Or to be exact: Meghan Markle will be living with Prince Harry of Wales at Nottingham Cottage at Kensington Palace. They are not the only British royals living at the property. The palace contains the offices and the London residences of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children Prince George and Princess Charlotte, as well as these of The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, The Duke and Duchess of Kent and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent. Their residences and offices are maintained by the Royal Household Property Section.
Kensington Palace is however not only a residence, but also partly a museum opened almost daily to the public. The State Rooms are managed by the charity Historic Royal Palaces. On Display are objects from the Royal Collection and there are exhibitions regularly. The palace also houses the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection. And it is a place where regularly royal and non royal events are being organised. The orangery can be hired.
Residence of Kings and Queens 1689-1760
The palace dates back to the 17th century. It started rather modest in 1605, when Sir George Coppin built a two-story Jacobean mansion at the spot. In 1619 it was bought by Heneage Finch, the 1st Earl of Nottingham. And since it became known as Nottingham House. When in 1689 Queen Mary II and King William III ascended the British throne, they wanted a more comfortable residence away from the River Thames. In the Summer of that year they bought Nottingham House from the 2nd Earl of Nottingham.
Of course the house wasn’t royal enough for the royal couple. Sir Christopher Wren was asked to start with the expansion of the house. He added a three-story pavilion at each corner of the original building. The Queen got her apartments in the north-west pavilion, the King in the south-east pavilion. The house got a real cour d’honneur. Shortly before Christmas 1689 the couple moved in. They loved to receive distinguished visitors at their palace. Mary II died in the palace in 1694, William III in 1702. Although the official seat of the royal court was the St James’s Palace, Kensington Palace became the favourite residence of the monarchs for 70 years.
Queen Anne ordered Sir Christopher Wren to complete the work he had begun under William and Mary. The result included the Queen’s Apartments with its own entrance and a staircase. She commissioned the Orangery, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor in 1704, and a baroque parterre. She loved hosting summer parties there. Anne died at the palace in 1714, after having been an irregular resident as she had prefered the Hampton Court Palace. The next to live at the palace was King George I, who had three new state rooms created and had them richly decorated. He also had an apartment added on the north-west side, for his mistress. King George II didn’t plan any big changes and left the running of the palace to his wife Queen Caroline, who had the Kensington Gardens redesigned, including the Serpentine. George II also died at the palace in 1760.
Royal Residents 1760-now
After 1760 the palace was left as a residence for children of King George III, as the king himself disliked the place. In 1805 for example Prince Augustus Frederick, The Duke of Sussex, occupied some apartments, and died there in 1843. His second wife, The Duchess of Inverness stayed at the palace until her death in 1873. Also Prince Edward, The Duke of Kent, had his own apartments in the palace, as well as his sister Princess Sophia. It was at this palace that in 1819 the later Queen Victoria was born. She had an unhappy childhood in the palace, although she loved living there. When she became a Queen in 1837 she moved to Buckingham Palace.
Several family members of Victoria, including the Duke and Duchess of Teck, Princess Louise Duchess of Argyll (who designed the statue of her mother Queen Victoria on the West Front of the palace, that was unveiled in 1893) and Princess Beatrice lived at the palace in later years. In the early 20th century the palace was the residence of among others Princess Helena Duchess of Albany, Princess Alice Countess of Athlone and the Earl of Athlone, Victoria Marchioness of Milford Haven. King Edward VIII unrespectfully called the palace “the aunt heap” because of all the old ladies living there. In 1940 Kensington Palace was damaged during The Blitz. Only after World War II the buildings were restored and the last old ladies died.
In the 1950s residents were the 10th Duke of Beaufort and his wife Lady Victoria Cambridge, Sir Alan Lascelles, Princess Marina The Duchess of Kent and her children, The Marquess of Carisbrooke, as well as Princess Alice Countess of Athlone who stayed until her death in 1981. After her marriage in 1960 Princess Margaret and her husband The Earl of Snowdon moved into Apartment 10 until the redecoration of Apartment 1A was finished in 1963. It was the start of a new generation living at the palace. In 1972 the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester (title since 1974) moved into Apartment 1, and after 1994 also the old Princess Alice Duchess Dowager of Gloucester who died at the palace in 2004, aged 102.
Prince and Princess Michel of Kent received Apartment 10 after their marriage in 1978. Prince Edward The Duke of Kent and his wife Katharine moved into Wren House in 1996. The Prince of Wales and his new wife Diana moved into Apartments 8 and 9 after their marriage in 1981, and Diana stayed here with her sons Prince William and Prince Harry after their divorce. The apartments were split up after Dianas death in 1997 and were afterwards used by four of the charities of The Prince of Wales and the Chief of Defence Staff.
In October 2013 The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their newborn son Prince George moved into Apartment 1A. They made it into their permanent residence after the Summer of 2017. In March 2012 Prince Harry of Wales moved into a tiny apartment next door to Nottingham Cottage. After The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had moved out of Nottingham Cottage in October 2013, Harry moved in. And now his fiancée Meghan Markle will live there together with him.
From Palace to Museum
At the end of the 19th century Kensington Palace was terribly neglected, so badly that people called to have it demolished. Queen Victoria however wouldn’t allow to demolish her birth house. A restoration was carried out between 1897 and 1899, paid for by the parliament. On 24 May 1899, Queen Victoria’s 80th birthday, the State Rooms were opened to the public. In the State Rooms one could see hundreds of objectsm including costumes and dresses. From 1911 to 1914, and from 1950 to 1976, the palace was a temporary location for the Museum of London.
In 2012 a major two-year refurbishment of the State Rooms was finished, costing £12 million. The money came from public and private sources, and from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The palace received a new entrance and new gardens with an 18th-century design. For visitors there are now four different routes throughout the palace. The palace is surrounded by the Kensington Gardens, covering an area of 270 acres, now part of the Royal Parks of London.