Having recently re-watched the film Amelie, where the characters spoke of Princess Diana, and also recently walking through Kensington Gardens; I’m reminded of my visit to Kensington Palace a couple of years ago. I’m also reminded of this visit, because at the time there was an exhibition of Princess Diana’s fashion and style.
We were members of Historic Royal Palaces at the time and wanted to see all the palaces in one year before the membership ended. We managed to visit Kensington Palace in August of 2019, the penultimate palace visit, to complete the mission we had set ourselves. As we were members, we were able to stroll in and not queue, which was nice.
Diana: Her Fashion Story
Knowing that Princess Diana lived in Kensington Palace, where this exhibition was held, made it a little more special. There were sketches and designs showing the transformation of Princess Diana’s style over the years. It was interesting seeing the evolution of a young woman from romantic outfits to more glamorous dresses to later more simple pieces.
She used clothes to make herself appear more approachable and never wore gloves in public. She knew she was one of the most photographed women in the world and used that platform to raise awareness of humanitarian causes to help people.
The Queen’s State Apartments
William III and Mary II bought Kensington Palace, previously known as Nottingham Cottage, to get away from the London smoke of the (now burnt down) Whitehall Palace. Years later, Mary actually died in Kensington Palace of smallpox.
One of the rooms in these apartments is where Queen Anne (Mary’s sister) and Sarah Churchill had their last conversation before Churchill and her husband had their positions stripped and were dismissed from court. I really like the film The Favourite, which features this relationship, but I believe this scene wasn’t actually filmed in Kensington Palace.
I remember one of the last rooms, the Queen’s Bedroom, had an alleged special bed. James Francis Edward Stuart, son of King James II, and therefore Mary and Anne’s half brother, was allegedly born on this very bed in St James’ Palace. But rumours soon spread that this baby was an imposter to hide a still-birth. I didn’t know that royal beds moved around palaces, but an interesting titbit nonetheless.
The King’s State Apartments
After Queen Anne’s death, the throne went to Georg Ludwig Elector of Hanover, who became George I. The King’s Staircase features people from George I’s court and was painted by architect and designer William Kent. The King’s staircase reminded me of the magnificent staircase in Hampton Court Palace.
I remember walking through these rooms, which mainly spoke of the Hanoverians. This ceiling is in the Cupola room, which was used by George II and Queen Caroline to entertain guests, Handel even visited and performed here.
I recall reading that the public found it odd that George II loved his wife Queen Caroline so much that after she died he didn’t remarry. The Cupola room was apparently the room that launched architect William Kent’s career, and also where the young Queen Victoria was baptised.
I recall when we visited that two of the floors were dedicated to Queen Victoria, the palace where she was born and grew up. The rooms showed Queen Victoria’s childhood, how she played, and how she was educated.
Queen Victoria had a secluded upbringing, isolated from people, but some historians believe she misremembered her childhood. I remember a large dollhouse she owned on display and diary entries from her mother open to pages stating how spoiled the young Victoria was.
I recall the later rooms displaying Queen Victoria’s clothes and jewellery, and charting her life into adulthood: how she married for love, and eventually became the Empress of India. A country she never visited. I remember reading about the Koh-i-noor diamond, one of the world’s largest cut diamonds.
The exhibition presented this on the side of India, acknowledging the colonialist history and the negative impact of that. Apparently the diamond brought bad luck to men, so has only been worn by female members of the royal family.
I recall it was a lovely little palace visit, steeped in history, and I definitely learned a lot. The nearby Kensington Gardens were also serene. Definitely worth a visit if you haven’t been before.