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Richmond Palace

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Richmond Palace was a royal residence on the River Thames in England that stood in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It lay upstream and on the opposite bank from the Palace of Westminster, which lay nine miles (14 km) to the north-east. It was erected about 1501 by Henry VII of England, formerly known as Earl of Richmond, in honour of which the manor of Sheen had recently been renamed as "Richmond", later to become Richmond upon Thames. It replaced a palace, itself built on the site of a manor house appropriated by the Crown some two centuries before.

In 1500, a year before the construction of the new Richmond Palace began, the name of the town of Sheen, which had grown up around the royal manor, was changed to "Richmond" by command of Henry VII. However, both names, Sheen and Richmond, continue to be used, not without scope for confusion. Curiously, today's districts of East Sheen and North Sheen, now under the administrative control of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, were never in ancient times within the manor of Sheen, but were rather developed during the 19th and 20th centuries in parts of the adjoining manor and parish of Mortlake. Richmond remained part of the County of Surrey until the mid-1960s, when it was absorbed by the expansion of Greater London.

Richmond Palace was a favourite home of Queen Elizabeth, who died there in 1603. It remained a residence of the kings and queens of England until the death of Charles I in 1649. Within months of his execution, the Palace was surveyed by order of Parliament and was sold for £13,000. Over the following ten years it was largely demolished, the stones and timbers being re-used as building materials elsewhere. Only vestigial traces now survive, notably the Gate House. The site of the former palace is the area between Richmond Green and the River Thames, and some local street names provide echoes of the former Palace, including Old Palace Lane, Old Palace Yard and The Wardrobe.



Henry I divided the manor of Shene from the royal manor of Kingston and granted it to a Norman knight. The manor-house of Sheen was established by at least 1125.

1299 to 1495

In 1299 Edward I took his whole court to the manor-house at Sheen, close by the river side. In 1305, he received at Sheen that the Commissioners from Scotland to arrange the Scottish civil government.

It returned to royal hands in the reign of Edward II and after his deposition it was held by his wife, Queen Isabella. When the boy-king Edward III came to the throne in 1327 he gave the manor to his mother Isabella. After her death he extended and embellished the manor house and turned it into the first Shene Palace. Edward III died at Shene on 21 June 1377. In 1368 Geoffrey Chaucer served as a yeoman at Sheen.

Richard II was the first English king to make Sheen his main residence in 1383. He took his bride Anne of Bohemia there. Twelve years later Richard was so distraught at the death of Anne at the age of 28, that he, according to Holinshed, "caused it the manor to be thrown down and defaced; whereas the former kings of this land, being wearied of the citie, used customarily thither to resort as to a place of pleasure, and serving highly to their recreation." For almost 20 years it lay in ruins until Henry V undertook rebuilding work in 1414. The first, pre-Tudor, version of the palace was known as Sheen Palace. It was positioned roughly at 51.460388°N 0.310219°W / 51.460388; -0.310219, in what is now the garden of Trumpeters' House, between Richmond Green and the River. In 1414 Henry V also founded a Carthusian monastery there known as Sheen Priory, adjacent on the N. to the royal residence.

Henry VI continued the rebuilding in order that the palace might be worthy of the reception of his queen, Margaret of Anjou. Edward IV granted it to his queen for life.


Henry VII, builder of Richmond Palace

In 1492 a great tournament was held at the Palace by Henry VII. On 23 December 1497 a fire destroyed most of the wooden buildings. Henry rebuilt it and named the new palace "Richmond" Palace after his title of Earl of Richmond. The earldom was seated at Richmond Castle, Yorkshire, from which it took its name. In 1502, the new palace witnessed the betrothal of Princess Margaret, daughter of Henry VII, to King James IV of Scotland. From this line eventually came the House of Stuart. In 1509 Henry VII died at Richmond Palace.

Henry VIII

Later the same year, Henry VIII celebrated Christmas to Twelfth Night at Richmond with the first of his six wives, Catherine of Aragon. During those celebrations, says Mrs. A. T. Thomson, in her Memoirs of the Court of Henry the Eighth:

On the night of the Epiphany (1510), a pageant was introduced into the hall at Richmond, representing a hill studded with gold and precious stones, and having on its summit a tree of gold, from which hung roses and pomegranates. From the declivity of the hill descended a lady richly attired, who, with the gentlemen, or, as they were then called, children of honour, danced a morris before the king. On another occasion, in the presence of the court, an artificial forest was drawn in by a lion and an antelope, the hides of which were richly embroidered with golden ornaments; the animals were harnessed with chains of gold, and on each sat a fair damsel in gay apparel. In the midst of the forest, which was thus introduced, appeared a gilded tower, at the end of which stood a youth, holding in his hands a garland of roses, as the prize of valour in a tournament which succeeded the pageant!"

Henry's son, christened Henry, was born there on New Year's Day, 1511, but died on 22 February. Some years later, the king received a present of Hampton Court from Wolsey, and in return the cardinal received permission to reside at the royal manor of Richmond, where he kept up so much state as to increase the growing ill-feeling against him. When he fell into disfavour he took up his residence at the Lodge in the 'great' park, and subsequently moved to the Priory.

In 1533 Richmond became the principal residence of Henry's daughter Mary after she was evicted from her previous residence of Beaulieu. Mary stayed at the palace until December of that year when she was ordered to Hatfield House to wait on the newly born Princess Elizabeth.

In 1540 Henry gave the palace to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, as part of her divorce settlement.

Mary I

In 1554 Queen Mary I married Philip II of Spain. Forty-five years after her mother Catherine of Aragon had spent Christmas at Richmond Palace, they spent their honeymoon there (and at Hampton Court). Later that same year, her sister Elizabeth was taken to Richmond as a prisoner on her way to Woodstock.

Elizabeth I

Once Elizabeth became queen she spent much of her time at Richmond, as she enjoyed hunting stags in the "Newe Parke of Richmonde" (now the Old Deer Park). Elizabeth died there on 24 March 1603.


James I

King James I preferred the Palace of Westminster to Richmond, but his eldest son Prince Henry was able to commission water-works for the garden designed by the French Huguenot, Salomon de Caus, and the Florentine Costantino de' Servi, shortly before his death in 1612. Before he became king, Charles I owned Richmond Palace and started to build his art collection whilst living there. Like Elizabeth, James enjoyed hunting stags, and in 1637 created a new area for this now known as Richmond Park, renaming Elizabeth's "Newe Parke" the "Old Deer Park". There continue to be red deer in Richmond Park today, possibly descendants of the original herd, free from hunting and relatively tame.

Charles I and Commonwealth

The king gave the palace with the manor to Queen Henrietta Maria, probably in 1626, and it became the home of the royal children. Within months of the execution of Charles I in 1649, Richmond Palace was surveyed by order of Parliament to see what it could fetch in terms of raw materials, and was sold for £13,000. Over the next ten years it was largely demolished, the stones being re-used as building materials.

The palace was restored with the manor to Queen Henrietta Maria in 1660, although in a dismantled condition, having suffered much dilapidation during the interregnum. The ruined palace was never rebuilt.

Architecture and internal decoration

All the accounts which have come down to us describe the furniture and decorations of Richmond Palace as superb, exhibiting in tapestries the deeds of kings and heroes.

Survey of 1649

The survey taken in 1649 affords a minute description of the palace. The great hall was 100 feet in length, and 40 in breadth, having a screen at the lower end, over which was "fayr foot space in the higher end thereof, the pavement of square tile, well lighted and seated; at the north end having a turret, or clock-case, covered with lead, which is a special ornament to this building." The prince's lodgings are described as a "freestone building, three stories high, with fourteen turrets covered with lead," being "a very graceful ornament to the whole house, and perspicuous to the county round about." A round tower is mentioned, called the "Canted Tower," with a staircase of 124 steps. The chapel was 96 feet long and 40 broad, with cathedral-seats and pews. Adjoining the prince's garden was an open gallery, 200 feet long, over which was a close gallery of similar length. Here was also a royal library. Three pipes supplied the palace with water, one from the white conduit in the new park, another from the conduit in the town fields, and the third from a conduit near the alms-houses in Richmond.

Surviving structures

These include the Wardrobe, Trumpeters' House and the Gate House, all three of which are Grade I listed. The Gate House was built in 1501, and was let on a 65-year lease by the Crown Estate Commissioners in 1986. It has five bedrooms.


During 1997 the site was investigated in the Channel 4 programme Time Team which was broadcast in January 1998.


This palace was one of the first buildings in history to be equipped with a flushing lavatory, invented by Elizabeth I's godson, Sir John Harington. Henry VIII had earlier installed flushing latrines at Hampton Court.

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