Greenwich Palace from the River Thames © National Trust Images
Greenwich Palace from the River Thames © National Trust Images


The history of the site is as rich as it is complex. Buried beneath the site today is a vast palace complex inhabited by medieval and Tudor monarchs, and the birthplace of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

Greenwich has long held an important significance for the monarchy. Originally occupied by Bella Court, a manor house built in the 1420s by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, it was later acquired by Queen Margaret of Anjou, who extended it to create the Palace of Pleasaunce or Placentia.

After being rebuilt by Henry VII as Greenwich Palace in the late 1490s, the site developed into a favourite royal residence of the Tudors and was the birthplace of Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth I.

Greenwich Palace was one of Henry VIII's favourite palaces. He often held jousts here, and took frequent trips to nearby docks at Woolwich and Deptford, where his favourite warships the Great Harry and Mary Rose were moored. You can read more about Henry VIII's passion for warships and his relationship to the Greenwich docks here.

Anne Boelyn, one of Henry VIII's ill-fated wives, was arrested here before being taken to the Tower of London; Anne of Cleves also briefly visited during her doomed marriage to Henry.

Queen Elizabeth I, too, frequented the palace, and was known for hearing choral music in the Chapel Royal - the progenitor of the Chapel of Saints Peter and Paul on the site of today. She also recieved diplomatic embassies here - notoriously, the Irish "pirate queen" Grace O'Malley came here to beg the pardon of Elizabeth and her aid against rogue English barons in Ireland.

During the English Civil War, however, the palace fell into disrepair, and most of the buildings were subsequently demolished: today only their foundations exist, buried beneath Grand Square.

You can learn more about the early history of the site, as well as visiting the buildings that followed it, by visiting! Today the Old Royal Naval College is open to the public and home of three unique and free to visit attractions; the Painted Hall, the Chapel, and the Visitor Centre

Back to the History homepage


Find out more

Download a map of the ORNC >