Kensington Palace Explored

By: Archy Ash

Go diagonally towards the Round Pond, up the slope, along the Broad Walk and left past the sunken garden which was created as recently as 1909. As you go look through the railings at the architecture. The east front to be seen beyond the statue of Queen Victoria at the time of her accession, by her daughter Princess shows the beginnings of Palladianism, with the central three bays projecting forward under a pediment.

The palace was the preferred London home of William and Queen Mary, who disliked the damp atmosphere of Whitehall, they saw it simply as a private retreat, not a palace and its modest aspect is the main source of its appeal today. It was also popular with George II and Queen Caroline, in whose time the gardens were developed. The architecture is restrained, and although Wren was involved he seems to have resisted opportunities for exuberance. The south front has been argued to resemble more closely the work of a Dutch architect, Jacob Roman who had worked for William in Holland.

The Dress Collection is met first on the tour, displayed in a series of rooms on the ground floor. Court dress is an extraordinary notion, consciously behind fashion, deeply hierarchical and arcane, and of staggering expense. On occasions it has been reformed such as when George IV simplified procedures on his accession in 1820, and in the 1920s but for coronations and similar big events, even today the designers and tailors have a field day. And everyone apparently enjoys either wearing or watching it.

The most recent powerful display of the phenomenon was given by Princess Diana, whose clothes we know were part of some wider statement. Dresses from her collection, and the Queens, are often part of the changing exhibitions.

No one had heard of Lady Diana Spencer when she married Prince Charles in 1981, but she soon became inescapably prominent. This occurred inevitably because of her natural good looks and her role as mother of the next heirs to the throne (William was born in 1982 and Harry in 1984). But it was reinforced by her own inconsistent response to the public gaze, partly delight, as her interest in being seen as a leader of fashion confirms, but also partly fear at intrusions into privacy.

The full iconic status of Diana developed only in the 1990s, firs. after her separation from Charles, part of some kind of inner revolution within the royal family whereby several celebrated marriages were dissolved and second after her tragic death in a road accident in Paris in 1997. This was followed by a short-lived but intense outpouring of national grief, during which flowers spread endlessly around the gates of Kensington Palace, where Diana had lived after her divorce.

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