The oldest of the royal parks, the 74 hectare (183 acre) Greenwich Park has been associated with royalty since at least the 15th century.

The area covered by the park had been occupied by the Romans (there are some remains of a building, possibly a temple, near Maze Hill Gate) and later the Danes, who raised protective earthworks here in the 11th century. After the Norman Conquest, it became a manor.

Its enclosure only happened in 1433 after the land came into the possession of Humphrey of Lancaster, Duke of Gloucester and brother of King Henry V. At the time regent to the young King Henry VI, Duke Humphrey also built a tower on the heights above the park – where the Royal Observatory now stands.

Following the duke’s death in 1447, the land was seized by Margaret of Anjou – wife of King Henry VI – and subsequently became known as the Manor of Placentia. King Henry VII later rebuilt the manor house, creating what was known as Greenwich Palace or the Palace of Placentia.

Not surprisingly, it was King Henry VIII, who, having been born at Greenwich Palace, introduced deer to the park. Indeed the park was to have strong associations with others in his family – the king married Catherine of Aragorn and Anne of Cleeves at Greenwich Palace, and his daughters, later Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I, were born there while his son, King Edward VI, died there in 1553 at the age of only 15. (There’s a tree in the park known as Queen Elizabeth’s Oak, which is said to be where she played as a child).

In 1613, King James I gave the palace and accompanying park – which he had enclosed with a high wall – to his wife, Queen Anne of Denmark, apparently as an apology after swearing at her in public when she accidentally shot one of his favorite dogs. Queen Anne subsequently commissioned Inigo Jones to design what is now known as the Queen’s House – for more on that, see our earlier post.

Following the Restoration, King Charles II ordered the palace rebuilt and while this work remained unfinished, the king did succeed in having the park remodelled – it is believed that Andre Le Notre, gardener to King Louis XIV of France, had a role in this.

The works included cutting a series of terraces into the slope – these were known as the Great Steps and lined with hawthorn hedges – as well as creating a formal avenue of chestnut trees (now known as Blackheath Avenue), and some woodlands. Work is currently taking place on restoring an orchard which dates from 1666 at the park.

King Charles II also commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to build the Royal Observatory that still stands on the hill overlooking the park – it stands on the site once occupied by the Duke Humphrey Tower (the Royal Observatory is home of the Prime Meridian – see our earlier post on the Royal Observatory for more).

King James II was the last monarch to use the palace and park – his daughter Queen Mary II donated the palace for use as a hospital for veteran sailors and the park was opened to the pensioners in the early 1700s. The hospital later become the Royal Naval College and the National Maritime Museum later moved onto the site (for more on this, see our earlier post).

As an aside, Royal Parks say the truncated shape of some of the trees in the park is apparently due to the fact that when anti-aircraft guns were positioned in the flower garden during World War II, the trees had to be trimmed to ensure a clear field of fire.

Facilities in the park today include a tea house, a children’s playground, sporting facilities such as tennis courts and, of course, the Wilderness Deer Park where you can see wildlife at large. Statues include that of Greenwich resident General James Wolfe, an instrumental figure in establishing British rule in Canada – it sits on the crest of the hill opposite the Royal Observatory looking down towards the Thames.

The park, which is part of the Greenwich World Heritage Site, is slated as a venue for next year’s Olympics – it will host equestrian events and the shooting and running events of the pentathlon.

WHERE: Greenwich Park (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark – other nearby stations include Greenwich, Maze Hill and Blackheath); WHEN: 6am to at least 6pm (closing times vary depending on the month); COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/Greenwich-Park.aspx

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And so we come to the final instalment in our series on King James I’s London. This week we’re looking at Westminster Abbey’s Lady Chapel where King James I – who was crowned in Westminster Abbey in 1603 – was laid to rest after his death in 1625.

But before we turn to James himself, it’s worth noting that several members of his immediate family are also buried in the abbey’s Lady Chapel (pictured). These include his eldest son, Henry Fredrick, Prince of Wales, who died in 1612 at the age of 18 (and thus opened the way for his younger brother Charles to become King Charles I). He is buried in the south aisle of the magnificent Lady Chapel which had been added at the behest of King Henry VII between 1503 and 1519 and replaced a 13th century chapel.

Three of James’ daughters are also buried in the Lady Chapel – Mary, who died in 1607, aged two, and Sophia, who died in 1606, aged just three days old. Both of them have monuments in the north aisle while their sister Elizabeth, wife of King Fredrick V of Bohemia, who died much later in 1662, is buried near her brother Henry Fitzpatrick.

As we’ve previously mentioned, King James I also outlived his wife, Queen Anne of Denmark, who died of dropsy at Hampton Court Palace on 2nd March, 1619, at the age of 43. She lay in state at Somerset House until her funeral on 13th May and was then buried in the south-eastern area of the Lady Chapel where her gravesite is marked by a modern stone bearing her name. Her wooden funeral effigy is one of a collection which can still be seen in the Abbey’s Museum.

After James himself died on 27th March, 1625, he was laid in the vault beneath King Henry VII’s monument beside Elizabeth of York, Henry’s wife. No monument was erected to mark his passing save for a modern inscription placed nearby (in fact Queen Elizabeth I was the last monarch to be buried with a monument above the site – see below).

It’s also worth noting that in 1612 – nine years into his reign – James arranged for the body of his mother – Mary, Queen of Scots, who was executed in 1587 on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I – to be transferred from its resting place in Peterborough Cathedral to the south aisle of the Lady Chapel where he had an elaborate tomb erected featuring an elegant white marble effigy showing her wearing a coif, ruff and long mantle.

In the north aisle, James had previously erected a marble monument to his predecessor, Queen Elizabeth I and had her body moved from where it had lain in the vault of her grandfather, King Henry VIII, to a place beneath the new monument. Her half-sister, Queen Mary I, is also buried beneath the monument.

That’s the final in our series on King James I’s London – it’s by no means a comprehensive look at significant sites in the early Stuart period and we shall be looking at more from the period down the track, but it’s a good start. Our new special series starts next week. 

WHERE: Westminster Abbey, Westminster (nearest Tube station is Westminster or St James’s Park); WHEN: Open to tourists everyday except Sunday  (times vary so check the website); COST: £16 an adult/£13 concessions/£6 schoolchildren (11-18 years), free for children aged under 11/£38 for a family (two adults, two children); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org

A Jacobean mansion located in Kensington’s Holland Park, Holland House was first built in 1605 for Sir Walter Cope, Chancellor of the Exchequer for King James I. 

Sir Walter apparently entertained the king and his wife, Queen Anne of Denmark, at the property – then named Cope Castle – on numerous occasions at the property and reportedly hosted the king the night after his son, Henry Frederick, the Prince of Wales, died in 1612.

Its name came with a later owner – the ill-fated Henry Rich, Cope’s son-in-law, who was made the 1st Earl of Holland in 1624 and was later executed for his role in supporting the Royalist cause during the Civil War during which the house was occupied by parliamentary troops.

The home was later used by various family members – among luminaries associated with the property are the essayist Joseph Addison who died there in 1719 as well as, in later years, the likes of Lord Byron, Benjamin Disraeli, Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott, all of whom visited the property during the property’s golden age in the 19th century when it was an important social gathering place.

The house was largely destroyed in a bombing raid in September 1940 and passed into ownership of the local authority. A youth hostel is now housed inside the restored east wing of the building while other buildings are used for a restaurant and function centre – all set within the 22 hectare (55 acre) Holland Park. Some of the ruins provide a backdrop for open-air theatre performances and concerts in summer.

WHERE: Holland Park (nearest tube stations are Holland Park, Kensington High Street and Notting Hill); WHEN: 7.30am to 30 minutes before dusk (check signs by entrance); COST: Park entrance is free (house is not open to the public); WEBSITE: www.rbkc.gov.uk/leisureandlibraries/parksandgardens/yourlocalpark/hollandpark.aspx