Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Kensington Palace - Hotbed of Gossip.

The King's Grand Staircase - all images on the walls are paint effects.
Painted by William Kent 1726 and still stunningly modern.
Inspired by Lucy Worsley's book, "Courtiers- the Secret History of the Georgian Court", my appetite was whetted to visit Kensington Palace. In particular, I wanted to see the King's Grand Staircase with its cheeky portraits of Georgian courtiers captured in a strikingly modern poses.
Lucy Worsley's captivating book
about the intrigue in the Georgian Court.
The sweeping mural that lines the staircase shows a snapshot of the royal household from Peter the Wild-Boy to the King's mistress, from Mohammed (the King's advisor) to the artist William Kent who painted the scene. To enter the hall and walk up the staircase, is spell-binding and I couldn't help but stop and stare in wonder. A vibrancy and sense of life oozes from the walls such that you can hear the scuttle of silk slippers and gossip whispered behind hands.
A better view of the Grand Staircase (portrait mural to the left
and at the head of the stairs.)
There is a sense of fun, playfulness and intrigue about these portraits that must have caused huge a stir at the time. Added to that, I imagine being an outsider visiting George I, and seeing portraits of plotting courtiers, must have been terribly intimidating.

The Grand Staircase photographed around 1870, during Victoria's reign.
Victoria was born at Kensington palace and it was here that she
learnt of her acsession to the throne.
Kensington Palace has undergone several reincarnations. In the 1600's it started out as a modest mansion, Nottingham House, in what was a rural landscape near London. When William III wanted a country retreat from the pressures of Whitehall, he found this the ideal solution, bought the property for 20,000 pounds and employed Christopher Wren to redesign it.

Queen Victoria in her coronation robes - set in front of Kensington Palace.
The princess was living here when she learnt of her ascession to the throne.

Decades came and went and William's Kensington Palace fell into disuse until George I arrived from Germany. Even though the building was by now neglected in poor repair, the new king declared "I like it very much" and set about a raft of renovation and remodelling. The most stunning of these innovations was employing the controversial, up-and-coming artist, William Kent.

One of the trompe l'oiel paint effects on the staircase.
Apologies for the under exposure.
 My reaction on seeing Kent's staircase mural was bewilderment. I was confused. The fresco style and trompe l'eoil effects so fresh and flirtatious that I thought I'd wandered into a modern interpretation of Kent's work. But no, these playful visual effects are the real thing! [Sadly, I have found no copyright free images to show you. All power to Kensington Palace for allowing photography, albeit without flash, so please excuse the underexposed photos from my pocket camera - but I wanted to give you a flavour of what I saw.]

A pitiful photograph (by me!) of a wonderful paint effect - and this
isnt even the main event (which are the courtiers - sadly too dark to photograph)
If ever you have the opportunity to visit Kensington Palace, I can highly recommend it - worthwhile for the staircase alone! Kensington Palace has so many extraordinary stories of royalty and intrigue to tell - more of this in future posts when some of the gossip and scandal is revealed!
William III, Kensington Palace.


  1. As always, Grace, I love your blogs:-) x Thanks for sharing your amazing knowledge. lol, I always make myself a hazelnut coffee before clicking on your links :-)

    Now eagerly awaiting your next blog:-) x

    1. Hmmmm, hazelnut coffee sounds intriguing.
      Thank you for your support, Elizabeth, and for commenting.
      kind regards,
      Grace x

  2. Hi, I just discovered your blog. I love all things Victorian and anything to do with England. This was a lovely post, I enjoyed all the pictures. I've been looking through earlier posts and like them too! Good find for me.

    1. Oh, so thrilled to learn you are enjoying the blog.
      I've found writing posts makes me go to visit places I've been meaning to for ages! I live close to London, but as they say "familiarity breeds contempt." I had got so used to thinking of the city as a noisy, dirty place that I'd got out of the habit of visiting - whereas now I'm eagerly planning my next visit.
      Lovely to meet you,
      Grace x

  3. Hi Grace,

    I have never visited Kensington Palace, but it is firmly on my places to visit list, on our next trip 'up to town'.

    I am amazed that you were allowed to take photographs, they certainly help to get the 'feel' of that impressive staircase!

    Another place that I haven't visited since I was a child, is Hampton Court Palace, so that will be another eagerly awaited outing.

    A lovely post, thanks for sharing your day,


  4. Hi Yvonne,
    On the off chance, I asked if I could take photos - and was amazed when they said yes! The lighting is too subdued to take good quality pics, but even so, it's nice to have some to put up with the post.
    If you are within travelling distance of London, I can heartily recommend you join the "Royal Historic Palaces" - (a bit like the National Trust, or English Heritage) - the cost was very reasonable and it gives you access to 5 historic palaces, including Hampton Court and the Tower of London -which I plan to visit very soon. By my calculations I only need to visit 4 of the 5 to save money on the individual admittance, plus I've every intention of it's a win, win situation.
    Thank you so much for commmenting, much appreciated,
    Grace x

    1. Hi Grace,

      I am definitely amazed that they allowed you to take photographs, the National Trust are totally the opposite and in many properties we have visited, cameras are actively taken from you and stored in lockers in entrance halls, until you leave!

      We don't get up to London as often as we used to .. hubbie used to commute from Somerset to work there each day and I would often go up for the evening, however since he has changed jobs, we just don't feel like making the trip much. I will bear in mind what you said though, as we could probably fit more than one place in a day.


  5. Thanks for your post. I must take a look at Lucy Worsley's book - sounds really interesting. I visited Kensington Palace a few weeks ago and was delighted to find George III's coronation robes on display - a real boon for me as I love the late Georgian period. I would second your recommendation about the Historic Royal Palaces - very good value.


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