The history of Kew Palace, the site associated with King George’s madness

Did you know that it is possible to visit the palaces where Queen Charlotte‘s story takes place? Yes! The “advantage” of the stability of the British monarchy is that many of the palaces and residences that were the scene of important moments in History are still standing and well preserved, many with scheduled times for public visitation. An address that, in general, foreigners did not pay much attention to is precisely the ‘main’ setting of the Netflix series: Kew Palace. The palace, gardens, and Queen Charlotte’s cottage are located within Kew Gardens, close to the River Thames, and where the Botanical Gardens, founded by the Queen, are also located. Today’s area is comparatively small to where they lived, but it’s still breathtaking.

The link between Kew Palace and the monarchy dates back to the Tudor period, according to historians. The land was owned by the Dudley family, it was purchased by John Dudley and restored for his son, Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. For those who forgot, a reminder: Robert Dudley was the love of Elizabeth 1st’s life, her childhood friend, and her main confidant until his death. As Kew’s location is close to Richmond Palace (one of the Queen’s main summer residences), it was convenient for both of them. It is said that the original building was built on the model of a house where the supposed lovers had stayed together in 1563. Romantic!

In any case, in 1619 Kew was demolished by Samuel Fortrey, who erected in its place a new Dutch-style mansion (the palace is also known as the Dutch House), in keeping with the fashion of the time. From 1727, Queen Caroline and King George II began to use the house, to “unburden” the summer residence at Richmond Lodge, where the monarchs lived with their six children. The Queen thought Kew was perfect for her three eldest daughters. Soon the place gained the nickname “House of the Queen”.

The gardens and palace underwent renovations over time and for George III this was remarkable because his parents, Prince Frederick and Princess Augusta, were living at Kew when Frederick personally supervised the renovation of the gardens. They suspect that because he was exposed to wet and cold weather, he caught a cold which, combined with a pulmonary embolism, proved fatal. Even as a widow, Princess Augusta continued to live there with her children and George III spent his childhood in Kew, where he studied and lived until he ascended to the throne. It is no surprise that the Palace was definitely associated with the madness of King George III because it was also in Kew that the monarch sought refuge when he fell ill.

As in the Queen Charlotte series, George loved Kew precisely because it was one of the smallest palaces in England, which effectively turned it into a cozier home. The decline of the monarch’s mental health is typically divided into three periods of bouts, before ending in 1810, from which he did not recover. It is then “the first outbreak” that gains greater prominence in the narrative of the Netflix production, but the series does not include the fact that in the other outbreaks, eventually, the King became aggressive and – to protect Charlotte – they were close, but separated. He stayed on the bottom floor and she on the upper floor of the palace. The treatments – harsh and ineffective – are like those shown in the series, and he was even placed in a straitjacket when he refused to cooperate.

For those who enjoyed the Netflix series, there are more connections with Kew Palace. It was there that Queen Charlotte created the “baby race”, which is in Netlix’s Queen Charlotte. The internal competition between the sons to produce heirs for the Crown really took place and it was at Kew that her sons married her chosen princesses, Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen and Victoria of Saxe-Coburg, in July 1818. Edward, Duke of Kent, and his Duchess Victoria won the ‘baby race’ with the birth of their daughter nine months after their marriage (she would become Queen Victoria).

No one can judge that with the association of a difficult time, the royal family stopped visiting Kew, especially after 1818 when Queen Charlotte fell ill during a journey between London and Windsor. She decided to spend a few days at Kew to recover, however, her health never improved and she died at the palace in November 1818. That’s right, Charlotte’s history is closely linked to Kew Palace. The official website says that “the last lasting memory for the people of Kew was the slow procession of her coffin leaving the palace, taking her back to Windsor for burial“, where they hid the news from the King, as he was in love with his wife, and would suffer even more knowledge of her departure.

With the death of George III two years after Queen Charlotte, Kew Palace fell into disrepair for the Royal Family. It remained open to the public until 1996 when a major restoration project began. With the work completed, it was there that they celebrated the 80th birthday of Elizabeth II, in 2006, when it was reopened as a tourist attraction. No doubt general interest will be renewed by the address.

Tickets are around 45 reais and visits are daily, between 11 am and 4 pm. Kew is 15 minutes from London and can be reached by tube or car. More information on the palace website by clicking here.


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