The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 5 Greenwich Park

Tudor Royal Palace of Placentia and Wren Observatory

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There was probably some royal residence at Greenwich from the time of Edward I., but it was not until it came to Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, that the Palace much used in Tudor times was built. This building faced the Thames, and went by the name of "Placentia" or "Plaisance," and round it there was a garden. The royal licence, which gave the Duke leave to enclose a portion of the heath, provided that he might also build "Towers of stone and lime." The tower stood on the hill now crowned by the Observatory and was pulled down when Charles II. had the Observatory erected from designs by Wren in 1675. The plan included a well 100 feet deep, at the bottom of which the astronomer Flamsteed could lie and observe the heavens. All through the earlier history of the Park this tower must have been a conspicuous object. During Tudor times Greenwich was much lived in by the Sovereign, and many a gay pageant enlivened the Park. Jousts and tournaments, Christmas games and May Day frolics, were of yearly recurrence in the early days of Henry VIII. The Court moved there regularly to "bring in the May." A picturesque account is given of one of these merry-makings by the Venetian Ambassador and his Secretary. The Ambassador was charmed with the King. "Not Only," he writes, is he "very expert in arms and of great valour, and most excellent in personal endowment, but is likewise so gifted and adorned with mental accomplishments of every sort." He joined in the May Day proceedings, which must indeed have presented a brilliant spectacle, with the oaks and hawthorn, and all the wild beauty of Greenwich Park, as a background. Katharine of Aragon, "most excellently attired and very richly, and with her twenty-five damsels mounted on white palfreys, with housings of the same fashion most beautifully embroidered in gold," and followed by "a number of footmen," rode out into the wood, where "they found the King with his guard, all clad in a livery of green with bowers [boughs] in their hands, and about 100 noblemen on horseback, all gorgeously arrayed." "In this wood were certain bowers filled purposely with singing birds, which carrolled most sweetly." Music played, and a banquet under the trees followed, then the procession with the King and Queen together returned to the Palace. The crowds flocking round them the Venetian estimated "to exceed... 25,000 persons."