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Greenwich Palace and Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Grenewych; Estgrenewich; Palace of Placentia

In the civil parish of Greenwich.
In the historic county of Kent.
Modern Authority of London Borough of Greenwich.
1974 county of Greater London.
Medieval County of Kent.

OS Map Grid Reference: TQ38857735
Latitude 51.47795° Longitude -0.00197°

Greenwich Palace and Castle has been described as a probable Masonry Castle, and also as a certain Palace.

There are no visible remains.

Description

The site of Greenwich Palace or the Tudor Palace of Placentia, a royal palace built by Henry VII on the site of an early medieval manor house. The 15th century manor house was built in 1433-9 and various alterations were carried out in 1447-52. Henry VII carried out further work in 1500-1 creating the royal palace. Henry VIII was born at Greenwich palace on 28th June 1491 and during his reign, Greenwich Palace was on an equal standing with his other great palaces of Eltham, Richmond, Hampton Court and Oatlands. Five of his queens also held court at Greenwich. He built a recreational area at the palace which included stables, a tennis court, cockpit and a tiltyard for jousting. Here, Henry spent much time indulging in his favourite sports and pastimes. In the 17th century the Tudor palace was demolished to make way for a new palace. In 1616 a new palatial building, The Queen's House, was begun by James I to a design by Inigo Jones for Queen Anne of Denmark. In 1662 Charles II commissioned John Webb to design a new palace and to repair and enlarge the Queen's House. This resulted in the demolition of the Tudor palace and construction of King's House. This was the first phase of a large palace which was never completed. The King's House represented the last royal residence at Greenwich, as royal interest was now directed at Hampton Court. In the latter part of the 17th century the King's House and adjoining land was converted into a Naval Hospital. The original Tudor Greenwich Palace consisted of two brick and timber courts with a hedged garden. The Queen's accommodation of a great chamber, parlour and gallery looked over this garden. Excavations have uncovered the remains of a riverside range, the Royal Chapel and the undercroft of the Great Hall. A Time Team excavation in 2003 also found the foundations of Henry VIII's tiltyard. (PastScape summary for Greenwich Palace)

A manor house has been present on this site since the early medieval period, with documentary references to a house 'The Old Court' situated near the river. Under the ownership of the Abbot of Ghent (1268) it was described as having a court and accommodation suitable for visiting prelates. The house was demolished in 1433 when licences were granted to the owner, Humphery, Duke of Gloucester for the construction of a mansion 'crennelled and embattled' and enclosed with walls. A tower was also built (NAR no TQ 37 NE 5). By 1439 the building was completed. Extensive alterations were carried out by Robert Kettlewell (1447-52). The buildings were of brick and timber comprising of two courts; the Queen's accommodation included a great chamber, a parlour and a gallery overlooking the garden. The garden was hedged and contained an arbour. Many alterations took place during the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII, including it's name to Placentia, parts of which survive incorporated into one of the houses on Part Vista (NAR no. TQ 37 NE 37). A new riverside range was added, this was identified during the 1970-71 excavations. These buildings remained relatively unchanged until demolition in the 17th century to make way for a new palace which was never completed. (PastScape ref. RCHME; HKW; Dixon 1971)

Castle in Greenwich Park. It was constructed in 1433 on the site now occupied by the the Old Royal Observatory. This is a prominent location on a scarp edge, still known as Castle Hill in 1695. The castle was demolished when the Royal Observatory was constructed in 1675 and can be reconstructed only through contemporary illustrations and excavation. The castle was thought to originally comprise a moated tower. It was enlarged in 1525-26 to include a second tower and gate lodge. Further building work was undertaken in the early 17th century. An illustration dated to 1637 shows the castle as an elegant crenellated house, with tall brick chimneys and at least two towers. The Tudor gate house may be identifiable with a two or three storey building attached to one side of the main structure. An archaeological survey by RCHME field staff between 1993-94 located no earthworks or other features identified with the castle. (PastScape summary for Greenwich Castle)

A Royal licence to crenellate was granted in 1433 Jan 30 (Click on the date for details of this licence.).
A Royal licence to crenellate was confirmed in 1437 March 6.

Comments

The palace, on the river bank, and the 'castle' on the hill are clearly part of the same complex with the tower acting as a hunting lodge and viewing point for the deer park. How defensive the castle actually was may be open to question although it would have been clearly visible for miles particularly by ships on the very busy River Thames. At times the castle was used as the residence for the park ranger and as late as 1649 'soldiers were stationed in the castle to prevent deer being stolen from the Park.' (Webster, p. 12). This close to the large and (status) hungry population of London poaching of venison would have been a particular problem and the castle may always have served as a base for park keepers protecting the deer.

These two distinct buildings within the Greenwich park complex may be the reason Humphrey Duck of Gloucester obtained two licences to crenellate, these were of similar but not identical wording one being for Grenewych the other for Estgrenewich. However, a more likely explanation of the second licence is the ending of Henry VI's minority and Humphrey taking particular care to establish good relations with the king.

Within the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site 795 and the castle is mentioned within the statement of significance although the WHS is primarily concerned with the C17/C18 palace complex on the Thames bank.
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

Data >
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Sources of information, references and further reading
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This record last updated 05/06/2017 22:32:55

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