Eltham Palace is a large house in Eltham, within the Royal Borough of Greenwich, South East London, England. It is an unoccupied royal residence and owned by the Crown Estate. According to one account the incident which inspired Edward III’s foundation of the Order of the Garter took place here.
As the favourite palace of Henry IV it played host to Manuel II Palaiologos, the only Byzantine emperor ever to visit England, from December 1400 to January 1401, with a joust being given in his honour. In 1933, Stephen Courtauld and his wife Virginia Courtauld acquired the lease of the palace site and restored the Great Hall (adding a minstrels’ gallery to it) while building an elaborate home, internally in the Art Deco style.
The dramatic Entrance Hall was created by the Swedish designer Rolf Engströmer. Light floods in from a spectacular glazed dome, highlighting blackbean veneer and figurative marquetry.
Henry VIII was the last monarch to spend substantial amounts of money or time at Eltham and in the 16th century the Palace was eclipsed by Greenwich Palace and declined rapidly. In the mid 17th century, the owner, Sir John Shaw, built Eltham Lodge in the Great Park and lived there.
For the next 200 years Eltham Palace was used as a farm and the buildings were tenanted. In the early 19th century a villa was built within the moat walls and gardens and kitchen gardens laid out in the west and south moats.
A campaign to save the Great Hall from demolition resulted in its restoration in 1828 but it was still used as a barn. Later in the 19th century Eltham Palace became a gentleman’s residence, and glasshouses and gardens were laid out in the west moat.
By the early 19th century the parkland had been reduced to two small areas of 21 hectares and 29 hectares, the rest had reverted to arable or pastureland. King Edward III spent most of his childhood and youth at Eltham, and Henry IV spent some of his childhood there and 10 out of the 13 Christmases of his reign at Eltham. Henry IV also played host to the Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Palaiologos, at the palace in December 1400 and January 1401, giving a joust in honour of his guest.
When Henry VIII became king, Eltham was still used as a royal palace because it was one of only six palaces which were large enough to house and feed a court of over 800 people. The present house now boasts a dining room with fashionable pink leather upholstered chairs and silver and black doors, which are decorated with pictures of animals and birds.
Other attractions include the Courtauld’s home movie, 19 acres of gardens, a sunken rose garden and the remaining medieval bridge. It was not only convenient for monarchs who wished to travel to and from France, but also a refreshing distance from London which, at the time, was rife with disease and plague. Oh, and it had a rather lovely view.