On the banks of the River Thames at Greenwich from 1443 to 1660 sat a spectacular palace. It was the Palace of Placentia.
The palace was built under Henry VII and was the birthplace of his son; Henry VIII in 1491 and his two daughters Mary I born in 1516 and Elizabeth I in 1533. Both Mary and Elizabeth spent most of their childhoods at the palace. Henry VIII also married two of his wives here.
At that time, travelling by water was easier and quicker than using muddy and dangerous roads. When the royal family travelled to Greenwich they would have been getting completely away from London, with its smells, noise and disease, into the countryside.
Henry VIII would go on to make the palace his primary royal palace, and often threw huge parties, banquets and jousting matches in its grounds. The Christmas party that Henry threw in 1516 went down in legend, as this was the first masquerade party ever seen in England! As was written at the time:
“The King this year kept the feast of Christmas at Greenwich, where was such an abundance of the viands served to all corners of any honest behaviour as hath been few times seen.”
Henry made the palace at Greenwich much larger. He built stables, forges, a new banqueting hall, and armouries to make suits of mail for soldiers. He also had a great tilt yard made in the grounds so that he and his men could practice jousting and hold tournaments. A fortune was spent on these tournaments so that people would be impressed as men fought each other on foot and on horseback.
The palace was covered with a facing of red brick, which some of which you can find on the Thames foreshore at Greenwich today. You can also find lots of animal bones and oyster shells, perhaps also consumed at the palace. Animals (cows, sheep and pigs mainly) would have been kept and butchered in the palace grounds to feed the royal court, with the bones being thrown away into the Thames. Also, on the foreshore is the timber pile remains of a Tudor jetty (uncovered in 2011 by archaeologists), which would have been used by visitors and Tudor royalty themselves to get on and off boats on the Thames.
The palace fell into disrepair during the English Civil War (1642-49), with the Queens House being built in the 1660’s as the main royal residence in Greenwich. The palace was demolished in 1660 under King Charles II to make way for Greenwich Hospital.