People assume Greenwich Hospital was built all at the same time, but one of the four main courts is much older than the other three.
The Palace of Placentia was enjoyed by monarchs up to James I and VI. While he was building The Queen’s House for his wife, Anne of Denmark (who died before it was finished) Placentia looked run-down. James, found the maritime air of Greenwich too damp for his old bones, so he moved to Whitehall. Placentia sat and rotted.
Henrietta Maria found Greenwich to her taste, but stayed in the Queen’s House.
Cromwell sold off everything he could during the Commonwealth. When Charles II came to see what was left in 1661, it was so vandalized and neglected the rusty old gates had to be broken open for him.
Henrietta Maria wanted the Queen’s House finished – even if she was now a sad Miss Haversham-like dowager attended by 24 gentlemen in black velvet.
Charles II just wanted new palaces. Work began on 4 March, 1664. Samuel Pepys attended, “I observed the laying of a very great house for the King,” he wrote, adding “which will cost a great deal of money.”
Pepys was right. John Webb, the architect, had a plan to build it as a grand, three-sided affair, but everyone knew it was going to be difficult to manage even one side.
Like many of Charles II’s Big Ideas, the King’s House ran into financial difficulties. It was a building site for years. When Pepys visited on 24 August 1665 he wanted rooms in the palace, but had to live elsewhere, as it was not finished.
Three years and £26,433 later it wasn’t finished. Charles started many projects, flitting one to the next. The Observatory was a case in point.
By 1669, Pepys was used to there being nowhere for him to stay when he came to Greenwich. He wrote that it “goes on slow, but is very pretty.”
The East Wing of the King’s House was finally done in 1669. But by this point the world had moved on. [I THINK THIS SHOULD BE 1689]
William and Mary were on the throne. Mary wanted to turn Greenwich park into a seaman’s hospital, and commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to design it. He came up with a plan that would flatten both the Queen’s and King’s houses and create a grid-affair of enormous buildings. Mary wanted to keep the King’s house and the view from her own house.
Wren swallowed his pride, molding his ideas and ego to fit what was already there.
The King's House is heavily classical – pediments, columns, and with no doubt about its instigator – "Carolus II Rex" is inscribed in giant letters on the river-side. It’s definitely best seen in blazing sunshine or by night, when it's floodlit.
Inside is the Admiral’s House and Trinity College of Music. The interior courtyard, still quaintly cobbled, feels more out-of-another-era than the rest of the Hospital.