The house was commissioned by Anne of Denmark, the wife of James I, in 1616. It is said that James gave Anne the house in the form of an apology for having sworn at Anne when she had accidentally shot one of his beloved hunting dogs two years earlier.
The house was originally designed as a country place, in a very rural Greenwich at the time, far from the hustle and bustle of London town. Anne assigned the design of the house to Inigo Jones, who had just returned from Italy. The result was one of the very first truly classical buildings built in England, in the style of a Renaissance villa. And it has been known, ever since, as the Queen’s House.
The proportions of the building are quintessentially classical. For example, the size of the Great Hall with its iconic Italian and Belgian marble floor, is a perfect 40 foot cube. Work was temporarily halted with Anne’s untimely death a few years later.
It was left to Charles I, son of James, to oversee the completion of the house in 1638 for his Queen Henrietta Maria. Paintings for the ceilings by Gentileschi were an ideal embellishment, but were later removed to Marlborough House in London, where they remain. However, important features remain such as the spiral stairway, which was the first unsupported stairway of its type to be built in England.
This is the famous “Tulip Stairs” – although upon closer inspection, the flowers are meant to be fleurs-de-lys, by way of a compliment to Henrietta and her French Bourbon family. In 1661, Charles II added the east and west bridge rooms, creating a matched set of apartments on the “King’s side” as well as the “Queen’s side”.
The house was originally built with the Greenwich to Woolwich road running through it, now identified by the cobble stone courtyard. The road was finally moved towards the end of the 1600’s.
Civil War in England saw Henrietta, a Catholic, forced into exile in France. Charles was beheaded.
The House lost many of its paintings and sculptures during a period of neglect when it became an official government residence. It was used as part of the Royal Hospital School beginning in 1806 and lasting until 1933, when the building became part of the National Maritime Museum, opened in 1937.