Palace of Placentia
The Palace of Placentia, also known as Greenwich Palace, was an English royal residence that was initially built by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, in 1443. It was located at Greenwich on the south bank of the River Thames, downstream from London. On a hill behind the palace he built Duke Humphrey's Tower, later known as Greenwich Castle; it was subsequently demolished to make way for the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, which survives. The original river-side residence was extensively rebuilt around 1500 by Henry VII. A detached residence, the Queen's House, was built on the estate in the early 1600s and also survives. In 1660, the main palace was demolished by Charles II to make way for a proposed new palace, which was never constructed. Nearly forty years later, the Greenwich Hospital (now called the Old Royal Naval College) was built on the site.
Humphrey was regent during the minority of Henry VI (his nephew) and started building the palace in 1433, under the name Bella Court. In 1447, Humphrey fell out of favour with Henry VI and was arrested for high treason. He died in prison, likely due to a stroke, though it was popularly believed that he was murdered (as is depicted in William Shakespeare's plays about Henry VI). Margaret of Anjou took over Bella Court, renaming it the Palace of Placentia, sometimes written as the 'Palace of Pleasaunce'.
In 1482, Edward IV gave land and property adjacent to the palace for the foundation of a friary by the Observant Friars (a branch of the Franciscans). The friars' church was used for royal baptisms and marriages, including the christenings of the future queens Mary I and Elizabeth I. However, the friars were persecuted during the English Reformation and finally expelled by Elizabeth I in 1559.
After Henry VIII's marriage to Anne Boleyn, his daughter, later Elizabeth I, was born at Placentia in 1533, and he married Anne of Cleves there in 1540. A fallen tree in Greenwich Park is known as Queen Elizabeth's Oak, in which she is reputed to have played as a child.
Both Mary and Elizabeth lived at Placentia for some years during the sixteenth century, but during the reigns of James I and Charles I, the Queen's House was erected to the south of the palace. Placentia fell into disrepair during the English Civil War, serving time as a biscuit factory and a prisoner-of-war camp.
In 1660, Charles II decided to rebuild the palace, engaging John Webb as the architect for a new King's House. The only section of the new building to be completed was the east range of the present King Charles Court, but this was never occupied as a royal residence. Most of the rest of the palace was demolished, and the site remained empty until construction of the Greenwich Hospital began in 1694.
The Greenwich Hospital complex became the Greenwich Royal Naval College in 1873, when the naval college was moved from Portsmouth. The buildings are today occupied by the University of Greenwich and the music faculty of Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.
Construction work for drains in late 2005 identified previously unknown Tudor remains. A full archaeological excavation completed in January 2006 found the Tudor Chapel and Vestry with its tiled floor in situ. The vestry of the old palace was not demolished and later became the home of the treasurer of Greenwich Hospital.
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