Greenwich and the Stuarts

When the last Tudor ruler, Elizabeth I, died without leaving children to rule after her, the Stuart family took over.

The Stuarts ruled from 1603, when James VI of Scotland, the son of Mary Queen of Scots, became king of England as James I, until 1714 when Queen Anne died.

Why did the Stuarts spend time at Greenwich?

Greenwich had been popular with kings and queens long before the time of the Stuarts.

The Tudor palace, Placentia, had been a favourite place of King Henry VIII and his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I. Like the Tudors, the Stuart rulers enjoyed coming to Greenwich because it was well away from the dirt and smells of London.

The palace was easy to travel to because it was so close to the River Thames. There was a high brick wall around Greenwich Park and King James hunted deer there just as Henry VIII had done.

Greenwich was also popular with the Stuart royal family because of its closeness to the shipbuilding yards on the River Thames at Woolwich and Deptford. When one ship, the Prince, was launched at Woolwich, Anne of Denmark, the wife of James I, and her son Prince Henry went on board.

Phineas Pett, the designer of the ship wrote :

The noble prince himself, accompanied by the lord admiral, was on the poop where the great standing gilt cup was ready filled to name the good ship, as soon as she were drinking part of the wine, giving the ship her name, and then heaving the cup overboard.

Why was the Queen's House built?

While he lived in the old Tudor palace at Greenwich, King James decided to have a new house built for his wife.

Anne did not plan to live in the new house, but she wanted somewhere where she could entertain her friends.

It is because the queen did not want to live in the house that it is small when compared to other royal palaces.

One writer at the time thought that King James may have built the Queen's House for Anne as a way of saying sorry for losing his temper after she accidentally shot his pet dog.

Sir Dudley Carleton wrote in 1613 :

The queen shooting a deer mistook her mark and killed Jewel, the King's most special and favourite hound; at which he stormed exceedingly awhile; but after he knew who did it he was soon pacified and with much kindness wished her not to be troubled with it for he should love her never the worse; and the next day sent her a diamond worth £2000 as a legacy from his dead dog....The Queen by her late pacification hath gained Greenwich.

Visit the Queen's House

Who did King James ask to design the new palace?

The Queen's House was designed by the architect Inigo Jones.

Building had been going on for three years when Queen Anne died, so she never got to live in the house that was planned for her.

What happened to the Queen's House after Queen Anne died?

The house was given to Queen Henrietta Maria, who was married to Anne's son, King Charles I. Both enjoyed spending time at Greenwich.

In 1635, the ambassador from Venice wrote:

'On Wednesday His Majesty went to Greenwich with the Queen. They will both stay there at least six weeks to enjoy the pleasures of the chase, and the Queen to see the completion of a special erection of hers which is already far advanced.'

Henrietta called the new house her 'House of Delight'.

However, her enjoyment of Greenwich was interrupted by the Civil War. To escape the fighting she ran away to France, and did not return to Greenwich until 1662 after her son Charles II had become king. Upon her return Henrietta Maria made the house larger by adding two extra rooms.

Why was the Royal Observatory built?

In 1675, Charles II who was very interested in science, asked Christopher Wren to design an observatory to be built on top of the hill in Greenwich Park.

Astronomers used telescopes in the Observatory to look closely at the stars. Studying stars was useful for helping sailors to navigate ships more accurately.

Visit the Royal Observatory

How did the Stuart connection with Greenwich end?

James II 

After Charles II died, his brother James II became king.

His Catholic religion made him unpopular with many people, and in 1688 he was replaced by his daughter Mary and her Dutch husband William.

Mary II and William of Orange

Mary travelled from Holland and landed at the old Greenwich Palace. Many state barges on the river joined in the celebrations.

During the Civil War the buildings of the old Tudor Palace had been neglected and were very run-down.

Many treasures and paintings had been sold. The old palace was knocked down and new buildings designed by Christopher Wren took their place.

The new queen, Mary, wanted somewhere for sailors who were old, sick or injured in battle to be looked after. Eventually, the new riverside buildings became the Royal Hospital for Seamen.

Queen Anne 

Although Queen Anne did not frequent Greenwich, she did have an impact on the Queen's House.

Anne gifted the Orazio Gentlieschi painted ceiling panels to her favourite, Sarah Churchill.