15 March 2016
Set within the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, step into this tiny dolls house of a palace and experience the joys and sorrows of King George III and his family, told through an engaging soundscape and displays of fascinating personal items. Originally built in 1631 for a Flemish merchant, it was first acquired for royal occupation by King George II who thought its situation and rural surroundings made it an ideal home for his eldest daughters. An escape from the formality of court life, the palace and its adjoining buildings would become a retreat for generations of Georgian royals.
In 2016, charity Historic Royal Palaces invites visitors to explore the learned activities of Queen Charlotte and her daughters, all of whom called Kew Palace their home. The Queen’s progressive approach to education saw her daughters receive a thoroughly ‘modern’ schooling, and a new display of personal objects will attest to their broad-ranging passions; from geography to art, upholstery to brain teasers. Growing up amid the spectacular gardens at Kew, the princesses took a keen interest in botany, with the Princess Royal showing a particular talent. A selection of botanical drawings by the young princess, executed when she was in her teens, exemplify her artistic skill and fine eye for detail.
Music similarly played a large part in the education of a Georgian princess. Augusta, another of George III’s daughters, was especially fond of music, and was known to compose for the harpsichord. To develop their talent, Queen Charlotte engaged composer J.C. Bach as music master to the royal children, and a hand-written copy of his father J.S. Bach’s legendary Well Tempered Clavier –designed to train and test the skills of the player - will go on display, accompanied by a portrait of Augusta which makes reference to her musical abilities.
As Queen, Charlotte was also conscious to devote time to her own study, employing Andre de Luc as her official Reader to inform her literary choices and assist in furthering her pursuit of botany. Charlotte’s tortoiseshell notebook, embellished with gold and diamonds, will go on display alongside a letter to the Princesses’ governess, reputedly the first written in English by the German born Queen.
In addition, this year’s display will explore the representation of Queen Charlotte and the royal princesses in satire, with a series of prints from the celebrated Baker Collection, newly acquired by Historic Royal Palaces and going on show at the palace for the first time. George III enjoyed the company of his wife and daughters and they often accompanied him in public, attracting the scorn of satirists who found comedy in the idea of a king surrounded by so many women. The princesses’ sheltered lives proved an easy target for caricature, with prints titled ‘The Bridal Night’ and ‘A Couple of Humbugs’ portraying the royal family with cruel insight and humour.
Just a stroll away from the palace lies Queen Charlotte’s cottage, a rustic retreat built in 1770, where the royal family enjoyed picnics in a tranquil corner of Kew Gardens. Inside, the cottage’s Print Room is hung with over 150 satirical engravings, mostly after William Hogarth, whilst the Picnic Room upstairs is a celebration of the talent of Princess Elizabeth, George III’s most creative daughter, who decorated the walls and sloping ceiling with delicate paintings of trailing nasturtiums and convolvulus. Despite the restrictions of being a princess, Elizabeth was a prolific and acclaimed artist, with a selection of her works published during her lifetime.
In the recently restored Royal Kitchens, open the door to a lost space, left untouched since Queen Charlotte’s death at the palace in 1818, and delve into the tale of these historic royal kitchens, the servants who worked in them and Georgian culinary life. On selected weekends historic chefs will also cook up meals fit for a King!