The Queen’s Palaces

One of my favourite Documentary series, in ‘The Queen’s Palaces’ BBC presenter Fiona Bruce takes a look at the architecture and history of HM the Queen’s three official residences: Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Palace of Holyroodhouse.

 Buckingham Palace

In Episode 1, Fiona Bruce charts the history of Buckingham Palace from its earliest days as a hunting forest for Henry VII and a mulberry garden of James I to the original ‘House’ built in 1703 for the Duke of Buckingham, which was later purchased in 1761 by George III for his wife Queen Charlotte, who removed many of the ornate features but invested heavily in art from Europe. His heir, George IV commissioned architect John Nash who transformed the house into a palace, full of the finest art and sculpture from France. In 1837 Queen Victoria moved in and when she married Prince Albert they commissioned Edward Blore to move the Marble Arch and build a new wing across the front, which included the now-famous balcony, as well as a new ballroom. On Albert’s death in 1861 Victoria retired and rarely used the palace. On her death Edward VII remodeled many rooms and installed toilets. In 1913 the last major work was when George V had the front refaced in white Portland stone, and during World War II, when it received minor bomb damage. Buckingham palace remains the Official residence of the Queen in England.

Windsor Castle

In Episode 2, Fiona Bruce charts the history of Windsor Castle, the oldest and the largest inhabited castle in the world dating back to the 11th century. Originally build in the Norman period, the castle was the inspiration behind the formation of the Order of the Garter by King Edward III of England much like the glory of the court of the Round Table of King Arthur. Fiona discovers a medieval tunnel underneath the castle, which also houses the grand medieval Saint George’s Chapel, the spiritual home of the Order of the Garter. Windsor castle was neglected until the Glorious Restoration of the monarchy by King Charles II who returned the castle to its former splendour by sumptuously redecorating it, including an ornately carved dining room. The castle was again neglected for many years until the reign of King George IV who completely reinvented it. He doubled the height of the Round Tower by adding 30 ft in height. His greatest monument was the Waterloo Chamber, decorated with portraits of the key players who helped defeat Napoleon. After WWI, Queen Mary commissioned her famous Dolls House, which remains a highlight of the Royal Collection at Windsor. The castle was devastated by a fire in 1992. Many of the castle’s state rooms were destroyed but were all later restored after a £37 million programme was launched. Windsor Castle is the Queen’s weekend home.

Palace of Holyroodhouse

In the last Episode, Fiona Bruce charts the history of the Palace of Holyroodhouse from its early days as an Augustinian abbey to being converted into a palace in 1501. Mary, Queen of Scots resided there during her disastrous second marriage to Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, and the 1566 murder of her private secretary David Rizzio which led to the mysterious death of Darnley and eventually her execution. Later, Charles II of updated the palace into a building never seen before in Scotland with classically themed French tapestries favoured in the 1660s. In the 1740s Bonnie Prince Charlie used the house as a campaign headquarters in his attempt to usurp power. King George IV became the first king to visit in over 150 years and, as his portrait in the palace testifies, the first one to wear tartan. The final stage of the Palace covered is that of Queen Victoria, and the bequeathing in 1868 of an elaborate Flemish cabinet. The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the Queen’s official residence in Scotland.


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