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Women's History at the Palaces

From queens and princesses to a poet and a cavalier

From queens and princesses to a poet and a cavalier

Extraordinary Women

A selection of women with connections to the history of the palaces.

Black and white portrait of Sophia Duleep Singh taken in 1930. Showing the Princess on a slight side profile, looking at the camera.

Sophia Duleep Singh

Sophia Duleep Singh was the daughter of deposed Maharaja Duleep Singh and Goddaughter to Queen Victoria. She used her fame and position to passionately fight for gender equality, and campaigned regularly outside Hampton Court Palace. In this podcast, historian Anita Anand dives into Sophia's story.

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Listen to the podcast >

Rainbow Portrait of Elizabeth I. Elizabeth holds a rainbow with the inscription "Non sine sole iris", "No rainbow without the sun". A jeweled serpent is entwined along her left arm, and holds from its mouth a heart-shaped ruby. Above its head is a celestial sphere. Her gown is embroidered with wildflowers and her cloak with eyes and ears.

Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I was the last monarch of the Tudor dynasty, which ruled England between 1485 and 1603. She became a legend in her own lifetime, praised by poets and immortalised by artists as 'Gloriana', an immortal goddess sworn to protect a nation thriving in a cultural renaissance, the age of Shakespeare. But how much of this can possibly be true? Was Elizabeth's 44-year reign really a 'golden era' of English history?

Learn more about Elizabeth I >

An engraving of Queen Mary II, seated wearing a crown and holding a sceptre

Mary II

Crowned jointly with her husband in 1689, Mary II oversaw important moves towards parliamentary democracy. The couple also transformed Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace.

Learn more about Mary II >

Catalina of Motril

A former enslaved servant of Katherine of Aragon, Catalina of Motril is one of history's forgotten witnesses. Could she hold the key to one of Tudor history’s biggest secrets of the royal bedchamber?

Watch Catalina's story brought to life in this special documentary.

Portrait of Queen Anne when she was Princess of Denmark.

Queen Anne

Queen Anne is often overlooked by historians, yet her time on the throne changed Britain forever. Her reign saw the end of the Stuart dynasty and laid the way for the Georgian era. Queen Anne completed the building of the baroque palace at Hampton Court Palace, and lived and died at Kensington Palace.

Anne Boleyn as musician and composer

The Tudor court was all about competitive displays of power and wealth. In this talk, historian Tamsin Lewis explores Anne Boleyn's keen ability as a musician and composer and how this influenced her role at court. This talk was originally recorded at Hampton Court Palace in 2017.

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More extraordinary women

Frances Stuart and Barbara Villiers

Misunderstood for centuries, it is often wrongly assumed that the ‘Windsor Beauties’, immortalised at Hampton Court Palace, all had romantic relationships with Charles II. However, one of the most interesting relationships was between two of the Beauties themselves: Frances Stuart and Barbara Villiers.

Phillis Wheatley, The First Published African American Woman, Visits The Tower

In 1773, Phillis Wheatley wrote to Col. David Worcester describing a recent trip to London and the Tower of London. This letter is already of incredible interest, explains Charles Farris a Tower Curator. However, the significance is magnified because Phillis Wheatley was an important African American poet, and one who was successful despite being enslaved.

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The Cross-Dressing Cavalier Mary Frith

Mary Frith was a 17th-century public figure who caused much controversy and was arrested many times for wearing clothes made for men. This blog from 2020 explores a few of the contradictions of her fascinating personality.

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Exploring Women’s Spaces at Our Palaces

In our ‘A Space I Love’ podcast mini-series, we explore a selection of treasured spaces in our palaces with the people who know them best, our curators. Here are a selection with connections to two English queens.

Tracy Borman stands by the Tudor fireplace of Jane Seymour's bedroom at Hampton Court Palace, holding a microphone and wearing a headset.

Jane Seymour’s Bedroom

Chief Curator Tracy Borman takes us into a room at Hampton Court Palace that isn't open to visitors, but that witnessed the death of Jane Seymour, third wife of Henry VIII. Tracy explains how this room is a place of escape for her to connect with the history she loves so much.

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External view of Queen Charlotte's Cottage, Summer 2016 before conservation

Queen Charlotte’s Cottage

Take a walk with Curator Lee Prosser through this intimate and charming space, to learn how it was used as a retreat away from public life for Queen Charlotte, George III and the royal family.

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Perspectives on Queens

Historians consider perspectives on a selection of England's queens.

New perspectives on Henry VIII's Wives

Anne of Cleves: Extracting Fact From The Fiction (blog)

Anne of Cleves may not have been to Henry VIII’s liking, but how she responded to his rejection proves that she was far from being the hapless victim of legend. Here, Chief Curator Tracy Borman argues that Anne was the most successful of all Henry’s wives.

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Catherine Howard: History and the Use of Adjectives (blog)

Collections Curator Brett Dolman investigates how difficult it is to reconstruct and understand the life of Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife. Bringing the past alive is part of what historians are expected to do, but how far should we go to tell a good story?

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Queen Victoria and Women’s Rights

Join historian Paula Bartley as she explores the role of Victoria as both a woman and a Queen in a politically male domain.

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Listen to the podcast

Perspectives on Women in History

Our curators and contributors consider perspectives on women in history.

Panel Discussions

How we used to talk about women (podcast)

This series of talks from our archive explores stories of powerful women and how their legacies have been shaped by their gender. In this episode we revisit a discussion from 2017, exploring how we used to talk about women, and how the language of the past has shaped our views of the present.

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Secrets of success with Jane Garvey (podcast)

History has traditionally taken a negative view of women in power. In this discussion, Jane Garvey, presenter on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, leads a panel of experts to investigate what it takes for a woman to become a leader among men.

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Zeinab Badawi On Sarah Forbes Bonetta And "Contested History"

Journalist and former Historic Royal Palaces Trustee Zeinab Badawi shares her thoughts on the importance of welcoming diverse perspectives on our past, and the problem with the term "contested history".

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"When the women of England are enfranchised and the state acknowledges me as a citizen I shall, of course, pay my share willingly towards its upkeep."

Sophia Duleep Singh, women's suffrage campaigner, refusing to pay taxes on her assets until women were afforded the vote


  • Things to see

The Queen’s State Apartments

Explore the beautiful private rooms at Kensington Palace where Mary II once took her meals, relaxed and entertained.

  • Reopens 13 December 2023
  • Kensington Palace
  • Included in palace admission (members go free)
Learn more
  • Things to see

Victoria: A Royal Childhood

Discover the story of Princess Victoria, the young girl destined to be queen, in the rooms where she was born and raised at Kensington Palace.

  • Reopens 13 December 2023
  • Kensington Palace
  • Included in palace admission (members go free)
Learn more
  • Things to see

Queen Charlotte's Cottage

Discover a queen's rustic country retreat in the grounds of Kew Palace with a visit to Queen Charlotte’s Cottage.

  • Closed until spring 2024
  • Kew Palace
  • Included in Kew Gardens admission
Learn more


LGBT Royal Histories

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer histories in our palaces

Anne Boleyn

How did Anne Boleyn become queen and why did Henry VIII execute her?

Coronations Past and Present

An ancient ceremony, largely unchanged for a thousand years

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Shop Christmas collection

Make the festive season one to cherish and remember with our selection of wonderful history-inspired gifts, tree decorations and delicious food and drink.

From £2.50

Shop Coronation gifts

Celebrate the Coronation of King Charles III with beautiful commemorative souvenirs and gifts.

From £4.00

Crown Pride Pin Badge

This pride pin badge is exclusively available from Historic Royal Palaces and shows our logo in the vibrant colours of the rainbow.