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Maritime Greenwich: A World Heritage Site

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Tudor and Stuart Greenwich


Greenwich Park

View from the Observatory Hill.
View full size imageGreenwich is the oldest of London's Royal Parks. © NMM

Greenwich is the oldest of London's nine royal parks. It was enclosed by Duke Humphrey of Gloucester as a hunting ground in 1433.

Henry VIII stocked the park with deer in 1515 and they have been here ever since. The deer wandered freely until 1927, but now they are kept in an enclosure in the south-east corner.

From 1619 to 1624 James I replaced the Park's wooden boundary fence with a brick wall. Despite later rebuilding this is still the boundary, enclosing nearly 80 hectares (190 acres) of land.

The Park's layout is still broadly the plan created for Charles II in the 1660s. Avenues of trees were planted and 'giant steps' cut up the hill south of the Queen's House in 1661–62.

Greenwich from One Tree Hill
View full size image Greenwich from One Tree Hill. © NMM

In about 1666 the designer of Louis XIV's gardens at Versailles, Andre le Notre, planned the lower ground south of the Queen's House. You can still see this parterre, bordered by raised tree avenues.

On the hill 'Greenwich Castle' – formerly Duke Humphrey's Tower – was replaced by the Royal Observatory in 1675–76.

Greenwich Castle

In his Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton (1577–1640) said: 

Quotation marks left
Every country is full of ... delightsome  prospects ... Barclay the Scot commends that of Greenwich tower for one of the best prospects of Europe, to see London on the
Quotation marks right
one side, the Thames, ships and pleasant meadows on the other....

 

Greenwich from the park showing the Tudor Palace. c 1620.
View full size image Greenwich from the park showing the Tudor Palace. © NMM

The hunting lodge and tower, built by Duke Humphrey of Gloucester on Greenwich Hill in about 1433, was remodelled in 1525–26 by Henry VIII. He housed 'a fayre ladye whom [he] loved' there. Although it became known as 'Greenwich castle' from its appearance, it was not built with a defensive purpose.

Flamstead House. Greenwich Park.
View full size image Flamsteed House, Greenwich Park. © NMM

From 1605, James I gave the castle to Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton, as an oficial residence which he was Ranger of Greenwich Park. After Howard's death in 1614 it remained a royal 'grace-and-favour' house until the Civil War (1642–49). During this time it was well decorated and furnished on three floors, and had superb views.

During the Commonwealth period (1649–60) the castle was largely destroyed.  Only the Queen's House was kept up as an official residence and Greenwich Palace fell into disrepair. Wren's original Observatory building, Flamsteed House, was built on the castle's foundations in 1675-76.

The Tudor Palace of Greenwich

George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland
View full size imageThe Earl of Cumberland, in Greenwich jousting armour. © NMM

Duke Humphrey of Gloucester's riverside house, 'Bellacourt', and the early palace complex which became known as 'Placentia', were completely rebuilt around 1500 by Henry VII, founder of the Tudor dynasty.

Development continued after 1509, when his son Henry VIII came to the throne. He rebuilt the chapel on the east side and in 1515–16 added a tournament yard bordered by towers and a viewing gallery. This area is now covered by the eastern lawns of the National Maritime Museum.

At the same time he founded the famous Greenwich armoury. Its purpose was to turn out fine jousting and field armour for himself and his court.

The ancient palace at Greenwich called Placentia, the birth place of Queen Elizabeth
View full size imageThe Tudor Palace of Greenwich, the birthplace of Queen Elizabeth I. © NMM

There are no pictures of the early palace of Placentia, where Henry VIII was born. But there are several images of it as it existed in the 16th to the mid-17th centuries.

It was here that Henry VIII's daughters, Queen Mary and  Elizabeth I, were born in 1516 and 1533. The Queen's House, begun in 1617 at the bottom of the gardens, was the last addition to the Tudor palace. It is the only major part that survives.

The rest of the palace fell into decay during the Civil War and Commonwealth period (1642–60). It was demolished by Charles II from the 1660s to make way for a new palace. Charles only built one wing of this, which is now part of the Old Royal Naval College.

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