Palaces provided sanctuary not just for monarchs such as the young Henry VIII but also travelling medieval bishops and - in the amazing Art Deco extravaganza they created - 1930s millionaires. Take a sneak peek and discover the stories behind some of our grandest palaces.
Though today palaces are usually associated with monarchs, 'palace' is also the name used for the residences of bishops. Most of those we care for belonged to rich bishops who wielded tremendous power and influence in medieval England. Richest of all were the bishops of Winchester, whose principal palace, Wolvesey Castle, stands beside their cathedral at Winchester. But like all medieval bishops, they also owned a London 'town house' for their frequent visits to royal court or parliament. Winchester Palace in Southwark, with its beautiful rose window, once also included a prison, the original 'clink'.
Often moving around the 'dioceses' they ruled, medieval bishops needed 'stopover palaces' to lodge in on their administrative travels. These included the bishops of Winchester's magnificent Bishop's Waltham Palace whilst the bishops of Lincoln, whose vast diocese once stretched from the Humber to the Thames, numbered among their ten 'lesser palaces' Lyddington Bede House, later converted into an almshouse for poor 'bedesmen'. Their main base, Lincoln Medieval Bishops' Palace, is beautifully sited in the shadow of Lincoln cathedral, with fine views over the city and beyond. Partly built by Bishop St. Hugh of Lincoln, it is the only one of our properties with a working vineyard.
Bishops' palaces were also used as free luxury hotels by travelling monarchs. Mary Tudor and Philip of Spain, for instance, held their wedding breakfast at Wolvesey Castle, and Henry VIII stayed at Lincoln's Medieval Palace with his flighty and ill-fated young wife Catherine Howard.
Henry had spent much of his youth at Eltham Palace, the most strikingly unusual of our palaces. It became his royal country retreat conveniently close to the great Palace of Westminster, of which the intriguing little Jewel Tower is the only surviving remnant. Its magnificent hammer-beam roofed great hall was built for Edward IV in the 1470s. Over four centuries later, the millionaire Courtauld family added a truly palatial 1930s mansion in a mix of Art Deco and 'ocean liner' styles. Recently re-opened with more rooms to enjoy, including a luxury Second World War bomb shelter and Virginia Courtauld's walk-in wardrobe, Eltham Palace is now one of our most astonishing and unmissable attractions.
What treasures will you discover during a visit to one of our enchanting Palaces?