Kensington Palace might not be quite as famous as Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth II’s primary residence and the longstanding center of the British monarchy, but its history is every bit as important—and intriguing. From William and Mary’s original occupancy in 1689 to William and Kate’s more recent one, the opulent estate has teemed with royals of every station (and possibly even a few ghosts) for more than three centuries. Read on to find out 12 fascinating facts about the palace that Edward VIII once called the “aunt heap.”
1. King William III and Queen Mary II relocated to Kensington Palace because of William’s asthma.
In 1689, King William III and Queen Mary II kicked off their coregency at Whitehall Palace, the longstanding home of the crown along the Thames River in central London. But the dirty, damp air aggravated William’s asthma, so the couple immediately began searching for a more suburban location. They found it in Nottingham House, a modest villa just a couple of miles from the city, and commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to expand the estate. The rulers moved in shortly before Christmas that same year, and the newly-christened Kensington Palace soon became the heart of the monarchy.
2. Kensington Palace was the location of Queen Anne’s final argument with childhood friend Sarah Churchill.
Queen Anne, the eccentric, gout-ridden ruler played by Oscar-winner Olivia Colman in 2018’s The Favourite, split her time between Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace, overseeing renovations in both places. It was at Kensington that she financed the redecoration of Lady Abigail Masham’s apartments, an extravagant show of favoritism that further deteriorated the Queen's relationship with close childhood friend Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough. Kensington was also the setting for their final, friendship-ending argument in 1711, after which Anne stripped Sarah and her husband of their rankings and banished them from court.
3. Queen Victoria was born and raised in Kensington Palace.
In June 1837, less than a month after her 18th birthday, Princess Victoria was informed that her uncle, King William IV, had died, and she would soon be crowned queen. She had lived at Kensington Palace for her whole life, and many expected her to rule from there or relocate to St. James’s Palace, her uncle’s primary residence. Instead, she set up shop in Buckingham Palace, which has been the official home of Britain’s sovereign ever since.
4. The Duke of Windsor nicknamed Kensington Palace the “Aunt Heap.”
Starting with Queen Victoria’s daughters Beatrice and Louise, Kensington Palace became the go-to place for monarchs to house various—often peripheral—members of the royal family. This tradition continued through the early 20th century, prompting the Duke of Windsor (Queen Elizabeth II’s throne-abdicating uncle Edward) to dub it the “aunt heap.”
5. Kensington Palace is said to be haunted.
Unsurprisingly, the rumors of ghosts roaming the halls of Kensington Palace are largely unsubstantiated. That said, there are quite a few of them: King George II supposedly looms over the King’s Gallery uttering his alleged last words, “Why won’t they come?” and Princess Margaret’s housekeeper saw an unknown “woman in Regency dress” in the doorway of the drawing room. Caroline of Brunswick, Caroline of Ansbach, and Princess Sophia have all been seen hanging around the palace, too—and the nursery in William and Kate’s wing of the estate is reportedly a hotbed for paranormal activity.
6. J.M. Barrie installed a statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens without permission.
Among J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan works was Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, a 1906 novel in which Peter leaves his London home and takes up residence in Kensington Gardens, cavorting with fairies and sailing around in a bird’s nest. In 1912, Barrie commissioned Sir George Frampton to create a bronze statue of Peter and secretly installed it in the gardens without asking permission. His newspaper announcement about the statue explained that it was meant to be a surprise “May-day gift” for children.
7. Kensington Palace was damaged during a World War II bombing.
Between 1940 and 1941, the Luftwaffe—Germany’s air force—targeted London with a relentless, catastrophic series of bombings that came to be known as the Blitz (the German word for lightning). Kensington Palace didn’t emerge totally unscathed: Bombs damaged the northern side of the palace and the queen’s drawing room.
8. The Kensington Palace grounds were flooded with around 60 million flowers after Princess Diana’s death.
After their marriage in 1981, Princess Diana and Prince Charles moved into Apartment 8 at Kensington Palace and eventually raised their sons, William and Harry, there. Following Diana’s fatal car crash in 1997, mourners covered the palace grounds with an estimated 60 million flowers, as well as stuffed animals, flags, photos, and notes. Some bouquets were later used to compost the surrounding gardens, while others were donated to hospitals and nursing homes.
9. Nicky Hilton was married in Kensington Palace’s Orangery.
Queen Anne’s largest contribution to Kensington Palace was the construction of the Orangery, an expansive greenhouse built in 1704 with enough room for her to house exotic plants and also host lavish summer parties. It’s used for similarly extravagant events today—Nicky Hilton got married there in 2015.
10. Prince William and Kate Middleton live at Kensington Palace with their family—and several other royals.
William and Kate live in Kensington Palace’s expansive 20-room Apartment 1A with their three children, but they’re not the only royals currently posted up in various corners of the estate. Princess Eugenie and her husband, Jack Brooksbank, live in Ivy Cottage; the Queen’s cousin Prince Michael of Kent and his wife, Marie Christine von Reibnitz, occupy Apartment 10; and Michael’s older brother, the Duke of Kent, lives with his wife in Wren House.
11. Kensington Palace is staging its first theater production in 2020.
Throughout February and March of this year, acclaimed theater group Les Enfants Terribles is performing an immersive show called “United Queendom,” which explores the relationship between King George II’s wife, Queen Caroline, and his mistress, Henrietta Howard, in 1734. It’s Kensington Palace’s very first theatrical event to date, and it promises “political intrigue, court games, high drama, scandalous gossip, and smiling through gritted teeth.”
12. The design of Billy Porter’s 2020 Oscars gown was inspired by Kensington Palace.
Inspired by a tour of Kensington Palace, Billy Porter’s stylist, Sam Ratelle, enlisted British fashion designer Giles Deacon—perhaps best known for designing Pippa Middleton’s wedding dress—to craft an Oscar gown for Porter using design elements from the royal estate. The final product featured a high-necked, gold-leaf bodice and a full, billowing skirt bearing images of Roman statues from Kensington’s Cupola Room.