A new book takes an unusual look at how the history of the various palaces and buildings in Greenwich Park have been affected over the centuries by the attentions and inattentions of monarchs.
Most books about the history of a building or estate will, of necessity often be chronological, but usually divided into specific periods of time based on what happened to the building.
This book, by Greenwich Curator Emeritus, Pieter van der Merwe, breaks the history down into regnal periods, that is to say, by each monarch.
That choice has the sometimes peculiar result of buildings jumping between chapters as unfinished by one monarch is completed, differently by another. It does however give a much clearer understanding of how the whims of individual Kings and Queens affected the history of Greenwich and the various palaces that were built there.
I was surprised, mainly as I have never thought much about it, to learn that the famous Palladian Queen’s House was effectively a half-built building site for many years, so the shock of its arrival next to a red-brick Tudor palace was probably less of a surprise than I had always assumed.
It’s also a surprise to see that while the old Tudor palace was extensive, the most famous of the Tudor monarchs, King Henry VIII gets one of the smallest chapters, as he did very little to the building.
The author’s preferences do creep in on occasions, and he clearly has very little time for King Jame II as a king, and more time for the current monarch, ending with “God save The Queen”.
While it can be at times a tad difficult to follow if you’re not totally up to speed on the chronology of monarchs, as the book is by design chronological history of an area, it makes up for that by a good swift and digestible history of Greenwich Park, and some of the surrounds.
It’s richly decorated as well, with lots of paintings, most from the Royal Greenwich Museum collections, and I found it to be an accessible way of learning a history of a part of London that has an awful lot of complicated history to deal with.
The book, Royal Greenwich: A History in Kings and Queens, is currently available direct from the Royal Greenwich Museum shop, as well as the usual suspects, Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones, and local bookshops.