See Diana’s wedding dress at Kensington Palace

This week I took a lovely American couple on a tour of Kensington Palace. It was built in the early 1600s in what was then countryside. In 1689 William and Mary bought the house and had it enlarged by the architect of St Pauls Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren.

It was their favourite residence in London and Mary especially spent a lot of time there while her husband was on military campaigns.

George III came to the throne in 1760 and he preferred Buckingham House (which would one day become the central part of Buckingham Palace). From then on Kensington became the residence of princes and princesses, not kings.

Queen Victoria’s childhood here

Among the people who lived there was Queen Victoria. In fact, she was born in the palace. Each year there is an exhibition about her and this year the subject is her early years. Among the items on display is a bed that she used when she was travelling. She was taken by coach to visit different parts of England and was assured of a comfortable night’s sleep because she had her own bed.

One showcase I like contains her Imperial State Crown. All the jewels have been taken out and reused in other crowns. There is a picture of it with the jewels and it looks very much like the current Imperial State Crown which is in the Tower of London except for a huge 317 carat diamond that now sits below the Black Prince’s balas ruby. The diamond was cut from one that was discovered after she died and Victoria had the Stuart Sapphire at the front instead.

The Stuarts at Kensington

Both William and Mary were grandchildren of Charles I, Mary through a male line and William through a female line. The first cousins had been married as part of a peace agreement between England and Holland.

William’s apartments were altered in the C18th but his wife, Mary’s are more or less as she had them. They have a cosy feel. Mary died at Kensington Palace. William continued to reign on his own and to use the palace. He was hunting at Hampton Court when his horse stumbled in a mole hole causing him to fall and break his collarbone. William was brought to Kensington House (as it was called at the time) but caught pneumonia and died in 1702.

The new monarch was Mary’s sister, Queen Anne. The film “The Favourite” is about her. I have a walking tour inspired by the film and discusses how true to life that quirky film was.

Anne had not liked William. During William and Mary’s reign she and her husband George of Denmark had been snubbed. There was friction between Denmark and William’s native Holland and he mistrusted poor George.  

In 1708 George died at Kensington Palace and Anne was distraught. This is where the famous argument between Anne and Sarah Churchill took place. Sarah showed little sympathy to Anne at the loss of her husband and tried to bully her into leaving Kensington before he was even buried.

From the Queens Apartments we moved outside to the old Orangery which Queen Anne had built to store delicate plants during the winter.

Diana’s wedding dress

Until 2nd January 2022 there is a small exhibition of royal dresses (four in total). The highlight is Diana’s wedding dress with its 25 foot (8m) long train. The dress was in the safe keeping of her brother, Earl Spencer until Princes William and Harry had both turned 30. Her property was then transferred to her sons and the dress is on loan from them.

Also on show is a pink dress and jacket she wore on her wedding day as her going away outfit.

Kensington Palace is the London residence of Prince William and his family. On 1st July 2021, the day that would have been Diana’s 60th birthday, Prince William and Prince Harry, together with Diana’s brother and two sisters, unveiled a statue of her in the palace gardens. It was commissioned by the princes from sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley. Reviews of it were mixed.

Another dress on show is one designed by Norman Hartnell. He was famously the favourite couturier of the Queen Mother and of Queen Elizabeth when she was in her 20s. He designed the Queen’s  wedding dress and coronation robe.

The dress on display was worn by the Queen Mother and is very unusual for her. It is black, sleek and unfussy whereas she tended to wear pastel colours and flowered dresses. It looks very much like something the Queen Mum’s arch enemy Wallis Simpson would wear.

Perhaps the classic, slim cut line is because it was made during WWII and cloth was rationed. It would not have looked good at the time if the Queen Consort wore clothes that were out of other people’s reach.

Guiding again was such a pleasure as was visiting Kensington Palace after almost two years absence. I felt like a tourist myself seeing it with fresh eyes. London really is a great place to visit.

About the author: Gail Jones

Tourist Guide

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