Set in Kensington Gardens in London, Kensington Palace has been a residence of the British Royal Family since the 17th-century, which continued until King George III relocated to Buckingham Palace.
It all started in the summer of 1689, when William III, widely known as William of Orange and his wife Mary assumed the throne as joint monarchs. They bought the rather modest Nottingham House from the Secretary of State, the Earl of Nottingham, for £20,000 and commissioned Christopher Wien to immediately renovate and expand the house. Finally, on Christmas Eve 1689, the royal couple moved to their newly renovated palace and over the next few years, they added a gallery, the Queen's Apartments and a new entrance to it. Unfortunately, Mary did not live long enough to enjoy her new palace as she died from smallpox in 1694 and his husband followed her, when he fell off his horse, broke his collar bone and died a few days later in 1702. As William and Mary had no children, Anne, the younger sister of Mary, succeeded him for a short stint.
However, as the reigning queen, Anne preferred to stay at the Hampton Court Palace as she enjoyed hunting there in the extensive palace grounds. But while staying in the Kensington Palace, she used the King's Apartments, contributing much to the design of the gardens, while her husband Prince George of Denmark used the Queen’s Apartments. Nevertheless, as none of her children lived to succeed Queen Anne, George I ascended the British throne as Anne's closest living Protestant relative and found Kensington very agreeable.
Under his direct support, the palace was adorned and enlarged by the upcoming artist-designer and architect William Kent, who aesthetically decorated the palace with artistic creations and fine furniture to give it a refined 18th-century look, which is still retained in many of the grand rooms, even today.
After George I died in 1727, George II succeeded him as the king at the age of 43 and along with his vivacious wife, Queen Caroline, he invigorated the court life at Kensington by hosting lavish receptions and leading society life with sparkle. However, after the untimely death of Caroline in 1737, followed by the heart attack of George II, no reigning monarch slept within the palace walls for almost seventy years. Since the accession of King George III in 1760, Kensington Palace was used only for minor royalty.
Prince Edward, the fourth son of King George III, was allocated two floors of rooms in the southeast corner of the palace, below the State Apartments, where his daughter Alexandrina Victoria was born on 24 May 1819.
Unfortunately, the father died nine months after the birth of his daughter and the unfortunate girl grew up and educated in the confines of the palace as an unhappy and lonely child. Her daily programme of lessons, known as the Kensington System, was judged by some to be harsh. During those days, Victoria saw virtually no other children and was kept away from the life at court. Later in her life, the Queen confessed that her childhood was full of painful and disagreeable scenes, but she also enjoyed her life at Kensington. After all, it was in the palace, where the news of her accession was brought to her by the Lord Chamberlain and the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1837. However, after ascending the throne, she chose to reign from Buckingham Palace and never again stayed at Kensington Palace. Nevertheless, years after she moved out of Kensington Palace, she saved the dilapidated property from being destroyed.
Kensington Palace is divided into three main sections, namely the King’s Apartments, belonging to King George II and Queen Caroline, the Queen’s Apartments of Queen Mary II and William III, and Victoria Revealed.
The rooms of the King’s State Apartments in the Kensington Palace are most lavishly decorated and contain several sculptures and works of art, which include the terracotta busts of George II and his wife Queen Caroline, created by Michael Rysbrack in 1738 and 1739. The King’s Staircase, a dizzying feast of trompe-l'œil, a visual illusion, is the first link to the circuit of the rooms making up the King's State Apartments. While the Privy Chamber was one of Queen Carolina’s favourite entertaining places, the King used to receive courtiers, ministers and the foreign ambassadors in the Presence Chamber, where the fireplace is surrounded by limewood carvings, made by Grinling Gibbons.
Courtiers, in search of favour and power, used to meet the King in the Drawing Room, where they entertained themselves by playing cards with the King. The Cupola Room, the most splendidly ornamented room in the palace, richly decorated with gilded statues and gorgeously painted ceiling, was once used for the performances of music and dance. However, lined with paintings, the King’s Gallery is the largest and the lengthiest of the state apartment at Kensington Palace, where William III played soldiers with his little nephew and caught the chill that led to his death in 1702.
The Queen’s Staircase, plainer than the King’s Staircase, had changed little since its construction in 1690. However, although the Queen’s Apartments are smaller than the King’s, they include the Queen’s Gallery, Drawing room and Dining room, apart from her bedroom, where Mary spent her final hours before dying of smallpox in 1694. The Queen's Dining Room, enriched with beautiful panelling from the 17th century, was the space where Mary and William used to enjoy dining together, away from the spotlight of the court and out of the public eye. Queen Mary was passionate about porcelain and decorated her Drawing Room, with porcelain pieces from China and Japan. Built in 1693 and designed as a well-lit and airy space for Mary for passing her leisure time at her will, the Queen's Gallery was once filled with magnificent artefacts, which include the expensive Turkish carpets, embroidered silk hangings and oriental porcelain.
Victoria Apartments, named after Queen Victoria, contain the rooms where she was born, grew up and lived until she became the Queen. Throughout the rooms, sections of her clothing are always on display. Since some of the dresses are rotated, some lucky visitors may have the chance to see her famous wedding gown. While one of the last few rooms displays one of the black dresses worn by the queen in her later years, the last room exhibits some of the items gifted by Prince Albert to Victoria, such as a brooch with one of their children’s first baby teeth and a 9-heart charm bracelet, representing her nine children.
During the Blitz of 1940, Kensington Palace was hit by an incendiary bomb, when several surrounding buildings, including the State Apartments, particularly the Queen's Apartments, were badly damaged. In 1981, Apartments 8 and 9 were combined to create the London residence of the newly married Prince of Wales Charles and his wife, Princess of Wales Diana. Even after her much publicised divorce, the apartments remained the official residence of the Princess, until her death. Currently, the palace has been the official London residence of Prince William, the eldest son of Princess Diana and Catherine Elizabeth, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge; Prince Edward, a first cousin of Queen Elizabeth II and Katherine, Duke and Duchess of Kent; Prince Michael, a paternal first cousin of Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Michael, Prince and Princess of Kent; and Prince Richard and Birgitte, Duke and Duchess of Gloucester.