Medieval Castles > Castles England > Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace

Kensington PalaceLocation: Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London, England.

Built in: early 17th-century.

Kensington Palace possesses gardens that are miles in circumference; but these having become public every day in the week, which in the early times of the Georges was not the case, it has, in reality, to any sequestered purpose of enjoyment, no gardens at all, except at one corner.

The gardens in the time of the Finches consisted of little but the ground squaring with the north side of the Palace, laid out in the first formal and sombre style of our native gardening, and originating the still existing circle of yew trees, a disposition of things congenial with the owners. Heneage Finch, the Speaker, and his sons, the first and second Earls of Nottingham, were all lawyers and statesmen; and though a clever, and upon the whole, a worthy, appear to have been a melancholy race.

The first Earl suffered under a long depression of spirits before he died; the second was a man of so atrabilarious a complexion that he was nicknamed Dismal; and Dismal's son, from a like swarthy appearance, and the way in which he neglected his dress, was called the chimney-sweep. Hanbury Williams, the reigning lampooner of the days of George the Second, designated the whole race as the "black funereal Finches."

These unusual "Finches of the Grove," made way for a kind of Jupiter's bird in the eagle-nosed, hawk-eyed, gaunt little William the Third; a personage as formal and melancholy as themselves, though not so noisy (for Dismal, notwithstanding his formality, was a great talker); and under William, the Gardens though they grew larger, did but exchange English formality for Dutch. The walks became longer and straighter, like canals; the yews were restrained and clipped; there was, perhaps, a less number of flowers, comparatively; for the English had always been fond of flowers, and the Dutch had not yet grown mad (commercially) for tulips; in short, William the Third with a natural love for his Dutch home, made the palace and gardens look as much like it as he could.

And his Court, for the most part, was as gloomy as the gardens; for William was not fond of his new subjects; did not choose to converse with them; and was seldom visible but to his Dutch friends. Yet here were occasionally to be seen some of the liveliest wits and courtiers that have left a name in history, forsakers, indeed, of reserved and despotic King James, rather than enthusiasts for the equally reserved and hardly less power-loving King William, who had become, however, by the force of circumstances, the instrument for securing freedom.

Here came the Earl of Dorset, Prior's friend, who had been one of the wits of the Court of Charles the Second; Prior himself, who had stirred William's Dutch phlegm so agreeably as to be made one of the gentlemen of his bedchamber; Congreve, whose plays Queen Mary admired; Halifax, a minor wit, but no mean statesman; Sir William Temple, who combined public with private life to so high a degree of wisdom and elegance; Swift (probably) then a young man, whom Sir William made use of in his communications with the king; Burnet, the gossiping historian, sometimes wrong­headed, but generally right-hearted, whose officious zeal for the Revolution had made him a bishop; the Earl of Devonshire, whose nobler zeal had made him a duke, one of a family remarkable for their constant and happy combination of popular politics with all the graces of their rank; Lord Monmouth, afterwards the famous, restless Earl of Peterborough, friend of Swift and Pope, conqueror of Spain, and lover, at the age of seventy, of Lady Suffolk; Sheffield, afterwards Duke of Buckinghamshire, a minor wit and poet, in love with (the rank of) the Princess Anne; and last, not least in anything, but good-breeding, and a decent command over his passions, Peter the Great, semi­barbarian, the premature freer of Russian pseudo-civilization, who came to England in order to import the art of ship-building into his dominions, in his own proper mechanical person, and out of the five months which he spent here, passed a good many days out of one of them in in­terchanging visits with King William at Kensington.

The only distinct personal anecdote recorded of William the Third in connection with Kensington will remind the reader of similar paternal stories of Agesilaus and others. A tap was heard one day, at his closet door, while his secretary was in attendance. "Who is there ?" said the king. "Lord Buck," answered the little voice of a child of four years of age. It was Lord Buckhurst, the son of hig Majesty's lord high chamberlain, the Earl of Dorset.

"And what does Lord Buck want?" returned William, opening the door. "You to be a horse to my coach," rejoined the little magnate. "I've wanted you a long time." William smiled upon his little friend, with an amiableness which the secretary had never before thought his countenance capable of expressing, and taking the string of the toy in his hand, dragged it up aud down the long gallery till his playfellow was satisfied.

The Court and Gardens of Kensington were not livelier in Queen Anne's time than in that of King William. Anne, as we have seen at Campden House, was a dull woman with a dull husband. They had little to say for themselves; their greatest pleasures were in eating and drinking; the Queen was absurdly found of etiquette; and as there was nothing to startle decorum in the court morals, the mistress in King William's time had given something of a livelier stir to the gossip. Swift describes Ame in a circle of twenty visitors as sitting with her fan ro her mouth, saying about three words once a minute to some that were near her, and then upon hearing that dinner was ready, going out. In the evening she played at cards; which, long before, and afterwards, was the usual court pastime at that hour.

She does not appear to have been fond of music, or pictures, or books, or anything but what administered to the commonest animal satisfactions, or which delivered her mind at all other times from its tendency to irresolution and tedium.
Addison and Steele might have been occasionally seen at her Kensington levees among the Whigs; and Swift, Prior, and Bolingbroke among the Tories. Marlborough would be there also; ever courtly and smiling, whether he was victorious as general and as the favourite Duchess's husband, or only bowing the more obsequiously alas! for fear of losing his place and his perquisites.

Anne enlarged the Gardens, but she did not improve the style of gardening. Addison in a paper of the Spectator, written during the last year but one of her reign, catching the last glimpse of a variation, speaks with rapture of the conversation of a disused gravel-pit, which had been left remaining, into a cultivated dell; but it would seem as if this exploit on the part of the gardeners was rather in the hope of making the best of what they considered a bad thing, than intended as an advance towards something better; for they laid out the Queen's additional acres in the same formal style as King William's.

Long, straight gravel-walks, and clipped hedges, pre­vailed throughout, undiversified with the present mixture of freer growing wood. An alcove or two, still existing, were added; and Anne exerted herself to build a long kind of out-house, which still remains; and which she intended, it is said, for the balls and suppers which certainly took place in it; though we suspect, from the narrowness of its construction, it never was designed for anything but what it is, a green-house.

These most probably constituted all those "elegancies of art," with which a writer of the time gives her credit for improving the Gardens. Such, at any rate, was the case in the more public portions of them; and if the private ones enjoyed any others, we may guess what they were, from Pope's banter of the horticultural fashions of the day, in a paper which he contributed to the Guardian, the year after the appearance of that of Addison's in the Spectator. The following is a taste of them. The poet is giving a catalogue of plants that were to be disposed of by auction: "Adam and Eve in yew; Adam a little shattered by the fall of the Tree of Knowledge in the great storm; Eve and the Serpent very flourishing. Ac St. George in box; his arm scarce long enough, but will, be in a condition to stick the Dragon by next April. "An old Maid of Honour in wormwood. "A topping Ben Jonson in laurel. "A quick-set hog, shot up into a porcupine, by its being forgot a week in rainy weather. "The Kensington Gardens were popular throughout the whole of the three Georges' reign, but flourished most, as far as names and fashions are concerned, in those of the first and second.

With the decease of George the Second, glory departed from Kensington as far as Courts were concerned. No reigning sovereign has resided there since George the Third, who inheriting, perhaps, a dislike of the place from his father, the Prince of Wales, appears to have taken no notice of it, except in appointing the clever, but impudent quack, Sir John Hill, its gardener, at the recommendation of Sir John's then omnipotent brother botanist, the Earl of Bute.

George the Fourth probably regarded the place as a homely concern, quite out of his line. It might suit well enough the book-collecting inclinations of his brother, the Duke of Sussex, with which he had no sympathy; was not amiss as a means of affording a lodging to his brother, the Duke of Kent, with whose habits of regularity, and pardonable amount of debt, his sympathies were as little; and lastly he was well content to think, that the staid-looking house and formal gardens rendered the spot a good out-of­the-way sort of place enough, for obscuring the growth and breeding of his niece, and probable heiress, the Princess Victoria, whose life, under the guidance of a wise mother, promised to furnish so estimable a contrast to his own.

As to his brother, King William the Fourth, though he too was a brother, in most respects, very different from him­self, we never heard his name mentioned in any way whatever in connection with Kensington.

Visitors Address Kensington Palace
Kensington Palace State Apartments
Kensington Gardens
W8 4PX

Kensington Palace Information line: +44 (0)870 751 5170