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Untold Lives

A Palace at Work

A Palace at Work

A new exhibition at Kensington Palace highlighting the overlooked people who ran royal palaces over 300 years ago.

Untold Lives: A Palace at Work highlights the servants and courtiers who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to maintain, protect and promote the monarch and the palaces.

From pages to cooks, from wetnurses to seamstresses, a host of workers from all walks of life used their skills and expertise to look after the royal family and their homes.

Using a unique collection of objects — some of which have never been on public display before — Untold Lives: A Palace at Work explores the lives and contributions of these forgotten figures for the first time.

Header image: © Historic Royal Palaces

When

Until 27 October 2024

In line with palace opening hours

Ticket Information

Tickets available for visits until 29 September 2024.


Included in palace admission (members go free)

Buy Kensington Palace tickets

A new exhibition at Kensington Palace, uncovering the forgotten stories of those who worked at the royal palaces over 300 years ago.

“A brilliant display of social history shining fresh light on those who have kept such residences running.”

The Telegraph

FindMyPast logo in green and blue for use on the Untold Stories webpage 2024.

Exhibition sponsor

Untold Lives has been generously supported by Findmypast

Highlighting Forgotten Stories

The servants and palace staff who worked at Court came from a range of backgrounds and brought a huge variety of experience to the palaces. Some, like the Waterman William Timms, who served four monarchs over 46 years, chose to dedicate their lives to royal service.

However, the exhibition exposes the hierarchies and inequalities within the palaces of the time. For example, a young boy called Peter, found living alone in German woods was brought to Kensington Palace, and became famous as the subject of intense scientific and public interest, before being sent away.

Peter’s image survives, in a mural on the King's Staircase, but many other people were forgotten and overlooked, with only brief details of their lives preserved in the royal accounts.

By necessity, the exhibition team have had to find other ways to explore their contributions, working with contemporary artists such as Peter Brathwaite and Matt Smith to bring some of these forgotten stories into the spotlight and ensure that their legacy at the palaces lives on.

Painting detail showing a young boy

Image: A young boy called Peter, depicted on the King's Staircase at Kensington Palace. © Historic Royal Palaces

Watch: Untold Lives with Dan Snow

In this short film, historian Dan Snow goes behind the scenes at Kensington Palace to explore some of the many stories highlighted in Untold Lives: A Palace at Work.

Video Transcript of Untold Lives: Forgotten Stories at Kensington Palace

Follow along with an interactive transcript of Untold Lives: Dan Snow Investigates Forgotten Stories at Kensington Palace on YouTube. A link to open the transcript can be found in the description.

Origins and Identities

The exhibition also focuses on the unexpected origins and identities of some of the people who worked at the royal palaces. In an age of great change in the form of colonial expansion, religious wars and a fledgling constitutional monarchy, new figures arrived at Court from all over the world.

A range of portraits and objects explore the presence of Black and Asian royal servants and attendants at court. Among these figures was Abdullah, a wild cat keeper from India, and Mehmet von Könsigstreu, Keeper of the Privy Purse for King George I.

Mehmet and his wife Marie Hedwig are believed to be one of the first interracial married couples at the Hanoverian Court. As a trusted servant of King George I, with intimate access to the monarch, Mehmet was an influential, and sometimes, controversial figure.

Mehmet's portrait is also featured on the King’s Staircase, but now, for the first time, his fascinating story is brought to the fore, alongside his fellow Turkish valet, Ernst August Mustapha von Misitri, (more commonly known as Mustapha) in a portrait by Godfrey Kneller – on loan from the Ömer Koç Collection - never exhibited before in the UK.

A portrait of a Turkish man in formal clothing, sitting side on and facing the viewer

Image: Turkish valet, Ernst August Mustapha von Misitri, (more commonly known as Mustapha) in a portrait by Godfrey Kneller. This portrait has never been exhibited before in the UK. Ömer Koç Collection

Read About More Untold Lives

Read insights from our expert curators about those who served the royal court in the 17th and 18th centuries, inspired by our exhibition, Untold Lives.

EXPLORE WHAT'S ON

  • Things to see

The King's Staircase

Discover the intriguing and unexpected characters depicted on the grand entrance to the King's State Apartments.

  • Open
  • In line with palace opening hours
  • Kensington Palace
  • Included in palace admission (members go free)
Learn more
  • Things to see

The King's State Apartments

Wander through the lavish rooms of the King's State Apartments, each one grander than the last, at Kensington Palace.

  • Open
  • In line with palace opening hours
  • Kensington Palace
  • Included in palace admission (members go free)
Learn more
  • Events

Echoes of Untold Lives

Discover the Echoes of Untold Lives and meet the people who ran the palace from behind the scenes.

  • 21 July - 31 August 2024
  • 11:00 - 15:30
  • Kensington Palace
  • Included in palace admission (members go free)
Learn more

BROWSE MORE HISTORY AND STORIES

William III and Mary II

England's only joint sovereigns, who transformed Kensington Palace into a royal residence

The Georgians

Who were the kings who gave their name to an age?

The story of Kensington Palace

An elegant retreat for Britain's royal family

Shop online

Courtiers: The Secret History of Kensington Palace

Told through the eyes of a courtier, this fascinating book explores the ambitious and talented people who flocked to the Georgian court in search of power and prestige.

£12.99