Flights of Georgian Fancy

Lucy Worsley reveals the strange stories of the cast of characters on the King’s Grand Staircase at Kensington Palace, painted by William Kent for George I in the 1720s.

The staircase at Kensington Palace

If you visit Kensington Palace, your ascent to the second-floor state apartments will be up the King’s Grand Staircase. You will find that the walls of this magnificent space are crowded with painted people: laughing, flirting, balancing dangerously on the balustrade, playing music, toying with their fans … and watching you as you climb.

These paintings were completed in 1726 by the artist William Kent (c. 1685-1748) as part of George I’s grand and very necessary refurbishment of a palace built rather shoddily for William and Mary in the late 17th century. When I first became a curator at Historic Royal Palaces, my colleagues the room stewards used to tell me all sorts of stories about the identities of the sitters: that one lady was a mistress of George I; that another was a lover of George II. Intrigued but slightly sceptical, I decided one day to take a proper look at the evidence for who was who.

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