The story of Kew Palace

George III’s private retreat

George III’s private retreat

Kew Palace is the smallest of all the royal palaces.  It was originally built as a fashionable mansion for wealthy London silk merchant, Samuel Fortrey in 1631.

George II (r 1727-60) and Queen Caroline were first attracted to little Kew, thinking it a perfect lodging for their three eldest daughters.  After them, several generations of Georgian royalty used Kew and nearby Richmond Lodge as weekend retreats from an intensely public life in town.

Kew reflects the intimate personal and domestic life of Georgian kings and queens for much of the 18th century. Today the interior of this tiny, atmospheric palace tells the powerful story of George III, his mental illness and the members of his family who lived and died there.

The South Front, Kew Palace's bright red brick front with blue skies above and Kew Gardens surrounding.

Intimate royal retreat

In the 1720s, the royal family, George II and Queen Caroline and their children arrived and took leases on the palace and several other houses in the near vicinity. 

It was a place where they could be private, domestic, and live normal lives unencumbered by the trappings of ceremony and deference. The gardens were cultivated as an idyllic pleasure ground.

Later the house became a refuge for George III, when he fell ill and was thought to have become mad.

Even today, Kew’s scale and intimacy reflects a more humble and human picture of the British monarchy.

A portrait of King George III

The tragic illness of the King

However, once a place for summer relaxation and family life, Kew fell under the shadow of George III’s mental illness. The King was incarcerated there during his first bout of ‘madness’ in 1788.

Away from the public gaze, in the peace and seclusion of Kew, an increasingly desperate band of doctors tried to cure him.

The King survived being administered powerful emetics and laxatives, freezing baths and leeching.   He was also put into a strait-jacket if he refused to co-operate.

He recovered by 1789, but suffered recurrences in 1801 and 1804, before suffering a severe decline in 1810. A regency was declared in 1811.

Image: George III in happier times, © The National Portrait Gallery, London.

Profile of Queen Charlotte

A royal death

From 1809 the royal family rarely visited Kew, but early in 1818, Queen Charlotte was taken ill on a journey from London to Windsor. 

She stayed at Kew Palace for what was thought to be a few days, but her health never improved.

After a long illness, she died in her bedroom in November of that year.

Final farewell

The last enduring memory for the people of Kew was the slow procession of her coffin from the palace, taking her back to Windsor for burial. 

The cobbled courtyard of Windsor Castle were muffled with straw, so that the King, although by now severely demented, would not be aware of the funeral carriage bringing back his beloved wife.

Did you know?

The entire village turned out to pay its respects as the queen left her beloved Kew for the last time.

George III (1738-1820), Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) and their Six Eldest Children

No heir apparent

King George III and Queen Charlotte had 15 children during their long marriage. 

By 1817 however, only one legitimate grandchild had been born, and that royal heir, Princess Charlotte died tragically giving birth to a stillborn son.

Marriage of George and Charlotte's remaining sons, and the production of an heir to the throne now became more pressing than ever.

The baby race

As a succession crisis loomed, two of the royal sons, now in middle age, had to find appropriate royal wives.  They looked to the Germany for inspiration.

The princesses Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen and Victoire of Saxe-Coburg were eminently suitable choices. A race was now on between the couples to produce an heir to the throne.

Kew was the setting for a double wedding ceremony on 11 July 1818, as the Dukes married their duchesses in a service in the presence of the ailing Queen Charlotte.

Did you know?

William (later William IV) had ten illegitimate children by his long-term mistress, actress Dorothea Jordan, whom he abandoned to marry Princess Adelaide.

Victoria, Duchess of Kent (1786-1861) with Princess Victoria (after Beechey)  c.1824

A throne saved

Edward, Duke of Kent and and his Duchess Victoire won the ‘baby race’ by producing a daughter, born just nine months after the wedding.

This baby was destined for greatness: christened Alexandrina Victoria this little girl would grow up to become Queen Victoria.

Victoria’s great-great-grandaughter, our present day Queen Elizabeth II, celebrated her 80th birthday in 2006 with a family dinner party at Kew.

Image: Victoire, Duchess of Kent with Princess Victoria (after Beechey)  c1824. The infant Victoria holds a miniature portrait of her late father. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017.

Real Tennis World Champion, Camden Riviere, competing in 2017 Real Tennis Champions Trophy at the Royal Tennis Court.
Events

See the favourite sport of Henry VIII played out on the historic tennis court at Hampton Court Palace.

15-21 July 2019

Hampton Court Palace

Separate ticket (advanced booking required)

A Yeoman Warder stands outside the White Tower during a Twilight Tour or the Tower.
Tours and talks

Dare you visit the Tower at night and take one of our Twilight Tours? Discover secrets of the Tower's history with after-hours access.

Selected Sundays in January-April

Tower of London

19:00

Separate ticket (advanced booking required)

Throne Room with silk green damask walls, wooden floor and large rug. Two red and gold Chairs of State, or 'thrones' are situated at the far end of the room. Gold-framed paintings of landscapes adorn the walls and three large chandeliers hang above.
Things to see Tours and talks

Discover elegant State Rooms still used by the royal family on a guided tour of Hillsborough Castle.

Wednesday to Sunday

Hillsborough Castle

One tour per hour, starting on the hour (first tour: 10:00, final tour: 15:00)

Included in palace admission (members go free)

Descriptive, informative, authoritative - a superb guide to your visit to Kew Palace.

Official Kew Palace guidebook

Descriptive, informative, authoritative - a superb guide to your visit to Kew Palace.

£4.99

Kew Palace luxury embroidered hanging decoration, luxury Christmas ornament depicts the Dutch House of Kew Palace which dates back to 1631

Kew Palace luxury embroidered hanging decoration

This luxury handmade Christmas tree decoration features the design of the front of the Dutch House at Kew Palace on the River Thames in south west London.

£29.99

A handmade luxury Christmas tree ornament of the Kew Pagoda made from fabric and with tiny pearls woven into it

Kew Pagoda luxury embroidered hanging decoration

A handmade luxury Christmas tree ornament made from fabric and with tiny pearls woven into it using traditional metal threading techniques.

£17.99