When William III (1689-1702) and Mary II (1689-94) came to the throne, the sovereign's principal London residence was Whitehall Palace. For purposes of state and ceremony, it remained the official centre of the court during their reign, but neither the King nor the Queen enjoyed the thought of living there.
William suffered from chronic asthma and the damp riverside location of Whitehall threatened to weaken his already delicate health.
Doing up Nottingham House
In the summer of 1689 William and Mary purchased Nottingham House, a Jacobean mansion built about 1605. It stood in Kensington, a village that 'esteem'd a very good Air'.
Nottingham House was owned by William's trusted Secretary of State, Daniel Finch, Earl of Nottingham, and the purchase price was £20,000. William instructed Sir Christopher Wren, Surveyor of the King's Works from 1669 to 1718, to improve the house immediately.
Nicholas Hawksmoor was appointed Clerk of the Works (1689-1715) and the project was hurried forward, as the Queen was anxious to move in.
Sir Christopher Wren
In order to save time and money, the Jacobean house was left intact and Wren added blocks, or pavilions, to its four corners, to provide additional accommodation for the King and Queen and their court. Each pavilion was of three storeys, with attics above.
Wren also re-orientated the building by designing a new entrance and service courtyard (the Great Court) on its west side. On the south side of the Great Court, Wren built a range narrow block containing a corridor (the Stone Gallery) which led from the main entrance to the south-west pavilion, with rooms for courtiers behind.
On the north side of the courtyard were the kitchens and on the west, an archway surmounted by a clock tower, which still survives.
More works at Kensington House
The royal court took up residence at Kensington House, as it was known, shortly before Christmas 1689. The following year while William was away on military campaign, fighting and defeating James II in Ireland, Mary decided to launch a second round of improvements.
She extended her apartments by building the Queen’s Gallery. With its own staircase, the Queen’s Gallery also provided a separate block adjoining for her Maids of Honour.
In November 1691, a fire that destroyed part of the southern range of the Great Court was made the occasion for a complete remodelling of the approach to the royal apartments: the King's Staircase was rebuilt in marble and a finely decorated Guard Chamber was constructed, facing the foot of the stairs.
The last addition to the palace in William's time was the South Front, built in 1695, probably by Hawksmoor.
The main feature of the new building was a long gallery at first-floor level – the King's Gallery – in which William hung many works from his picture collection.
Death of the monarchs at Kensington
In the early hours of Friday 28 December 1694 Mary died at Kensington Palace of smallpox, at the age of 32. The Queen had contributed much to the beautification of the palace, and in the years following her death much of her furniture was removed and her vast collection of oriental porcelain was given to the Earl of Albemarle.
In February 1702, several years later, on a visit to Hampton Court, William fell from his horse while riding in the park. Despite a broken collarbone, the King insisted on returning to Kensington almost immediately. He lay ill at the palace from 22 February until his death at 8.00am on Sunday 8 March.
Queen Anne, who had been living at nearby Campden House, succeeded to the throne.