Nestled on the western side of Hyde Park, Kensington Palace and its gardens is one of the jewels of London. Managed by the Historic Royal Palaces charity and attracting over 400,000 visitors a year, Kensington Palace is London's third most popular palace.
Kensington Palace's famous Gardens blend seamlessly into Hyde Park, creating one of London's largest green spaces, making it an ideal place to visit this summer. But, before you go and explore the palace yourself, here are 10 interesting facts about Kensington Palace, its gardens and its history.
1. Kensington Palace Was Acquired Because King William III Was Asthmatic
Kensington Palace was built in 1605 and was originally a two-storey mansion. The palace was built in the Jacobean style by Sir George Coppin back when Kensington was a village outside of London.
In 1689, King William III bought the property because it better suited his fragile health. As an asthmatic, the fog and flood of the Thames made Whitehall (the King's "official" residence at the time) an unpleasant place to live.
Sir Christopher Wren, the man responsible for rebuilding London after the Great Fire, was tasked with turning the modest mansion into the regal palace we see today.
While safe from the chilling fogs and damp of London, William was unable to escape fate or, as it turned out, irony. He died in Kensington Palace of pneumonia in 1702.
2. Kensington Palace Was Home To A Young Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria's long and fascinating life began at Kensington Palace and visitors can explore her early life through displays and exhibits today. Her early life was governed by a strict set of rules that became known as the Kensington System.
The Kensington System was designed to make Princess Victoria weak and dependent on her mother. This was to ensure that she wouldn't turn against her mother in later life by allying herself to relatives in the powerful and expansive House of Hanover.
But an education based on subjugation, with goals having more to do with political gamesmanship than the education and emotional support of a child, was doomed to failure. The Kensington System backfired spectacularly and became a cornerstone of Victoria's ascension as a strong, independent queen.
Queen Victoria loathed her mother and her cadre of supporters. As soon as she was able, she excised them from the palace. What followed was 63 years of iconic rule.
3. The palace is made up of apartments
As well as being home to a young Queen Victoria, Kensington Palace has been home to many young royals over the centuries. As such, it has seen its fair share of parties most notoriously in the 1960s.
Princess Margaret was infamous for throwing lavish parties at Kensington Palace, with celebrities including The Beatles, Peter Sellers, Britt Eckland, Spike Millegan, Rudolph Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn and Elizabeth Taylor in attendance.
Today the apartments are home to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte. The Duke's mother, Princess Diana, also had her own apartment which was left empty for years after her death.
Kensington Palace is also home to the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, along with the Prince and Princess of Kent.
4. It's full of treasures, secrets and ghosts!
With so many royals coming and going, as well as over 400 years of storied history it's only natural that Kensington Palace has become something of a royal attic. In 1770, someone discovered a book of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, a remarkable find considering that da Vinci had been dead for 181 years. The book was thought to have belonged to Charles I, but no one is really sure.
And that's what makes Kensington Palace so magical – you never know what you're going to find. During the reign of George II, Queen Caroline, the king's consort, casually opened a drawer in an upstairs room and discovered a collection of paintings by Hans Holbein the Younger, Henry VIII's court painter!
The nursery at Kensington Palace is rumoured to be haunted by Peter the Wild Boy, one of King George II's attendants. Apartment 1A is rumoured to be the most haunted. Notable spectres include George II himself as well as his granddaughter and spinster, Princess Sophia.
There have also been reports of weird noises and sightings from night-time guards and residents.
Today, Kensington Palace is home to the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, a collection of over 10,000 items of iconic dress. The collection includes clothes worn by George III, Queen Victoria, Princess Margaret, Diana, Princess of Wales and The Queen.
5. Kensington Palace is unlucky for women
Kensington Palace has a troubled history with its female visitors and residents. In 1694, Queen Mary II, who was very much the visionary behind what Kensington Palace would become contracted smallpox.
In order to prevent spreading the disease, she isolated herself, only allowing those who had survived the pox to attend to her. Her self-sacrifice certainly saved the King, as well as the other residents at the palace.
Queen Anne, Mary II's sister, fell pregnant 17 times with her husband Prince George of Denmark while living at the palace. Sadly, she died without any surviving royal children whatsoever. As a result, she fell into multiple depressive episodes throughout her reign.
Queen Caroline died in 1737 after her eighth pregnancy. Complications after the birth led to an umbilical hernia. Doctors crowded round the Queen but didn't examine her as it was deemed offensive to royal dignity. Sadly, she died eight days later.
In December 1816 Harriet Westbrook, the pregnant wife of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, was found drowned in the Serpentine. By all accounts the marriage was wrought with scandal and misery for Harriet.
Shelley married his long term affair, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, two weeks later. We know her better as Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein.
In 2010, a woman was found frozen to death in the Gardens under mysterious circumstances. Evidence suggests that she fell into one of the ponds in the garden, dragged herself out and then frozen to death at the side of the pond.
6. A reigning monarch hasn't lived there for over 250 years
When George II dropped dead of a heart attack in 1760, no reigning monarch then slept within the palace walls for almost 70 years. His grandson, George III, disliked the palace and never stayed there. Since then, no reigning monarch has lived there.
George III hated Kensington Palace and never visited. He also reigned for an impressive 59 years. 16 years later, Victoria took the throne and became the first monarch to take up residence at Buckingham Palace. It's no surprise that she wanted nothing to do with Kensington Palace after her upbringing there.
Queen Victoria went on to reign for 63 years. So, after 100 years of unpopularity with reigning royals, the habit seems to have stuck.
7. It was used to support the war effort
Kensington Palace and its staff have done their party to support two world wars. And have paid the price.
During the First World War, George V allowed a number of rooms in the palace to be used by clerical staff working for Irish POWs and Irish soldiers fighting on the front lines. During that time, all residents were instructed to adhere to rationing.
During the Second World War, Kensington Palace Gardens was kitted out with anti-aircraft guns, sandbags and trenches to help defend the Capital. Unfortunately, it was also a target.
In 1940, the Palace was hit by an incendiary bomb, severely damaging the State Apartments and the Queen's Apartments.
8. Kensington Gardens inspired Peter Pan
M. Barrie, author of the Peter Pan stories, were inspired by Kensington Gardens. Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens was written in 1906 and is a prequel story to the Disney film version of the character.
Set in and around Kensington Gardens, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens tells the story about the boy who would not grow up and the price he pays for doing so. Many locations in the Gardens, including the Serpentine lake, feature in the story.
Barrie, who lived on Bayswater Road, visited the Gardens often and commissioned the statue of Peter Pan you can find there today.
9. You can rent out Kensington Palace
That's right! You can live like a royal for a day by renting out Kensington Palace. It hosts auctions, concerts, charity events and even weddings. So, if you're shopping around for your wedding venue, give Kensington Palace a look.
In 2015, Nicky Hilton, the socialite and fashion designer, married James Rothschild in the Orangery in Kensington Palace Gardens.
10. It was rescued by the most unlikely of patrons
By the end of the 19th century, the once grand State Rooms were in a state of severe neglect. The Rooms were falling apart, bricks were falling off and decaying, wood was rotting, everything was in really bad shape.
Calls were made to demolish the palace, as any renovation works would cost the public far too much money. At the time, Britain was in economic flux. Farmers were losing corn exports to the vast resources on the American plains and the rift between the rich and poor was wider than ever. In such a political landscape, it seemed that no one was going to back Parliament to save the Palace.
Just as the Palace was due to be destroyed, it gained a most unexpected ally. In 1897, the now 78 year old Queen Victoria came to its rescue. She declared that "while she lived, the palace in which she was born should not be destroyed"
Queen Victoria went to battle against her own government, fighting parliament to raise fund to repair the long-neglected palace. She was successful and over the next two years, the palace was completely restored and saved.
The State Rooms were opened to the public on the Queen's birthday, 24 May 1899. This began the palace's dual role as a private home to royalty and a public museum that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
Today, Kensington Palace celebrates the extraordinary life of its most unlikely patron, Queen Victoria, who's unhappy childhood at the Palace left her with few happy memories. You can explore two new exhibitions, opening on 24 May 2019 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria's birth at Kensington Palace to discover more about the woman behind the crown.
If your curiosity has been aroused by Kensington Palace's history, why not book a stay at Strathmore Hotel and embrace the history?
The Strathmore is an imposing 4-star hotel, located close to London’s most famous museums in South Kensington. A fully restored Victorian mansion, the hotel building was formerly the London residence of the Earl of Strathmore.