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Greenwich Palace, London
Greenwich Palace from
Public DomainGreenwich Palace from "The Gentlemen's Magazine" in 1840 - Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Greenwich Palace, or as it was called in the pre-Tudor era, the Palace of Placentia, stood five miles down the river Thames from London, and was the birthplace of Elizabeth I.

The residence was originally built in or just after 1433 by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, brother of Henry V, who named it Bella Court. Remodelled and updated after 1447 for Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI's queen, it was renamed the Palace of Placentia. At the same time its surrounding park was stocked with deer. It was redesigned again between 1498 and 1504 by Henry VII, when the palace was rebuilt around three imposing courtyards, and the name was changed once again, to Greenwich Palace. At this point, it became one of the most luxurious Tudor royal residences. It differed from the others in that it had no moat or fortifications and was purely residential. As such it became a model for many of the great houses of the Tudor period.

 

Panorama of Greenwich 2008.
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikePanorama of Greenwich 2008. - Credit: Bill Bertram

This photograph shows the Queen's House, built next to Greenwich Palace and designed by Inigo Jones, in the foreground, with the University of Greenwich and Trinity College of Music to the rear and the skyline of modern London in the background.

The palace fell into disrepair during the reigns of James I and Charles I, when the Queen's House was built. Although attempts were made during the reign of Charles II to restore the building, the project was never completed and it was eventually demolished in the late seventeeth century. In 1694, work began on Greenwich Hospital. In 1873 the hospital was turned into the Greenwich Royal Naval College, and today the buildings are occupied by the University of Greenwich and Trinity College of Music.

David Starkey describes the elaborate preparations prior to a royal birth. The Queen's bedchamber was elaborately transformed with heavy tapestries and carpets, gold plate and all the trappings of state, as laid down in The Royal Book, the handbook of royal etiquette originally drawn up by the Lancastrians and handed down to the Yorkists, then to the Tudors. Even the designs of the fabrics were chosen with care to avoid any images of humans or animals as it was believed they could induce 'fantasies in the Queen's mind which might lead to the child being deformed'. Little, if any, light or air was allowed in before the birth, making the chamber extremely dark and stuffy. In effect, the Queen and her ladies were isolated in a female environment. While the Tudor world of male dominance paid homage to the female mystery of childbirth, expectations of the Queen were high. The supreme, if not the only, role of the queen was to produce an heir. It was inconceivable to the Tudor mind that a queen would choose not to do so; a notion Elizabeth would defy.