol of London and the United Kingdom as a whole.
Hampton Court Palace in London
Like the Palace Of Westminster, Hampton Court Palace is located on the banks of the Thames River, in London, England. The estate containing the palace originally belonged to the Knights Hospitaller, but was seized from them in 1514, when it was taken by Cardinal Wolsey. Wolsey built the original Hampton Court Palace in 1525, but it was passed to King Henry VIII three years later. When King William III ascended the throne in 1689, he began a massive project intended to make Hampton Court rival the French Palace of Versaille. When work was halted in 1694, it left the palace split between the Tudor and Baroque architectural styles. Much of the palace's design was created by the famous English architect Sir Christopher Wren. Along with St. James's Palace, Hampton Court is one of two palaces out of many owned by King Henry VIII that have survived to this day.
Hampton Court Palace has not been lived in by the British Royal Family since the 18th century. Today, the palace is open to the public, and is a major tourist attraction, hosting the annual Hampton Court Palace Festival and the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.
Buckingham Palace in London
Buckingham Palace is located in London, England, being the official London residence of the British monarchy. Built in 1703 for the Duke of Buckingham, it was then acquired by King George III in 1761. During the 19th century, it was improved and extended by the English architects John Nash and Edward Blore. The last major additions to the palace were made in the late 19th and late 20th centuries. Interestingly, the palace contains many interior furnishings from other famous English buildings, such as the Royal Pavilion of Brighton and the Kew Palace of London. The palace itself measures 828,818 square feet, containing 19 state rooms, 52 bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 78 bathrooms, as well as 92 offices. This is fairly large, but is small in comparison to the former Palace of Whitehall, or foreign monarchical palaces, such as the Russian Imperial Palaces, the Royal Palace of Madrid, and the Papal Palace in Rome.
The forecourt of Buckingham Palace is used for the famous Changing of the Guard Ceremony, which is a major tourist attraction. The palace itself is open to the public for a little more than 60 days of the year, and every year, an estimated 50,000 guests are entertained at the palace.
Kensington Palace in London
Kensington Palace is located at the heart of Kensington Gardens in London, England. Built in the early 17th century for the Earl of Nottingham, it was acquired by King William III in 1689. The original building was then improved by the famous English architect Sir Christopher Wren. For nigh on 70 years, Kensington Palace was the favoured residence of the British Monarchs. In 1704, the Orangery was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh - the same architect who designed Blenheim Palace. After the death of King George II in 1760, the palace was only used for minor royalty.
The palace itself is famous for being the official residence of Princess Diana until her death in 1997. The current residents of Kensington Palace are Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.
Kew Palace in London
Kew Palace is located on the banks of the Thames in London, England. The Kew Palace that stands today shared the same name with three other buildings, but is the only one to have survived. Built in 1663, it was originally a mansion of moderate size, until it was bought from the Levett family by King George III. Construction continued through 1810, past the time when King George would have needed it. In 1828, Parliament ordered the shell of the palace to be destroyed and the interior furnishings to be moved elsewhere - interestingly, Kew's staircase was moved to, and, to this day, can still be seen at, Buckingham Palace.
In 1837, Queen Victoria gave the Kew Gardens to nation, and in 1887, gave Kew Palace also - opening it for the public to behold. After a ten year restoration, Kew Palace re-opened to the public in 2006, and is a fairly popular visitor attraction.
Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire
Blenheim Palace is located in the town of Woodstock, falling under the jurisdiction of Oxfordshire, England. Built between 1705 and 1724, it was designed by the English architect Sir John Vanbrugh in the rare English Baroque style. The construction of the palace was meant to be both a monument and a family home to the 1st Duke of Marlborough, for his victory at the Battle of Blenheim over the French and Bavarians.
To this day, Blenheim Palace remains the home of the Marlborough family, although the grounds are open to the public year-round, and couples can pay to be married in the palace itself.
The Royal Pavilion in Brighton
The Royal Pavilion is located in Brighton, England. The site was originally a farmhouse and was rented by King George IV in 1786, as a sea-side retreat. Numerous architects were employed in the enlarging of the site, such as Henry Holland and William Porden, but the design that can be seen today is mostly the work of John Nash, completed in 1822. Built in the Indo-Saracenic style, the palace looks rather out-of-this world in the middle of Brighton. Following King George IV's death, Queen Victoria sold the estate to the town, as she disliked the Pavilion's lack of privacy. Most of the Royal Pavilion's interior fixtures were moved to either Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle.
Since the Second World War, the town of Brighton has spent a lot of money and time restoring the Pavilion to its state during the life of King George IV. Being Brighton's main tourist attraction, it attracts an estimated 400,000 visitors per year.
Banqueting House in London
The Banqueting House is located in Whitehall, London in England, being the only surviving component of the Palace Of Whitehall. Built in 1622, it was designed by Indigo Jones in the Neo-classical style, being the first such building in all of England. The original Palace Of Whitehall was destroyed in 1698, leaving only the Banqueting House intact. At the time of its destruction, the Palace Of Whitehall had become the largest palace in all of Europe, encompassing over 1,500 rooms.
Today, the Banqueting House is open to the public, from 10 am to 5 pm every day, Monday through Saturday.
Beaulieu Palace House in Beaulieu
The Beaulieu Palace House is located in the village of Beaulieu in Hampshire, England. It was originally built in the 13th century as the gatehouse for Beaulieu Abbey. Since the 15th century, it has been the ancestral home of the Montagu Family, who had acquired the estate after the King Henry VIII had dissolved all Catholic properties in England. The house itself is in the Victorian style, with additions to it being made in the 16th and 19th centuries.
Beaulieu Palace House is home to the current Lord and Lady Montagu, but parts of the house and gardens are open to the public year-round. The house also boasts several fascinating exhibitions, including the National Motor Museum, an exhibition of vehicles from the James Bond films, and Beaulieu Abbey itself.
St. James's Palace in London
St. James's Palace is located north of St. James's Park in London, England. It is one of London's oldest palaces, and remains the official residence of the British sovereign, although no monarch has resided there in two centuries. Built in the 16th century upon the order of King Henry VIII, it was designed in the Tudor style. Its gatehouse, shown above, survives to this day. During the reign of William and Mary, Whitehall Palace was largely destroyed in a fire, and so St. James's Palace became the monarchical administrative center in 1698. In the first half of the 19th century, St. James's Palace began to decline in importance, until it came to be used solely for formal receptions.
Today, the Royal Court is still formally based at St. James's Palace, and foreign ambassadors are sent there, while being received by the British Monarch at Buckingham Palace. The only part of St. James's Palace that is open to the public is the Queen's Chapel, which was divided from the rest of the palace after a fire in 1809.
Queen's House in London
Queen's House is located in south-east London, England. Built in 1617, it was designed by the architect Indigo Jones in the Classical style, the first such building in all of Britain. Its famous Tulip Stairs, shown below, was the first unsupported spiral staircase constructed in England. The original use of the palace, however, was short - lasting only seven years before the English Civil War began in 1642.
Queen's House now forms part of the National Maritime Museum, and as such, is open to the public free of charge. In 2012, Queen's House will be used as a VIP centre for the 2012 Olympic Games.
Eltham Palace in London
Eltham Palace is located in south-east London, England. Given to King Edward II in 1305 by Anthony Bek, the Bishop of Durham, it was used a royal residence from the 14th to the 16th century. The palace is famous for hosting Manuel II Palaiologos, the only Byzantine Emperor to have ever visited England. The palace's Great Hall, one of the few features to have survived, was built in the 1470s, and was frequently used by the Tudors for Christmas celebrations. During the English Civil War, the palace's woods and famous deer reserve was ravaged by Cromwell's forces. The palace never recovered, and was passed from monarch to monarch in its ruinous state.
The original 15th century bridge still crosses the moat, while fragments of the walls of other buildings remain around the palace's estate. An interesting fact about Eltham Palace is that its three "escape tunnels" still exist to this day: one exits in Avery Hill Park, one in the grounds of a former farm, and one in the garden of the vicarage. The palace is open to the public and can be used for weddings upon special order.
Osborne House in East Cowes
Osborne House is located in the town of East Cowes on the Isle Of Wright in England. The royal couple had originally found the location as a suitable alternative to the stresses of court life, and bought the original Osborne House. Intended as a summer residence, they found it too restrictive and soon began the construction of a new Osborne House. Built in 1851, it was designed by the Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's and husband, and by the English architect Thomas Cubitt, in the Italian pallazzo style. The furnishings of Osborne House were paid for by the sale of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. From 1903 to 1921, part of the estate was used as A Royal Naval College. Today, Osborne House is open to the public from spring to autumn of each year.
© 2010 Gregory Markov
See my other travel articles, including another in a series on Historic and Famous Palaces: