Palaces, mansions and houses… the buildings occupied and used by the Royal Family are many, dotted around the United Kingdom. London has the largest number of royal family homes in the whole of Britain. Of all the royal palaces, Buckingham Palace is the largest and most impressive, being the official London residence of the monarch and of course home to Queen Elizabeth II. It is said that she prefers Windsor Castle, however, where she normally lives at weekends and throughout Easter.
If visiting London isn’t an option then why not try a Virtual Tour? London Houses: Homes of Queens is one such tour conducted by our very own Anna Targett, author of this article. Weaving the stories of royal homes dedicated specifically to queens she will entertain you with a fascinating hour of beautiful residences and fun stories.
Buckingham Palace is the largest of all the palaces and is used as ‘The Office”. It grandly sits in a prime location close to the government in Westminster and is used for receptions and events with its grand state rooms. It is also the focal point for any celebrations relating to royalty. Many people will remember Brian May of the rock band Queen playing ‘God Save The Queen’ from the roof of Buckingham Palace to celebrate 50 years of her monarchy in 2002. Wow! That was a great concert!
Dukes, duchesses, princes and princesses have made Kensington Palace their home with the larger part of the palace complex divided into separate apartments. Nowadays Prince William and Princess Katherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge live here with their three children, George, Charlotte and Louis. They live in Apartment 1a, where William’s great-aunt used to live, Princess Margaret. This is not a small apartment but a 20 room private residence which takes up one wing of the large rear section of Kensington Palace.
Famously, Kensington Palace was the home of Princess Diana too. She lived in Apartment 8, which is rather smaller than Prince William’s current home, and she continued living here after her divorce from Prince Charles. The spotlight fell on Kensington after her death and it was from here that the funeral cortege left to travel to Buckingham Palace and from there to Westminster Abbey for her funeral. An extremely moving occasion which most who witnessed it will never forget.
Historically Kensington Palace is most linked with Queen Victoria, who was born at Kensington. It was here that she learned she was to become queen, here that she held her first government meeting with her privy council and it was here that she met the love of her life, Prince Albert. It is now possible to visit those historic rooms where she lived along with the most impressive state apartments, many of which occasionally feature in period film productions.
St James’s Palace is also an official residence of the monarchy. When Buckingham Palace was bought as Buckingham House for King George III it was thought that the new home would be a place to live, whilst St James’s Palace was for receptions and formal events. It is now another working palace and is still the official home of the ‘court’. All ambassadors are accredited to the Court of St James.
St James’s Palace has provided a convenient London apartment for many royals who live outside London. Prince Charles lived here for a while until the death of the Queen Mother in 2002 who had lived next door in Clarence House. He moved into her former home and he divides his time between London and his country house in the Cotswolds.
There are many other royal residences which are no longer used by the Royal Family. The Tower of London is officially named ‘Her Majesty’s Palace and Fortress’ and even has a house inside its walls called ‘The Queen’s House’. Inhabited by many kings and queens throughout history, The Tower was rarely used as a principal home but was traditionally the place from which the coronation procession started. We now remember it better, of course, as a prison and for beheadings and executions. There are plenty of fabulous stories related to these, such as the beheading of Anne Boleyn in the Tudor times! This is where the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom are kept and is well worth a visit.
There is another Queen’s House in Greenwich which is a beautiful, yet relatively small building in a stunning location facing the Thames. This was associated with several queens in the 17th Century, being built especially for Queen Anne of Denmark. Sadly she didn’t live long enough to see it finished and so her daughter-in-law, Queen Henrietta-Maria was the queen for whom it was finished. This Queen’s House is open to the public and is a must-see for visitors to Greenwich.
Out at Kew, in the centre of the Royal Botanic Gardens is another former royal residence. Originally called the Dutch House it is now known as Kew Palace and was the place where King George III and his wife Queen Charlotte loved to spend the summers with their 15 children. Sadly, it also the place where George III was treated by his doctors during his illness or ‘madness’, which plagued him on and off for the last two decades of his life.
The Palace of Westminster, now better known as the Houses of Parliament, was also once a royal residence being last used by King Henry VIII. The current building is much more recent and is now the home of government. Whitehall Palace, once the largest palace in Europe, also stood nearby but was sadly was destroyed by fire in 1698. Banqueting House is the only part remaining of this huge royal complex and is worth the visit just to see its spectacular ceiling by Peter Paul Rubens.
King Henry VIII’s favourite royal residence was Hampton Court Palace. Built to be the height of fashion 500 years ago, it offers a double whammy for the visitor. Firstly, the extensive Tudor kitchens, the Royal Chapel and the Great Hall with its’ amazing ceiling. Look out for the eavesdroppers in the rafters! Secondly, the rear of the palace was built 200 years later by King William and Queen Mary in an attempt to rival Versailles, home to King Louis XIV of France. Room after room are filled with tapestries, priceless works of art and amazing painted ceilings. Hampton Court Palace has been open to the public since the time of Queen Victoria and it is worth making the 45 minute journey out of London. Why not make it a full day by taking strolls through the fabulous gardens, and you might even see how Real Tennis is played… not so differently to when Henry VIII played here.
British royalty has many palaces they call home, mainly across England and Scotland. This is where they escape from the eye of the public and enjoy family time.
Sandringham Estate is in the Norfolk coast area and the private home of the Queen. Since his retirement, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, has been living in Wood Farm on the estate. Since 1988, the Members of the royal family have been gathering on Christmas day at Sandringham.
Highgrove, situated in Gloucestershire, is the home of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. This is where Prince William and Prince Harry spent most of their childhood. Prince Charles created a wild garden which now attracts 30,000 people annually.
Primarily a country house and private property of the Monarch, located in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Every summer the Queen spends the summer break at Balmoral.