Greenwich and the Tudors

Conveniently situated beside the River Thames, Greenwich was extremely popular with the Tudor royal family.

At that time, travelling by water was easier and quicker than using muddy and dangerous roads. When the royal family travelled to Greenwich they would have been getting completely away from London, with its smells, noise and disease, into the countryside.

Were the Tudors the first kings and queens to want to live at Greenwich?

No. Royal interest in Greenwich began with King Henry V. He gave Greenwich to his brother Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, who built a tower for defence there in 1427. He also built a large riverside house which he called 'Bella Court'. After Humphrey died, Margaret of Anjou, the wife of Henry VI, enlarged and improved Bella Court. She included a pier so that boats could come and go even at low tide, and named her new palace 'Placentia', or 'pleasant place'.

What happened to the Palace of Placentia when the Tudors became the ruling family in England?

Henry VII, the first Tudor king, made the palace at Greenwich even larger. He covered the whole palace with a new facing of red brick. It became a favourite palace of the Tudors, partly because it was close to the royal shipyards on the River Thames. Henry VII's son, who became Henry VIII, was born at the palace on 28th June 1491.

How did King Henry VIII use Greenwich?

As well as being born at the palace of Placentia, Henry VIII spent a lot of time there. It was one of his favourite palaces. He married two of his wives there and it was where his daughters Elizabeth and Mary were born. Henry VIII was very fond of ships, and Greenwich was well sited for visiting the new shipyards at nearby Deptford and Woolwich.

Henry made the palace at Greenwich much larger. He built stables, forges, a new banqueting hall, and armouries to make suits of mail for soldiers. He also had a great tilt yard made in the grounds so that he and his men could practice jousting and hold tournaments. A fortune was spent on these tournaments so that people would be impressed as men fought each other on foot and on horseback. During one tournament at Greenwich in January 1536, King Henry was thrown from his horse. He lay unconscious for two hours and never jousted again.

How did traffic pass through Greenwich?

In Tudor times the Deptford to Woolwich road ran right through the royal grounds. Travellers preferred this road because it avoided Blackheath, where many robbers lurked. The muddy road was closed in on both sides by a high wall. There was a gate-house which was used to guard the point where the Tudor kings and queens crossed the road to enter the park. Guards stopped the traffic for them while they crossed. In Tudor times the park was not open for everyone to use. It was used by the royal family and their visitors for riding and hunting deer.

Did the royal family carry on coming to Greenwich after Henry VIII died?

Yes. Elizabeth I, who was born at Greenwich, was baptised in the church of the Observant Friars, which was next to the palace. When she became queen, she liked to spend time at Greenwich, especially in the summer. There is a famous story about Sir Walter Ralegh putting his cloak down in the mud for Queen Elizabeth to walk on. Some people have suggested that this happened at the place where the royal family crossed the road to go into the park.