Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Lost Palace of Richmond

by Anita Davison

Model of Richmond Palace
Whilst researching the Royal Palaces that once lined the River Thames, I have always wondered about the ‘lost’ ones; those that were left to become ruins, or destroyed long before photographs could tell us what they looked like. One which interests me particularly is Richmond, a Royal residence that once dominated the ground between Richmond Green and the River Thames.

In Medieval times, Richmond Green was used for grazing sheep, archery, jousting tournaments and pageants. The earliest recorded cricket match between Surrey and Middlesex was played there in June 1730, which Surrey won, though the score is not known.

The green is surrounded by substantial Regency and Georgian houses which change hands for jaw slackening amounts, and where locals and dreamers sit at The Cricketers pub and pavement cafes to watch the cricket and attend fairs in the summer. However, in Tudor times, the houses round the Green existed to serve the Royal Palace , and clues still exist as to its former splendour in the names of the streets that radiate on the west side of the green, like ‘Old Palace Gate’, ‘Friars Lane’, ‘Old Palace Yard’, and ‘The Wardrobe’. The only remaining section of the palace that remains today is a red-brick gatehouse which still bears Henry VII’s coat of arms. 

Old Palace Gatehouse
The manor of Shene contained a manor house since Henry I’s time, held by a Norman knight before being returned to Royal hands. Edward II owned it, and after his deposition it passed to his wife, Queen Isabella. After her death, Edward III turned the manor house into the first ‘Shene Palace’, where he died in 1377.

His grandson, Richard II came to the throne as a boy, and while still a teenager, married Anne of Bohemia. Shene was their favourite home and when Anne died of the plague at the age of 27, Richard, stricken with grief, ‘caused it to be thrown down and defaced.’
Gatehouse in 1906
Henry V began construction on a new castle-like building, though the work halted at his death in 1422. Building resumed for the new king, though Henry VI was then only 8 years old when he was crowned.

Edward IV gave Shene Manor to his queen, Elizabeth Woodville, who handed it over to the new Henry VII after his victory over Richard III, who subsequently married her daughter, Princess Elizabeth of York.

The wooden buildings were destroyed by fire when the king and his court were there celebrating Christmas in 1497. In 1500, the name of Shene was changed to Richmond, in honour of the title, Earl of Richmond, which Henry VII held when he won at Bosworth Field.
Henry VII's Coat of Arms

Built of white stone, the new palace had octagonal or round towers capped with pepper-pot domes that bore delicate strap work and weather vanes. Of three stories set in a rectangular block with twelve rooms on each floor round an internal court. This area contained staterooms and private royal apartments, while the ground floor was entirely given over to accommodation for palace officials.

A bridge over the moat, surviving from Edward III’s time, linked the Privy Lodgings to a central courtyard some 65 feet square, flanked by the Great Hall and the Chapel and with a water fountain at its centre. The Great Hall had a buttery beneath, the Chapel ceiling was of chequered timber and plaster decorated with roses and portcullis badges, underneath which were extensive wine cellars.

The middle gate that opened into the Great Court, was turreted and adorned with stone figures of two trumpeters, and to the east was situated the palace wardrobe where soft furnishings were stored. There was also a moat, a Great Orchard, public and private kitchens and a Library.  The palace gardens were encircled by two-storey galleries, open at ground level and enclosed above, where the court could walk, play games, admire the gardens, watch the tennis.

Richmond Palace became a showplace of the kingdom, and the scene of the wedding  celebrations of Henry VII’s eldest son, Prince Arthur to Catherine of Aragon. Also, the betrothal of Princess Margaret to King James of Scotland took place at Richmond in 1503.

Henry VII died at Richmond in 1509, and the following year, his son, Henry VIII married his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon. In 1510 Catherine gave birth to a son, Henry, at Richmond, whose lavish christening celebrations had barely finished, when the baby died a month later.

Henry VIII’s jealousy of Wolsey’s palace at Hampton Court led to him confiscating Hampton and giving Wolsey Richmond in exchange. Richmond became home to Mary Tudor, who stayed for a few months before being moved to Hatfield House, then the palace was given to Anne of Cleves as part of her divorce settlement from Henry VIII.

In 1554, when Queen Mary I married Philip II of Spain, Richmond was where they spent their honeymoon, and within a year, Mary had imprisoned her sister Elizabeth there.

Queen Elizabeth was particularly fond of Richmond as a winter home – and loved to hunt stag in the "Newe Parke of Richmonde" (now the Old Deer Park. It was here she summoned companies of players from London to perform plays – including William Shakespeare’s.  She also died there in 1603.
Elizabeth I Hunting

James I gave Richmond to his son, Henry Prince of Wales, as a country seat, but before any refurbishment could be done, Henry died and it passed to Prince Charles, who began his extensive art collection, storing it at Richmond.

In 1625, King Charles I bought his court to Richmond to escape the plague in London, and he established Richmond Park, using the palace as a home for the royal children until the Civil War.

After Charles I’s execution, the Commonwealth Parliament divided up the palace buildings and had them extensively surveyed, in which the furniture and decorations are described as being sumptuous, with beautiful tapestries depicting the deeds of kings and heroes. The brick buildings of the outer ranges survived, the stone buildings of the Chapel, Hall and Privy Lodgings were demolished and
the stones sold off.

By the restoration of Charles II in 1660, only the brick buildings and the Middle Gate were left. The palace became the property of the Duke of York (the future James II) and his daughters, Mary and Anne grew up there. Their only surviving half-brother, Prince James Edward (the ‘Old Pretender’) was nursed at Richmond, but the restoration work, begun under the auspices of Christopher Wren, ceased in the revolution of 1688 when James II fled to France.

The surviving buildings were leased out, and in 1702, ‘Trumpeters’ House’ was built, replacing the Middle Gate where two statues of trumpeters stood. These were followed by ‘Old Court House’ and ‘Wentworth in 1705-7. The front of The Wardrobe still shows Tudor brickwork as does the Gate House. ‘Maids of Honour Row’ built in 1724 is a uniform terrace built for the maids of honour of Caroline of Anspach, the wife of George II. These replaced most of the buildings facing the Green in 1724-5 and the majority of the house now called ‘Old Palace’ was rebuilt in about 1740.

Traces of the elaborate gardens are still there, having been incorporated into private residences, but the view from the river is still beautiful and as you pass in a barge, and squint a little, maybe you can still see the ‘pepper pots’ and turrets of the old palace where kings and queens once lived.

This post is an Editor's Choice, and was originally published on July 5, 2012.

Anita Davison also writes as Anita Seymour, her 17th Century novel Royalist Rebel was released by Pen and Sword Books, and she has two novels in The Woulfes of Loxsbeare from Books We Love. Her latest venture is an Edwardian cozy mystery being released in June 2015 by Robert Hale.


  1. Fascinating...Thank you for this article - I had no idea of the Palace history, although I have been to Richmond many times.

  2. Lovely article. Thank you. I didn't know much about it.

  3. Great post Anita. Richmond is one of my favourite places in England. I've roamed among the ancient trees of Richmond park and wondered about that palace.

  4. What a great read, thank you. Fascinating and enjoyable.

  5. Elizabeth Gayle FellowsJuly 6, 2012 at 7:13 PM

    What marvellous information. I have read so much about Richmond Palace and did wonder what happened to it. Thank you. Nice that some of the gardens have been incorporated into other gardens for the populace.

  6. You've saved me hunting out information for myself, Anita. Now, have you any info about Stepney Palace, over on the other side of London? I've been doing castles lately on my blog so this really feels like an architectral few weeks!

  7. There are probably no extant drawings of Shene? I'm curious about what it might have looked like. Thanks in advance, and kudos for a fine post on Richmond.

  8. Great article on the old palace at Richmond. I know it well as I was born a stone's throw from it nearly 70 years ago. I try to revisit Richmond at least once a year and when I do I always wander round the remains of the palace and grounds and soak up the magical atmosphere.

  9. Perhaps the English people could retro-actively sue the institution of Parliament for having destroyed a palace that was part of their collective, cultural heritage. :) (On the other hand, that could open a floodgate of lawsuits re: government backed demolished abbeys, destroyed books, works of art, ancient traditions...

  10. My father first told me of the Palace at Richmond, which he had visited on one of his bike rides from Camberwell during the 1920s. Sadly, I only visited it first in 2012 and never visited with my parents. Thank you very much for your article.


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