Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh visited Greenwich today to reopen the famous clipper ship, Cutty Sark, to the public after years of repairs and restoration. The ship, a popular tourist attraction in Greenwich, has undergone extensive repairs since it was damaged in a fire while undergoing conservation in 2007.
The royal couple have a longstanding interest in the ship. Prince Philip founded the Cutty Sark society in 1951 to manage the restoration of the nineteenth century vessel, and the Queen originally opened the ship as a museum in 1957. Although Prince Philip passed on a number of his charitable patronages to younger members of the royal family when he turned ninety this past year, he remained president of the Cutty Sark Trust to oversee the restoration work to its completion.
Greenwich has been the setting for significant events in royal history for centuries. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, who served as regent for his nephew Henry VI, built the original Greenwich Palace in 1447, naming it Bella Court. After Humphrey’s arrest and imprisonment for treason, Henry VI’s consort, Margaret of Anjou, gained possession of the estate, renaming it the Palace of Placentia. It was one of Henry VIII’s principle residences and the setting of some of the most significant events of his reign including the births of his daughters, the future Mary I and Elizabeth I, and his wedding to his fourth wife, Anna of Cleves. The palace fell into disrepair during the English Civil Wars and was demolished in the reign of Charles II. The grounds became the site of the Royal Naval College. Parts of the surviving Tudor chapel and vestry were incorporated into the residence of the Treasurer of Greenwich Hospital.
In 1616, King James I’s consort, Anna of Denmark, commissioned the Queen’s House at Greenwich, one of the earliest examples of Palladian architecture in England. By this time, Anna and James were living separately with Greenwich serving as one of the Queen’s estates. Anna undertook extensive independent cultural and architectural patronage, commissioning Inigo Jones to design her new residence in the style of an Italian Renaissance villa.
Only the first floor of the Queen’s House was complete when Anna died in 1619. Construction resumed when the estate became part of the dower lands of Charles I’s consort Henrietta Maria in 1632. Like her mother-in-law, Henrietta Maria was a prolific cultural patron. She invited famous artists such as Orazio Gentileschi and his daughter Artemesia to work on the interiors and the Queen’s house was finally completed in 1638.
A third royal residence at Greenwich was the Ranger’s House, which served a Grace and Favour residence for three members of the royal family in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. King George III’s unmarried niece, Princess Sophia Matilda was given the position of Ranger of Greenwich park and lived in the Ranger’s House from 1814 until her death in 1844. Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, moved into the house in 1862, at the age of twelve, with his tutor, to study for entrance to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. He used the house until he was twenty-two, during his studies at Woolwich and his leaves from military service in Canada. The Duke eventually served as Governor General of Canada from 1910 to 1916. The Ranger’s House is now a museum, housing the Wernher Collection of Fine Art.
The reopening of the Cutty Sark today by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip continues the long tradition of royal visits to Greenwich. In honour of the Diamond Jubilee, the Queen has designated Greenwich a royal borough, an appropriate status for a place that has been the setting of centuries of royal history.