Georgian London was a huge hotbed of social change, and right at the heart of it sat King George II and Queen Caroline’s fashionable court at Kensington Palace.
Through painstaking preparation, with research into every detail from interior decoration to music and even underwear in the 18th century, Historic Royal Palaces has brought the incredible stories of ‘The Glorious Georges’ to life.
Your tour of the ‘Glorious Georges’ exhibition starts on the King’s Staircase. Decorated with paintings by William Kent, it shows the key characters of the first Georgian court, many with their own strange stories to tell, including ‘Peter the wild boy’ – a child who had been found living in the woods in Germany.
One of the many spaces that have been restored to their Georgian grandeur is the stunning Cupola Room, where live chamber music filled the air, played by musicians on an ornate clockwork centrepiece, while lords and ladies danced the night away.
The highly cultivated and intelligent Queen Caroline brought together great thinkers, artists, poets and society gossips at the palace, where she hosted glittering balls and entertainments with her husband. For the ladies of the court it was an opportunity to show off and to outshine each other in elaborate gold and silver dresses.
King George II was often away in Germany and Caroline was regarded as a capable regent in his absence. At Kensington Palace you can see an array of items that reflect life in her palace, including this handwritten menu book.
The court was the place to see and be seen in the latest expensive designs. Take a good look at the extravagant court dresses close up, like the magnificent Rockingham Mantua. This white silk dress covered with sparkling silver thread and silver lace is thought to have been worn by the prime minister’s wife, Mary, Marchioness of Rockingham, at court occasions.
In the King’s Gallery the exhibition ends on a sad note. When his beloved Queen Caroline died in 1737, King George II went into mourning and shut up Kensington Palace, marking the end of a golden era in Georgian London’s highest society.
The glamorous lifestyle and passions of King George II and his wife Queen Caroline reflect 18th-century London at its most vibrant. Establishing lavish new trends in design and architecture at Kensington Palace and entertaining the greatest artists, thinkers and socialites at court, the couple presided over a golden era until Caroline’s death in 1737.
From grand balls to artistic salons, Kensington Palace welcomed the great and the good, the wealthy and the fashionable. All the ladies wore a mantua, an elaborate dress over whalebone hoops – some so wide that the courtiers had to walk sideways through doors to make their grand entrances. They were, however, the perfect display of wealth. One of the highlights on display for ‘The Glorious Georges’ is the stunning Rockingham Mantua. Made of French silk and beautifully decorated in stripes and flower garlands of silver threads and silver lace, it’s thought to have been owned by Lady Rockingham, the prime minister’s wife, for her court appearances.