Today Kensington Palace is synonymous with young royals; it is the official home of TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their family, and of TRH The Duke and Duchess of Sussex. It is also famous for being the residence of Diana, Princess of Wales, during the last years of her life, and visitors still flock to the palace to learn about her story. But the history of Kensington stretches back much further. It boasts more than three centuries of continuous royal occupation, making it unique among the Historic Royal Palaces.
Formerly a private house enlarged by Christopher Wren in the late 17th century to suit the needs of William and Mary, Kensington Palace was the favoured home of five sovereigns until the death of George II in 1760. William and Mary were attracted by its location in what was then a small village to the west of London, with easy access to the capital but with much cleaner air. This remained its greatest advantage for the following two centuries, before it was overtaken by London's rapid expansion. Nonetheless, surrounded by its gardens, the palace still offers the same privacy and tranquillity that so appealed to its original royal owners.
Even after its conversion into a royal residence, the palace remained a rather unprepossessing building, fashioned out of reddish-grey brick. However, this belied its architectural significance, for it was shaped and decorated by some of the country's leading architects, artists, craftsmen and designers, and is now a major national monument. The palace's social and political significance is arguably even greater. Kensington has played host to some of the most important personalities and events in the long history of the royal family. It was the birthplace and childhood home of Queen Victoria, and it was here that she held her first council meeting as monarch in 1837. During the previous century, Kensington had been divided into apartments for the younger generation of royals - an arrangement that continues today. From the late 19th century onwards, it became a visitor attraction, a museum and home to the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection. Today the palace attracts more than 400,000 visitors a year.
In this new illustrated account, Tracy Borman tells the fascinating story of Kensington from private residence to modern-day royal palace, describing not only the development of the building and its magnificent gardens, but also the dramas and intrigues of court life. Its history is set against a backdrop of events that shaped both Britain and its monarchy: from the Jacobite uprisings of the mid-18th century to the rise of industrialization in the 19th, and the turbulence of world war in the 20th. Here, in the domestic surrounds of the palace, the monarchy evolved and modernized in tandem with the times. The story of Kensington Palace is, in short, the story of the modern monarchy.
AUTHOR: Tracy Borman is joint Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces. She has worked for various national heritage organizations, including the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Archives and English Heritage. An acclaimed writer and historian, she is the author of Henrietta Howard (Jonathan Cape, 2007), Thomas Cromwell (Grove Press, 2014), The Story of the Tower of London (Merrell, 2015), The Private Lives of the Tudors (Grove Press, 2016) and Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him (Atlantic Monthly Press, January 2019), among other titles.