The Queen’s House, unlike other buildings with the name “Queen’s House,” really is a historic royal house which served as a former royal residence, Greenwich Palace, where Elizabeth I was born. It was built between 1616 and 1636 and was designed by the famous architect, Inigo Jones, who was inspired by his travels in Italy. The Queen’s House was the first Classical building in England and one of the very few surviving designs of Inigo Jones. The building is Grade 1 listed and is an ancient monument and includes the 35 metres (115 feet) axial vista to the River Thames.
It all began when James I gifted the building to his wife, Anne of Denmark, by way of an apology for swearing in her presence because she shot one of his favourite dogs whilst hunting. Work on the building commenced in 1616 but halted in 1619 when Anne of Denmark died, with only the first floor completed. Work on the house continued again after some years in 1629, when Charles I gave Greenwich to his wife, Henrietta Maria. The House was finally completed in 1636. Additional wings to the building were linked by colonnades built in 1807.
Today, you can wander around this magnificent building for Free which has undergone massive restoration in recent years and imagine what life would have been like all the way back in the 17th century.
There are many reasons to visit this iconic building, which is also referred to as the “House of Delight” particularly because of its 400 years of history and legend has it that it is also a “haunted” palace. You can view and gain insight into the art collection through the ages especially the iconic Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I which was acquired for the nation in 2016. You will also discover the many stories of England’s past from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I to Charles I and beyond including the history of its architecture through the guided and informed tours.
This iconic building painted in white was impressive from the outside and it is hard to believe that it was once a red-brick building.
Walking into the building, I began to realise the magnificence of the architecture …
The Great Hall
On entering the Great Hall, I found myself standing within the four-walls of a cube 12 metres x 12 metres x 12 metres that has one of the most beautifully designed ceiling and floor that I had seen. Simple but effective, yet making a statement of architectural genius.
Standing in the midst of this cubic masterpiece, at first glance looking up, you will notice a simplistic and a beautifully decorated ceiling in gold leaf. It reflected painstaking craftmanship of an intricate and unique design that goes well with the rest of the interior of the House. I understood from the tour guide that the design was crafted by Richard Wright, a Turner Prize winner. The delicate and ornate work began in 2016 and was completed in nine weeks. This was the first time the ceiling had been worked upon since 1639.
The original decoration of the ceiling were six paintings by Orazio and Gentileschi which were removed very carefully and now belongs to Marlborough House in London .
The Great Hall is the heart of the building. From the first floor gallery, you get a closer view of this incredible architecture.
When you are on the first floor, you see the squared floor below in a striking black and white marble from the 1630’s. Incredible, isn’t it?
The floor of the cubic Great Hall. The floor measures 12 metres x 12 metres and is decorated in 1630’s black and white marble.
Although the Great Hall is the centrepiece of the Queens House, a walk through the first floor gallery gives you spectacular views of the exterior. On one side, there is a view straight to the Thames! Queen Mary II ensured that there was uninterrupted view of the Thames and that the closest distance between the College Buildings, situated over the road is exactly the width of the House, see the below photo. Wasn’t she a smart woman!
Then, on the other side of the first floor gallery square, you get view of the Royal Observatory, high up the hill, across the Royal Park.
The Tulip Stairs
The Tulip Stairs is definitely unique! You need to see it to know what I mean. This magnificent ornate, wrought iron structure is one of the original features of the House and is the first geometric self-supporting spiral stairs in Britain. The paint, which is a quirky shade of blue is unique, because it was derived from crushed glass.
The Tulip Stairs is also popular for another reason – this is where the photos taken by Rev Hardy in 1966 showed two or three shrouded figures on the staircase.
[Later sightings of ghosts was in 2002 in the balcony of the House].
[To find out more about seeing our Queen’s House ghost source materials, email Geraldine Charles at GLChar@rmg.co.uk.]
The Queen’s Presence Chamber
This incredible feature of the Queen’s House is on the first floor. The ceiling of this room is ornately painted, and the artwork is another original feature of the Queen’s House and gives an idea of how this House was decorated and filled with art in the 1630s by Henrietta Maria. This ceiling was restored in 2013.
The fireplace in this room is an interesting feature. Above the fireplace, sits the initials of Charles I and Henrietta Maria Regina.
In addition to these two incredible original features of the House, the infamous Armada Portrait is on permanent display in this room.
There are three distinct features of this Portrait – the imperial power following the British defeat of the Spanish Armada, the hopes and aspiration of the people at that time and to reflect female power and majesty. The first feature is the Tudor Rose that is used in the portrait to symbolise the unity in the realm under the Tudor dynasty through the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. The Rose also represents religious connotations, which depicts the medieval symbol of the Virgin Mary, to allude to Elizabeth, the virgin queen, as the secular successor of Virgin Mary. Secondly, the Pelican which is Elizabeth’s favourite symbol is used to portray Elizabeth’s motherly love to her subjects. Thirdly, the ermine, its tail of pure white and a black tip symbolised purity and was also a status symbol as wearing it was restricted to royalty and high nobility.
Queen Elizabeth 1 was a virgin queen at the age of 55, at the time of the Armada Invasion in 1588. “A Mask of Youth” was created to portray her innocence as well as her strength and charisma. You can see it displayed opposite the Armada painting.
My visit to the Queens House was a rewarding experience because I learnt more about its history and had time to admire the architecture at leisure. I found the tour guides extremely helpful and I enjoyed my conversations about the House with them. Although a donation is recommended, the entry itself is free. I would highly recommend a visit to this iconic building.
Summary of Experiences at the Queen’s House
- Imagine what life was like back in the 17th century as you walk through the 1st Classical building in England which is Grade 1 listed and is an ancient monument.
- Experience 400 years of history, the stories behind each painting and each wall…
- Discover why it is also known as “The House of Delight”
- The incredible art collection
- The cubic Great Hall
- The recently restored beautifully decorated ceiling in gold leaf
- Walk on the incredible striking black and white marble from the 1630s
- The stunning view directly to the River Thames from the 1st floor gallery
- The infamous Tulip Stairs
- The Queen’s Presence Chamber
- The ceiling of the Chamber is the original feature of the House
- The “Mask of Youth”
Opening hours: 10:00 – 17:00
Tours are ticketed: £9.00 (online/in advance) or £10.00 (walk-in)
NB: Combined tickets are available for all attractions which works out cheaper – Day Explorer: Adult: £24.25 Child: £11.50
Address: Romney Road, Greenwich, London, SE10 9NF
At the base of the Tulip staircase – Toilets, baby-change facilities and an accessible toilet.
External horseshoe stairs – for level access