Advertisement

Feature: The Glorious Georges, Kensington Palace

26 April 2014 | Charlie Kenber

A peek behind the curtain to our Hanoverian past...

To mark the tri-centenary of the Hanoverian succession to the British throne, Historic Royal Palaces have transformed several of their properties in a reimagining of this Georgian past.

1714 marked the start of the dynasty that continues today with Elizabeth II, but the Hanoverians came somewhat controversially to power: George I was only distantly connected to the throne at the time of his accession. Opposition to his rule came in the form of the Jacobites, who supported the Stuart (and importantly Roman Catholic) claim to the throne. It wasn’t until the Battle of Culloden in 1746 that George II was finally able to quiet this voice of dissent, although it would continue throughout the remainder of the eighteenth century.

The King’s State Apartments at Kensington Palace have been refurbished and decorated in homage to the time that George II and Queen Caroline spent there together from 1727-37. As the transformation displays, this was not a palace of courtly business, but one largely of revelry, in which the King and Queen hosted parties, dances and social occasions.

The historical precision of the renovation is impressive: few stones have been left unturned in the researchers’ attention to detail. The Privy and Presence Chambers have particularly effectively been returned to their former glory: William Kent’s designs during George I’s reign are recreated with silk wall hangings and bright panelling. Even the oak floorboards in these two rooms have been laid in a Georgian manner, decreasing in width as they approach the side of the rooms.

Although many of the changes are subtle, they have a striking effect. The Privy Chamber’s ceiling painting has been newly cleaned, with around one tonne of dust having been removed from the space above it! A ‘smell map’ further contributes to the effect, allowing you to more vividly imagine what the palace was like in the 1730s.

The era that the renovation illuminates is most effectively brought to life in the two rooms mainly used for social gatherings: the Cupola room and the King’s Drawing Room. These two spaces bring to life the music, dancing and games at the centre of court life, and you can even try your hand at some Georgian gambling.

This whole approach reflects a growing trend by which historical monuments are actively ‘historicised’ and brought to life. Rather than being left as a dusty relic, the palace becomes – for many – a much more effective representation, and thus more clearly engages with our cultural past.

In many ways the exhibition is more about Queen Caroline than George II, and this is reflected in the sombre note on which it ends. When she passed away in 1737 George was devastated, shutting up half the palace in grief and introducing black clothing for the entire staff. He insisted that nothing was changed at the palace; even that the wood in her fireplace remained untouched. Music in the King’s Gallery and a representation of George touches upon this grief which descended upon the building.

So head over to Kensington Palace to get a taste – or more accurately a sniff – of this important part of British history.

The apartments are included with regular admission to the palace, which costs £16.50 full price, £13.75 concessions and free for Under 16s. Tickets available here.
The new display is part of a wider ‘Glorious Georges’ season across Historic Royal Palaces. Find out more here.

Advertisement

Most popular

What to See at The Cinema
What to See at The Cinema
Advertisement
Top Theatre of the Week in London
Top Theatre of the Week in London
Advertisement
The Best Exhibitions in London Right Now
The Best Exhibitions in London Right Now
Advertisement
Top Gigs of the Week in London
Top Gigs of the Week in London
The Best Street Food Markets in London
The Best Street Food Markets in London
Spotlight on: Gay’s the Word
Spotlight on: Gay’s the Word

Your inbox deserves a little culture! Get our monthly newsletter

Advertisement