See the staircase for yourself in this film.
Paperback cover (Faber and Faber, 1 May 2010)
UK cover (Faber and Faber, 6 May 2010)
US cover (Bloomsbury USA, 17 August 2010)
The Secret History of Kensington Palace
'Extraordinary characters ... brilliantly described, brought me to tears ... a compelling book'. The Daily Express
'Worsley's style is wonderfully readable and her talent for empathy enormous ... haunts one's imagination'. The Sunday Telegraph
'A sparking piece of popular history ... stunning'. The Washington Times
'Richly informative and entertaining'. The Boston Globe
'Reveals the complexity, anxiety and pathos behind the façade of those caught up in the golden circle of the Court'. The Telegraph, Books of the Year 2010
Courtiers, The Secret History of Kensington Palace is out in paperback now. Click here to get your copy.
I’ve always been intrigued by the King’s Grand Staircase at Kensington Palace, painted by William Kent in the 1720s with the portraits of no less than forty-five servants working in the royal household. These range from Peter the Wild Boy, an autistic child kept at court as a pet, Mohammed and Mustapha, the king’s Turkish valets, the bumptious painter himself, William Kent, his mistress the actress Elizabeth Butler, and the doctor and joker Dr Arbuthnot.
I had the idea to explore the Georgian court and royal family as it must have been seen through the eyes of the courtiers and servants, and I selected my favourite court characters to act as guides: a Maid of Honour who is no longer a maid, a Bedchamber Woman in more than one sense, a Vice Chamberlain with many vices, a penniless poet, a drunken equerry, an aging mistress or three, as well as the ridiculous king, the passionate prince, and the clever queen.
THANKS so much for all the suggestions when we were holding the ‘best subtitle’ vote! My favourites were from Emma in Seattle, who suggested ‘By George, By Night’ or ‘Idylls and Idiots’. Sadly my cruel editor vetoed both of them.
So now ... who WERE the courtiers? Let me introduce you ...
Mohammed, Keeper of the King's Closet. This Turk was George I's most intimate servant, to the extent of dressing him in the morning and treating the king's haemorrhoids. Naturally, jealous noblemen said he must therefore be the king's sexually deviant plaything.
Peter the Wild Boy. An autistic child found living feral in the woods near Hanover, he was brought to court as a royal pet. Dr Arbuthnot, the satirist (on the left, with the walking stick), looked after Peter and tried to teach him to speak.
Mrs Tempest, Queen Caroline's milliner. We know Mrs Tempest is in the picture, but we're not sure what her face looked like. To judge from her hyper-fashionable black hood, Mrs Tempest is the lady on the right here.
William Kent. Painter to the stars, the bumptious William Kent was young, cheap and pushy. His many friends described him as being 'very hot and very fat', and he eventually died of a 'life of high feeding and much inaction'. That's his mistress, the actress Elizabeth Butler, whispering in his ear.
Mustapha (with beard). Another of the king's confidential valets, Mustapha was captured in battled against the Ottoman Empire and brought back to Hanover where he converted to Christianity and entered royal service. He came over to London when George I became king of Great Britain, completing the most extraordinary journey.
Robert and Franciscus, two of the assistants who helped Kent in designing the painting the fabulous King's Grand Staircase at Kensington Palace, from which these pictures are taken.
A mysterious lady. The staircase still holds some secrets. We don't know the identity of this lady, nor why she is signalling 'I do not love you' in the secret language of the fan.
© 2013 Lucy Worsley