Some of the most enduring legacies of the royals of the ages are their castles and palaces. These monuments to regal rule and sovereign power have traditionally been far more than mere residences and strongholds.
The castles of medieval kings and queens and the palaces of Renaissance monarchs of Europe and around the world were much more than places for the vast royal courts to live and socialize. Many were built as lavish displays of a royal family’s status as the epitome of the social order, or as a representation of their political might, while some were functional yet formidable reminders of an impregnable royal power.
Fortunately, a great many of these historic homes have lasted for centuries, with many royal palaces and castles from medieval times still standing today. Some even open their doors to modern tourists from around the world, giving contemporary visitors a glimpse into the exclusive realms of royal living from centuries past.
Royal Residences – Built To Last
The reason that there are so many ancient royal buildings still standing is that they were built to last. The custom during medieval times was to build royal residences and military forts out of stone, or a combination of stone and timber.
The nature of building practices throughout the heyday of sovereign rule in Europe and the wider world means that these sound and strong structures have in many cases stood the test of time, as well as surviving other perils such as military attacks and natural disasters such as fires, floods and earthquakes.
However, not all great royal palaces survived the toils of the ages. There are some that succumbed to the dangers of medieval living, such as frequent fires and wars, whereas others were lost to the inevitable passage of time, being abandoned and left to fall into ruin, or destroyed by earthquakes or extreme weather.
Here are two of the greatest palaces of history that were legendary royal residences during their time yet sadly no longer exist.
Heidelberg Palace & Castle Ruins, Germany
Nestled in the lush forested hillside of Heidelberg, Germany, are the remains of a once great royal residence.
The original structure dates back to the 14th century, and it was later developed by Ruprecht III, King of Germany, as a palatial home for his vast royal entourage, as well as a fortress to protect his family from the ever-present threat of attack, both from neighboring territories and civil rebellion.
In the following centuries, the site was developed and extended, with luxurious additions and enhancements elevating the old castle compounds and palatial living quarters into one of the most impressive and beautiful structures of the region.
Although Heidelberg Castle was a substantial fortress and large stone-built structure, it would not endure to modern times alongside so many of the great German palaces that we are able to enjoy today.
The castle stood strong for over 200 years before it was partially destroyed by lightning. The damaged building was repaired and rebuilt in the centuries that followed, helping it to achieve its grand status among the great Renaissance castles and palaces of Europe.
Despite surviving further damage and destruction from a number of fires – a common hazard during the Middle Ages – as well as attack from warring factions, Heidelberg Castle was ultimately not destined to last forever and it suffered yet another strike by lightning.
Over time, the royals of Heidelberg moved their families and their treasures away from the castle, and the slow decay of time began to set in, accelerated by the reclamation of the site’s rich resources to be used elsewhere – its stone was used in the construction of a nearby castle.
Today the castle site no longer exists as a royal palace. Yet its historic and formidable facade still remains, and stands proudly as a testament to the legendary German royal palaces of medieval times.
Nonsuch Palace, London, England
While Heidelberg Castle managed to survive to modern times in some form, even if only as a castle ruins site, other medieval structures – even great royal palaces – were not so lucky and have been completely lost to the mists of time since the height of their regal splendor.
One such legendary example is the great palace of Nonsuch that once presided over the burgeoning capital of England, on the boundary of what would become the Greater London borough.
Nonsuch Palace was the brainchild of King Henry VIII, who was keen to usher in a new era to celebrate his reign and evolving sovereign power. The project was spared no expense, as it was to be Henry VIII’s testament to the world of his formidable status and political might.
The great king was not destined to see the completion of the palace, however, and he died almost a decade after the construction first began in 1538. In the tumultuous years that followed, the grand and beautiful Nonsuch Palace changed hands numerous times, falling in and out of ownership by the Crown as result of shifting political landscapes, royal gifts and inheritance allocations.
The name Nonsuch is alleged to be a reference to Henry VIII’s vision for the palace, in that he intended there to be non such palace comparable to its splendor. While this vision may have been brought fleetingly to life, the fate of Nonsuch Palace was also destined to be a rare story among royal palaces.
Unlike many of the great royal palaces that no longer exist, Nonsuch Palace was not lost to war or weather or even to the common hazard of fire – though it no doubt experienced a degree of damage in the decades that it stood during the early Tudor era. The fate of this once magnificent royal palace was a much more humbling demise – being gifted to a royal mistress who had the great structure torn down in order to pay off gambling debts.
While these great royal residences of the Middle Ages may no longer exist in their original glory, or even at all in the case of Nonsuch, their legacies nevertheless endure in the history books, as well as in their renewed life as source material for other great castles, palaces and magnificent structures of the period.