Learn About The Early Days of Kew Palace, Built By Samuel Fortrey
A rich merchant in love
The history of Kew Palace has humbler origins in the first half of the previous century. In 1631 Samuel Fortrey, a successful Flemish merchant, built this smart, brick villa beside the Thames. For his new home he chose the site of a former courtier of Elizabeth I, perhaps that of her favourite, Robert Dudley. (The undercroft of the building suvives from this time.)
It was something of a status symbol for a man of the City, whose family had escaped religious persecution in France. He married Catherine de Latfeur and had several children. Their fondness for each other may be guessed from the lovers’ knot, with the intitials S and C intwined, carved over the front door to the house.
The house remained in Fortrey’s family for another generation and then passed through a succession of wealthy tenants, including Sir Richard Levett, who became Lord Mayor of London in 1699.
The royal family move in
Nearby Richmond had a long association with royalty since Edward III first developed his palace there. It was George II (1727-60) and his Queen, Caroline of Ansbach, with the first large royal family for many years, who were attracted to Kew Palace in 1729.
It caught Caroline’s eye as a very suitable lodging for their three eldest daughters, Anne, Caroline and Amelia.
The King and Queen continued to use Richmond Lodge (formerly in the Old Deer Park at the southern end of Kew Gardens) and the heir, Frederick, Prince of Wales rebuilt the larger White House.
This stood opposite the present palace, although by all accounts there was not much love lost between the Prince (who had been brought up in Hanover) and his sisters. The prince laid the first foundations for the botanic gardens.