The Thames has been at the centre of English royal life for 1,000 years. Edward the Confessor built Westminster Abbey which was finished around 1065. A palace was built alongside the Abbey on what is now the Houses of Parliament. William the Conqueror, who invaded from Normandy in 1066, established a number of castles along the river including Wallingford, Windsor and The Tower of London. 150 years later, King John was forced to sign Magna Carta at Runnymede, a few miles downstream of Windsor.
During the Tudor period, two important palaces were added. In 1433 the Palace of Placentia was built by the Duke of Gloucester who was then regent for the child king Henry VI. It remained a Royal Palace until 1660 when Charles II decided to demolish it to make way for a new one. It was never built. Instead, Greenwich Hospital, a home for retired sailors from the Royal Navy, was built in its place. This is now the National Maritime Museum. And Hampton Court Palace was built by Cardinal Wolsey during the reign of Henry VIII. He gave it to Henry in 1529 in an effort to stay in his favour having failed to get the Pope to grant an annullment for his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Wolsey died a year later. The Palace was one of Henry’s favourites and still belongs to the Crown.
Since the Stuart and Georgian eras, more palaces were built or acquired including Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, St James’ Palace and Clarence House, although none of these are by the river. These are all occupied by various members of the Royal Family.
Buckingham Palace needs no introduction except to say that it’s less than a mile from the river. St James’ Palace, almost next door to Buckingham Palace, is occupied by Princess Anne. Clarence House, which stands next to St James’ Palace, was completed in 1827 and is the official residence of the Prince of Wales. Kensington Palace, which sits at the western end of Hyde Park and 1.7 miles from the river at Chelsea, is currently the home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as well as the Duke of Kent and Prince Michael of Kent, brothers and first cousins of the Queen. Their father was George, Duke of Kent, who was the younger brother of the Queen’s father, King George VI (whose first name was Albert!)
Walking the Thames Path provides a unique opportunity to see the history of the country through the eyes of these Palaces and their occupants.