Richmond Palace was a Thameside royal residence on the right (south, or Surrey) bank of the river, upstream of the Palace of Westminster, to which it lay 9 miles (14 km) SW of as the crow flies. It it was erected c. 1501 within the royal manor of Sheen, by Henry VII of England, formerly known by his title Earl of Richmond, after which it was named. It was occupied by royalty until 1649.

It replaced a former palace, itself built on the site of a manor house that had been appropriated by the Crown some two centuries beforehand, which had been in royal possession for most of that time.

In 1500, immediately preceding the construction of the new "Richmond" Palace the following year, the town of Sheen which had grown up around the royal manor changed its name to "Richmond", by command of Henry VII. The two separate nomenclatures of Sheen and Richmond continue to this day, not without scope for confusion, since today's districts called "East Sheen" and "North Sheen", now under the administrative control of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, were never in ancient times within Sheen manor, but were rather carved out of what was formerly the ancient adjoining manor of Mortlake, in recent times. Richmond remained part of the County of Surrey until the mid-1960s, when it was absorbed by the expansion of London.

Of Richmond Palace today only vestigial traces remain, most notably the gatehouse. The site occupies the area between Richmond Green and the River Thames, the street names of which provide evidence of the former existence of the Palace, namely Old Palace Lane, Old Palace Yard and The Wardrobe.


Henry I lived briefly in the King's house in Sheen (spelt anciently Syenes, Schene, Sheanes, Shene etc.)

1299 to 1495

In 1299 Edward I took his whole court to the manor-house at Sheen, close by the river side, which thus became a royal palace. William Wallace was executed in London in 1305, and it was in Sheen that the Commissioners from Scotland went down on their knees before Edward. When the boy-king Edward III came to the throne in 1327 he gave the manor to his mother Isabella. Almost 50 years later, after his wife Philippa died, Edward spent over 2,000 pounds on improvements. In the middle of the work Edward III himself died at the manor in 1377. In 1368 Geoffrey Chaucer served as a yeoman at Sheen.

Richard II was the first English king to make Sheen his main residence in 1383. He took his bride Anne of Bohemia there. Twelve years later Richard was so distraught at the death of Anne at the age of 28, that he, according to Holinshed, "caused it to be thrown down and defaced; whereas the former kings of this land, being wearie of the citie, used customarily thither to resort as to a place of pleasure, and serving highly to their recreation." For almost 20 years it lay in ruins until Henry V undertook rebuilding work in 1414. The first, pre-Tudor, version of the palace was known as Sheen Palace. It was positioned roughly at 51°27′37″N 0°18′37″W / 51.460388°N 0.310219°W / 51.460388; -0.310219Coordinates: 51°27′37″N 0°18′37″W / 51.460388°N 0.310219°W / 51.460388; -0.310219, in what is now the garden of Trumpeters' House, between Richmond Green and the River. In 1414 Henry V also founded a Carthusian monastery there known as Sheen Priory, adjacent on the N. to the royal residence.

Henry VII, Builder of Richmond Palace

In 1492 a great tournament was held at the Palace by Henry VII. On 23 December 1497 a fire destroyed most of the wooden buildings. Henry rebuilt it and named the new palace "Richmond" Palace after his title of Earl of Richmond. The earldom was seated at Richmond Castle, Yorkshire, from which it took its name. In 1502, the new palace witnessed a betrothal. Princess Margaret, daughter of Henry VII, became engaged to King James IV of Scotland. From this line eventually came the House of Stuart. In 1509 Henry VII died at Richmond Palace.

Henry VIII

Later the same year, Henry VIII celebrated Christmas to Twelfth Night at Richmond with the first of his six wives, Catherine of Aragon. During those celebrations, says Mrs. A.T. Thomson, in her Memoirs of the Court of Henry the Eighth:

In 1533 Richmond became the principal residence of Henry's daughter Mary after she was evicted from her previous residence of Beaulieu. Mary stayed at the palace until December of that year when she was ordered to Hatfield House to wait on the newly born Princess Elizabeth.

(Over the next hundred years from 1509, the Christmas celebrations gradually increased with music, dancing, theatricals and revels. The 12 days of Christmas were barely celebrated before the sixteenth century. By the time Elizabeth I died at Richmond in 1603, celebrating Christmas was well established in court circles.)

Almost nothing survives of earlier manors. In the 1520s Cardinal Wolsey adopted new renaissance architectural styles at Hampton Court Palace. This was only a few miles from Richmond and Henry was boiling with jealousy. On Wolsey's fall, he confiscated it and forced him to accept Richmond Palace in exchange. In his Chronicles, Hall says "when the common people, and especially such as had been servants of Henry VII, saw the cardinal keep house in the manor royal at Richmond, which that monarch so highly esteemed, it was a marvel to hear how they grudged, saying, 'so a butcher's dogge doth lie in the manor of Richmond!'".

In 1540 Henry gave the palace to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, as part of her divorce settlement.

Mary I

In 1554 Queen Mary I married Philip II of Spain. Forty-five years after her mother Catherine of Aragon had spent Christmas at Richmond Palace, they spent their honeymoon there (and at Hampton Court). Later that same year, the future Elizabeth I was held prisoner at Richmond by Mary I. After Mary's father Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn and produced a daughter, Elizabeth, Mary came to hate the child. When Mary became queen, as her mother had hoped, Mary had the power to lock up her own half-sister.

Elizabeth I

Once Elizabeth became queen she spent much of her time at Richmond, as she enjoyed hunting stags in the "Newe Parke of Richmonde" (now the Old Deer Park). Elizabeth died there on 24 March 1603.

James I

King James I preferred the Palace of Westminster to Richmond but, even before he became king, Charles I owned Richmond Palace and started to build his art collection whilst living there. Like Elizabeth, James enjoyed hunting stags, and in 1637 created a new area for this now known as Richmond Park, renaming Elizabeth's "Newe Parke" the "Old Deer Park". There continue to be red deer in Richmond Park today, possibly descendants of the original herd, free from hunting and relatively tame.

Charles I and Commonwealth

Within months of the execution of Charles I in 1649, Richmond Palace was surveyed by order of Parliament to see what it could fetch in terms of raw materials, and was sold for £13,000. Over the next ten years it was largely demolished, the stones being re-used as building materials.

Architecture, fittings, etc

All the accounts which have come down to us describe the furniture and decorations of Richmond Palace as very superb, exhibiting in gorgeous tapestries the deeds of kings and heroes.

Survey of 1649

The survey taken in 1649 affords a minute description of the palace. The great hall was 100 feet in length, and 40 in breadth, having a screen at the lower end, over which was "fayr foot space in the higher end thereof, the pavement of square tile, well lighted and seated; at the north end having a turret, or clock-case, covered with lead, which is a special ornament to this building." The prince's lodgings are described as a "freestone building, three stories high, with fourteen turrets covered with lead," being "a very graceful ornament to the whole house, and perspicuous to the county round about." A round tower is mentioned, called the "Canted Tower," with a staircase of 124 steps. The chapel was 96 feet long and 40 broad, with cathedral-seats and pews. Adjoining the prince's garden was an open gallery, 200 feet long, over which was a close gallery of similar length. Here was also a royal library. Three pipes supplied the palace with water, one from the white conduit in the new park, another from the conduit in the town fields, and the third from a conduit near the alms-houses in Richmond.

Surviving structures

These include the Wardrobe, Trumpeters' House and the Gate House. The latter was built 1501, and was let on a 65 year lease by the Crown Estate Commissioners in 1986. It has five bedrooms.


During 1997 the site was investigated in the Channel 4 programme Time Team which was broadcast in January 1998.


This palace was one of the first buildings in history to be equipped with a flushing lavatory, invented by Elizabeth I's godson, Sir John Harington. Henry VIII had earlier installed flushing latrines at Hampton Court.

Building Activity

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