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Greenwich Palace (Site of)

Greenwich, London

Wyndegarde’s View of Greenwich Palace (Note: Duke Humphrey’s Tower is in the background, upon the hill)

The floor plan for the Palce of Placentia laid out over a modern day satellite image of the area. (Note: ‘X’ marks the approximate position of the Tiltyard Towers). Image curtesy of Michael Glaeser.

Greenwich Palace was originally known as ‘The Palace of Placentia’. It was built on the South Bank of the Thames, downstream from the City of London by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester in 1447. The palace was one of five so called ‘Great Houses’ owned by Henry VIII, and until the fall of Anne Boleyn, was his favoured residence. The court kept Christmas there most years and also celebrated May Day – and the celebrated annual May Day joust – within its precinct. Originally, surrounded by parkland and overlooked by Duke Humphrey’s Tower (now the Royal Observatory), the environs are much changed. Although, some of the extensive hunting forest and parkland remains as Greenwich Park to the south, across the river the site of the former palace now looks upon Canary Wharf, a major financial centre within the City. The Palace was demolished in the seventeenth century and replaced by Greenwich Hospital. This subsequently became the Old Royal Naval College in the late seventeenth century. It is now a music and arts college.

Model of the Palace as it looked in Anne’s day.

Which key events feature Greenwich Palace in the book?

View the floor plans of Greenwich Palace to see where events take place in the book.

Greenwich Floor Plan 1

Greenwich Floor Plan 2

Volume I:

Winter, 1527:

  • Henry is invested with the Order of St Michel as part of a peace treaty organised by Cardinal Wolsey with France. Anne balks at being sidelined whilst the King keeps Katherine at his side. Angry, Anne escapes her duties attending upon the queen taking Nan with her. In the privy gardens, Anne confesses to her friend for the first time that it is the King’s intention to marry her and make her queen. Shortly after, George Boleyn comes to find his sister with a request from the King for her presence. Indignantly, she rejects the King’s pleas, furious that she is still being kept as ‘the other woman’. Instead, she persuades her brother to take off with her on a ride through Greenwich Park, catching a glimpse of the reckless, carefree nature of their relationship.


  • Later that same day, a lavish banquet is thrown in the Banqueting House at Greenwich Palace in honour of Anne de Montmorency, the Grand Master of France who stands proxy for the Francis I. Anne and Henry take part in the masque, afterwards the King commanding Anne to visit him in his Privy Chambers once the celebrations are through. In the flicker of candlelight and in warm embraces, Henry promises Anne her own household and she is finally put upon the path of being publically recognised by the King. However, when great gossip breaks out at court, Anne is forced to retreat to Hever for the winter.

Anne de Montmorency, Grand Maister of France, 1530.

Summer, 1528:

  • Anne lends her copy of ‘The Obedience of a Christian Man’ to Nan Gainsford, knowing that it will fall into Wolsey’s hands. A few days later, whilst in the midst of an archery competition in the Great Garden at Greenwich, Nan arrives in a state of despair, saying that the book had been taken by the Dean of the Chapel Royal from her lover, George Zouch. Anne acts decisively and seeks out the King. It is a turning point for the Catholic Church in England as Anne set before Henry for the first time, the idea that he could be head of a Church in England as God’s anointed.

View of Greenwich palace. Note the two, large twin towers to left of centre. These are the Tiltyard Towers where Anne took refuge during an outbreak of measles in May, 1528.
  • Anne’s takes refuge in the Tiltyard Towers as measles breaks out at the palace. During one evening as she dines with the King, Dr. Edward Foxe arrives back from Orvieto, where both he and Stephen Gardiner have been petitioning the Pope for a decretal commission, allowing the divorce case against Katherine to be heard and judged in England. There are great celebrations of joy as the mission appears to have been successful.
  • Anne is at Greenwich with Henry when the Sweat breaks out in London. Henry flees, leaving Anne behind. Elizabeth Boleyn takes charge, urging all Anne’s friends to retreat to their country estates. Anne and her mother wait for the return of Sir Thomas, who has been on business. Meanwhile, Anne’s beloved maid, Eliza dies of the Sweat and the tragic news that George, who has gone to attend on the King has fallen ill, reaches Greenwich. We find Anne livid with Henry for deserting her, whilst Henry bombards her with Letters of love and concern. When a messenger arrives, Anne fails to notice signs of his illness but as she and her parents retreat to Hever, Anne too falls ill and is sucked back into the 21st century, leaving all that she has come to love, behind her.

The real events in history:

  • On the 1st November, Henry was invested with the Order of St. Michel as part of the peace treaty organised with France.
  • There was as service of thanksgiving in the Church of the Observant Friars in the morning and I am assuming that as Anne was at court, she was present in the service of the Queen, although Anne’s exact movements are not known.
  • A great banquet was held in the Banqueting House to celebrate the treaty with France; Anne de Montmorency did stand as proxy for the King of France, Francis I.
  • Anne did retreat to Hever for the entire winter of 1527/8 – it is supposed that she did so to keep Henry at arms length; yet we do not know the circumstances around this prolonged absence.
  • Anne did lend for copy of ‘The Obedience of a Christian Man’ to Nan Gainsford. It was in turn taken by her ‘lover’ George Zouche who was found reading it by the Dean of the Chapel Royal. Wolsey must have been delighted to have such a banned text of Anne’s fall into his hands, but once again Anne outwitted him, turning it to her advantage. She pre-empted Wolsey’s strike by reaching the King first and urging him to consider the words within, for they would give him what he wanted - a divorce, through providing a sound theological argument for the King being the Supreme head of the Church in England.
  • There was an outbreak of what was probably measles at the palace at the time and Anne was relocated to protect her to the more distant Tiltyard Towers with her mother, Elizabeth.
  • Anne did receive Dr Edward Foxe on 6th May in her apartments, although Henry seems to have sent him there first and joined Anne later to celebrate. After the couple had received the news, henry commanded Dr Foxe to go immediately to Durham House for an audience with Cardinal Wolsey. Wolsey later found that in fact the emissaries had been duped, and that there was a loop-hole in the decretal commission which kept the power to grant the divorce firmly in the Pope’s hands.
  • The Sweat did break out in London on 15th June, 1528. The French ambassador reports how one of Mistress Anne’s chamberers had been taken ill, causing Henry to flee, and leaving Anne behind. We do not know if Anne agreed to this, or her reaction to Henry's departure. George did follow the King and fell ill with the Sweat at Waltham Abbey but subsequently recovered. Anne retreated to Hever. Sometime, probably in mid –late July Anne and her father fell ill – both, of course, also recovered.

Where to go / what to see / where to stand:

  • If you arrive on a Thames cruiser or ferry, once disembarked,  walk straight ahead, under a tree-lined pathway; remember that you are walking in the old Privy Garden of Greenwich Palace. In the novel, it is here that Anne shares with her friend Nan that the King intends to marry her and divorce Katherine.

Imagine yourself leaving through the southern gateway on horseback and riding with Anne and George up toward Duke Humphrey’s Tower at the summit of the hill


  • Walk up to Greenwich Observatory. Stand at the top of the hill there, close to where Duke Humphrey’s Tower once stood; you will be standing where Anne and George rested their horses, having galloped up Castle Hill form the palace. Imagine the old red-bricked palace sprawling out beneath you, where the Old Naval College now stands. You are looking down at one of Henry’s most magnificent of residences.


  • Stand on the Baroque style, covered walkway at the southern eastern end of the old Royal Naval College buildings. Looking back across the open ground toward the Thames from this spot, imagine the great Disguising and Banqueting Houses, rising up adjacent to the Tiltyard Towers. A 250 ft long gallery connected them with the main palace complex (roughly on the site of the buildings in the distance). The white building on the right of the picture roughly marks thewetern edge of the tiltyard which stretches east (to the right) from that point.


  • Step out into the middle of the green and imagine yourself shooting at the butt with Anne and her comrades as Nan Gainsford comes running from the palace to tell her mistress that her banned book, ‘The Obedience of a Christian Man’ has been seized by Wolsey.

Imagine the great, red-brick palace of Placentia, sprawling beneath you form atop of your horse.

This photo looks north-west over where the Tiltyard Towers and Disguising and Banqueting houses once stood (in the centre of the green).


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