Kensington Palace is a royal residence set in Kensington Gardens. It has been a residence of the British Royal Family since the 17th century and is the official London residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, while the Duke and Duchess of Kent reside at Wren House.
Kensington Palace is also used on an unofficial basis by Prince Harry, as well as his cousin Zara Phillips. On 6 November 2011, it was announced that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will move from their temporary residence in Kensington Palace to the four-storey, 20-room Apartment 1-A, formerly the residence of Princess Margaret. It is expected that they will move in 2013, with renovation work taking place in 2012. Once the Duke and Duchess move into their new apartment, Prince Harry is expected to move his official residence from Clarence House to the residence the Duke and Duchess vacate. It was the official residence of Diana, Princess of Wales (from 1981 until her death in 1997), Princess Margaret (from 1960 until her death in 2002) and Princess Alice (from 1994 until her death in 2004).
Today, the State Rooms are open to the public and managed by the independent charity Historic Royal Palaces. The offices and private accommodation areas of the Palace remain the responsibility of the Royal Household and are maintained by the Royal Household Property Section.
The original early 17th-century building was constructed in the village of Kensington for the Earl of Nottingham. At that time Kensington was a suburban village outside London. For 70 years, the Palace was the favoured residence of British monarchs, though the official seat of the Court was and still is at St James’s Palace.
Queen Mary II died of smallpox in Kensington Palace in 1694. In 1702, King William III suffered a fall from a horse at Hampton Court and was brought to Kensington Palace, where he died shortly after. After William III’s death, the Palace became the residence of Queen Anne. In 1819, the Cupola Room was the site of the christening of Princess Alexandrina Victoria, who had been born at Kensington, in the apartments of the Duke and Duchess of Kent (the actual room being what is now the North Drawing Room). The last reigning monarch to use Kensington Palace was George II.
After his death in 1760, Kensington Palace was only used for minor royalty, including the young daughter of the Duke of Kent who was living in the Palace with her widowed mother when she was told of her accession to the throne as Queen Victoria. Queen Mary, grandmother of the present Queen, was born at Kensington Palace in 1867. Her parents, the Duke and Duchess of Teck, were living at the Palace.
In 1981, apartments 8 and 9 were combined to create the London residence of the newly married Prince and Princess of Wales, Charles and Diana, and it remained the official residence of Diana, Princess of Wales after her divorce until her death. Her sons, Princes William and Harry, went to local nursery and pre-preparatory schools in Notting Hill, which is a short drive away, and were raised in Kensington Palace.
Lady Di’s coffin spent its last night in London at the Palace, before the Princess’s funeral at the Westminster Abbey on 6 September 1997.
Kensington Palace was constructed in the early 17th century, but it was the next century that brought the Palace a number of modernisations and redesigns of some of its facilities.
Sir John Vanbrugh designed the Orangery for Queen Anne in 1704, and a magnificent Baroque parterre garden was laid out by Henry Wise. Anne also had Christopher Wren to complete the extensions that William III and Mary II had begun, resulting in the section known as the Queen’s Apartments, with the Wren staircase, known as ‘The Queen’s Entrance’, which currently serves as the exit point, with shallow steps so that Queen Anne could walk down gracefully. George I spent lavishly on new royal apartments from 1718. William Kent painted a staircase and some ceilings. In 1722 he designed the Cupola Room, the principal state room, with feigned coffering in its high coved ceiling.