The Queen’s House is the jewel in the crown of Greenwich's UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This bright white villa was at the cutting edge of architecture and design when it was completed in the 1630s.

During the 17th century the Queen's House was a royal 'House of Delights': a luxurious retreat for Kings and Queens, a place of pleasure for court favourites, and a thriving studio for artists and craftsmen.

Since then the Queen's House has shaped the Greenwich you see today. When architect Sir Christopher Wren began work on what is now the Old Royal Naval College, Queen Mary II had one instruction: the new building should not block the views of the River Thames from the Queen's House. Thanks to her intervention, the House now sits at the centre of one of London's most inspiring vistas.

Today the Queen's House still captures that early spirit of art and creativity. Historic paintings and interiors blend gracefully with contemporary art and sculpture, while music, theatre and discussion fill the Great Hall during our regular programme of live events.

Oh, and it even has its own ghost – if legend is to be believed...

Who lived in the Queen's House, and who designed the beautiful Tulip Stairs? How did the House change over time, and what secrets do its galleries still contain?

Book your free visit now to experience the Queen's House for yourself, or read the guide below to discover the story of Greenwich's royal survivor.

History in brief

Palace, studio, school, art gallery: the Queen's House has played many parts during its long life. Tap the arrows to explore the Queen's House timeline.

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1400s: Greenwich's early royal connections

1426–33: Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester builds a large riverside house called 'Bella Court' in Greenwich. He encloses the area surrounding the mansion, turning it into the first royal park in London

1447–52: Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI, redevelops the mansion, which comes to be known as the Palace of Placentia

1491: Henry VIII is born at Placentia

1498–1504: Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth of York replace Placentia with a new palace: Greenwich Palace. Its location next to the royal shipyards at Deptford and Woolwich helped make it a favourite residence of the Tudors. Henry VIII further expands the palace, and it serves as his principal London residence for the first two decades of his reign

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1500s: Greenwich Palace and the Tudors

1516: Mary I born at Greenwich Palace 

1533: Elizabeth I born at Greenwich Palace

1536: Anne Boleyn is arrested for treason while at Greenwich on the orders of Henry VIII, before being taken up-river to the Tower of London

1553: Edward VI, the son of Henry VIII, dies at Greenwich

1587: Elizabeth I signs execution warrant for Mary, Queen of Scots at Greenwich

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1600s: Queen's House takes centre stage

1613: James I gives the manor of Greenwich to his wife, Anne of Denmark 

1616: Anne of Denmark commissions Inigo Jones to design and build the Queen’s House; work begins in 1617 

1618: Work stops with the House partially built; Anne dies in 1619 

1632: Work recommences on the Queen’s House under Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of Charles I 

1635: Queen’s House exterior structure is completed, with the interior finished by about 1638. Henrietta Maria however finds herself in exile in France from 1644 following the outbreak of the Civil War

1649: Charles I is executed. The Queen’s House, along with the Palace of Greenwich and its contents, are seized by the Commonwealth

1661–62: Charles II, restored to the throne in 1660, adds the East and West Bridge Rooms to the Queen’s House. This provides separate 'King's Side' and 'Queen's Side' apartments, and gives the House the fully connected square plan seen today

1673–74: Willem van de Velde the Elder and his son Van de Velde the Younger are given a studio in the Queen’s House by Charles II

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1700s: Kings, Queens and Rangers

1714: The Elector of Hanover (the future George I), lands at Greenwich and spends his first night in England at the Queen’s House

1743–80: Lady Katharine Pelham, Ranger of Greenwich Park, takes up residence at the Queen's House. Her 37-year tenancy makes her the House's longest resident

1795: The Queen's House hosts Caroline of Brunswick’s official welcome to England, ahead of her disastrous marriage to George, Prince of Wales, later George IV

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1800s: a mansion for mariners' children

1807–09: The Royal Naval Asylum, an orphanage school for the children of naval seamen, moves into the Queen’s House and new adjoining wings. This institution combines with Greenwich Hospital School from 1821, and is renamed Royal Hospital School in 1892. The School eventually moves to Suffolk in 1933

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1900s-today: a gallery for all

1937: After major restoration, the Queen’s House opens to the public as part of the National Maritime Museum 

1986–90: A second major restoration includes remodelling the ‘Horseshoe stairs’ entrance approach. A lift inserted in 1999 allows for disabled access

2016: Queen’s House celebrates the 400th anniversary of its design with a third refurbishment. Highlights include a decoration of the Great Hall ceiling by Turner Prize winner Richard Wright, and the arrival of the 'Armada Portrait' of Elizabeth I

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Who was the Queen's House built for?

Anne of Denmark, the wife of King James I, is the original 'Queen' of the Queen's House.

Anne of Denmark
A portrait of Anne of Denmark painted around 1605, on display at the Queen's House (BHC4251)

King James I granted the existing manor of Greenwich to his Queen in 1613. Supposedly the manor had been a gift from the King as an apology for losing his temper, after Anne had accidentally shot one of his favourite dogs while hunting.

The architect Inigo Jones was commissioned to design a new palace in 1616. Jones had made his name as a designer and producer of court 'masques', a kind of courtly entertainment featuring dance, music, poetry and drama. The original intention may have been for the House to be a venue for this lavish entertainment.

Inigo Jones's design for the House also served another purpose however.

The main public road from London to Dover cut right through this area of Greenwich, separating the royal hunting grounds of Greenwich Park from the Palace by the river. Jones designed the Queen's House so that it would bridge over the road, creating a grand portal between park and palace. 

Couple walking through the Queen's House colonnades
The colonnades that stretch out either side of the Queen's House mark what was originally the main road out of London through Greenwich

This means that visitors to the Queen's House today actually enter through what was originally the 'back' of the House. The sunny side facing Greenwich Park was originally the front, with the large balcony and high windows acting as an impressive vantage point for looking out on activities in the park.

Anne of Denmark never lived to see Inigo Jones’s design realised however. The Queen died of tuberculosis in March 1619 aged 44. The ground floor shell of the Queen's House was left half-built.

It was not until after 1629, when James’s son Charles I gave Greenwich to his wife Henrietta Maria, that work resumed. The Queen's House had another Queen.

How was the Queen's House used by the royal family?

Like Anne of Denmark, Queen Henrietta Maria was a leading patron of the arts, with interests including art, sculpture and design. It was she who instructed Inigo Jones to restart work on the Queen's House. 

The building was completed around 1635, and is considered remarkable for its break with the traditional, red-brick Tudor style of building that had gone before.

A portrait of Henrietta Maria by Anthony van Dyck, painted around 1638 and on display at the Queen's House (BHC2761)

Henrietta Maria changed one key element of the Queen's House's original design, instructing Jones to create a new north terrace overlooking the palace gardens. This marked the start of the north side’s role as the primary façade of the building, as it is today.

The start of the Civil War in 1642 meant that Henrietta Maria had little time to enjoy the House she had helped to complete. In 1644 she escaped to France; her husband Charles I was executed in 1649.

Portrait of Charles I
A half-length portrait of Charles I. The sale catalogue for the painting in 1938 claimed that the pearl earring in left ear was the one he wore on the day of his execution in 1649 (BHC2607)

During the Commonwealth the Queen's House was reserved for Government use. Late in 1653, Oliver Cromwell briefly considered occupying the Queen’s House himself, but this never came to fruition.

The Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 brought renewed attention to the Queen's House. Charles II renovated the building ahead of the return of his mother Henrietta Maria, who arrived at Greenwich in July 1662. She did not stay long however, choosing to move to Somerset House in September that year.

The Queen's House would never again be a permanent royal residence. Instead it was used for royal visits or overnight stays, normally as part of important journey by sea to and from Greenwich.

A home for art and science

By the end of the 17th century the Queen’s House had become a ‘grace-and-favour’ mansion, made available to court favourites and artisans.

This included Willem van de Velde the Elder and Younger, the Dutch father and son duo whose arrival in the winter of 1672/73 transformed marine painting in Britain. The pair were granted a studio on the ground floor of the Queen's House.

In 1675–76, the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed, lived in and observed from the House while the Royal Observatory was being built on the hill above. Other occupants include Sir John Chardin, a French Huguenot exile and jeweller to the English court.

The Queen's House: the heart of maritime Greenwich

The Queen's House today is perfectly framed by the twin domes of the Old Royal Naval College – but it wasn't always this way.

Originally Greenwich Palace would have blocked the view from the Queen's House to the river. During the Civil War however the old Tudor palace had fallen into disrepair; Charles II's plans for a grand new palace in its place were never fully realised.

In the 1690s the site was instead earmarked as the location for the Royal Hospital for Seamen, a charitable institution for Royal Navy veterans.

Queen Mary II instructed architect Sir Christopher Wren that the new building should not block the view from the Queen's House. Wren's solution, an arrangement of domes and colonnades either side of a central open court, placed the Queen's House right at the centre of the vista from the river.

An aerial view of the Queen's House, Old Royal Naval College and Greenwich Park on a sunny day
The twin domes of the buildings now known as the Old Royal Naval College perfectly frame the Queen's House, with the Royal Observatory on the hill in the distance

From 1690 until 1806 the Queen's House was the official residence for the Ranger of Greenwich Park, an honorary position appointed by the monarch.

By 1807 however the role of the Queen's House had changed again, becoming the location for the Royal Naval Asylum, an orphanage for the children of naval seamen. The Asylum later combined with the Royal Hospital school for the sons of seamen, and by 1843 the first of three full-size training ships stood in front of the House.

Historic photograph showing the entrance to the Greenwich Hospital School, now known as the Queen's House. Sea cadets in uniform can be seen flanking the iron gates, and a training ship is positioned in the middle of the lawn
Entrance to Royal Hospital School with the drill ship Fame and Queen's House behind (A1727)

In 1937 the Queen's House was opened to the public as part of the new National Maritime Museum.

Ghostly sightings

It was first rumoured that the Queen’s House was haunted in the 1960s, after a photograph taken by a visitor appeared to show one or more ghosts on the Tulip Stairs.

Unexplained sightings have continued. In 2002, a gallery assistant was talking to two colleagues when he reportedly saw a figure gliding across a balcony, dressed in an old-fashioned, white-grey dress and passing through a wall...

The Queen’s House today

The Queen’s House is now at the heart of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site, declared by UNESCO in 1997.

But don't just admire its picture-perfect exterior: the galleries inside contain a world-class art collection,historic works from the studios of Holbein, Van Dyck and the Van de Veldes alongside contemporary pieces by Kehinde Wiley, Christy Symington and more.  

A group of paintings on display at the Queen's House in Greenwich. The image focuses on their burnished gold frames, creating a pleasing geometric pattern on the wall

From architectural trailblazer to inspiring art gallery, the Queen's House spirit of creativity still burns bright.