Richmond Palace

Dr. John Cloake wrote for Richmond Libraries’ Local Studies Collection:

“Henry VII built Richmond Palace on the site of the former Palace of Shene which was severely damaged by fire when the king and his court
were there for Christmas 1497…

At the north side of the court another two-storey building of stone contained apartments for senior courtiers and the middle gate of the palace, turreted and adorned with the stone figures of two trumpeters.


This gate opened into the Great Court which had red brick buildings on the east, west and north sides. On the east was the palace wardrobe where the soft furnishings were stored; on the west were rooms for officials and courtiers; the north had more such apartments and the main gateway out onto the Green. (the upper storey over the gateway was not added until the 1590s.)…

In 1501 the king, having ‘rebuilt it up again sumptuously and costly…’ changed the name of Shene and called it Richmond, because his father and he were Earls of Richmond’ [in Yorkshire].
For a while Richmond Palace was the showplace of the kingdom. The celebrations after the wedding of Prince Arthur to Catherine of Aragon were adjourned from London to Richmond in 1501; the official betrothal of Princess Margaret to King James of Scotland took place there in 1503. In 1509, Henry VII died in the palace he had built.

Henry VIII promptly married his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon, and in 1510 Catherine gave birth at Richmond to a son, Henry. There were great celebrations when he was christened at Richmond, but he died a month later. Catherine produced only one child who survived, Princess Mary.

Cardinal Wolsey, the king’s chief minister, had built Hampton Court – a palace which overshadowed Richmond. About 1525 Wolsey came to an agreement with Henry which amounted to their sharing the two palaces, with Hampton Court to become Henry’s on Wolsey’s death. Wolsey’s failure to arrange a quick divorce for the king from Catherine led to his downfall and death in 1530. Richmond now became a home for discarded queens – first for Catherine and her daughter Mary while Henry courted and married Anne Boleyn. Later it was given to Anne of Cleves as part of her divorce settlement.

Both Mary and Elizabeth made more use of Richmond during their reigns. Elizabeth was particularly fond of Richmond as a winter home – perhaps the relative compactness of the Privy Lodgings building made it easier to keep warm. She frequently visited Richmond at Christmas and Shrovetide and enjoyed having plays performed for her in the palace by companies of players from London. – including the one of which William Shakespeare was a member. Elizabeth died at the palace on 24th March 1603…

After Charles I’s execution, Richmond Palace was sold by the Commonwealth Parliament along with most of the royal real estate throughout the country…

The remains of the palace were leased out to various people and, in the early years of the 18th century new houses replaced many of the crumbling brick buildings. ‘Tudor Place’ had been built in the open tennis court as early as the 1650s, but now ‘Trumpeters’ House’ was built in 1702-3 to replace the Middle Gate, followed by ‘Old Court House’ and ‘Wentworth House’ (originally a matching pair) in 1705-7. The Wardrobe building had been joined up to the Gate House in 1688-9 and its garden front was rebuilt about 1710. The front facing the court still shows Tudor brickwork as does the Gate House. ‘Maids of Honour Row’ replaced most of the range of buildings facing the Green in 1724-5 and most of the house now called ‘Old Palace’ was rebuilt about 1740.”

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