I had been carried off by Thomas More, who had come to pay me a visit on an estate of Mountjoy’s (the house of Lord Mountjoy near Greenwich) where I was staying, to take a walk by way of diversion as far as the nearest town (Eltham). For there all the royal children were being educated, Arthur alone excepted, the eldest son. When we came to the hall, all the retinue was assembled; not only that of the palace, but Mountjoy’s as well. In the midst stood Henry, aged nine, already with certain royal demeanour; I mean a dignity of mind combined with a remarkable courtesy…. More with his companion Arnold saluted Henry (the present King of England) and presented to him something in writing. I, who was expecting nothing of the sort, had nothing to offer; but I promised that somehow, at some other time, I would show my duty towards him. At the time I was slightly indignant with More for having given me no warning, especially because the boy, during dinner, sent me a note inviting something from my pen. I went home, and though the Muses, from whom I had lived apart so long, were unwilling, I finished a poem in three days.
– Erasmus, on meeting Prince Henry at Eltham Palace.
Eltham Palace was given to King Edward II way back in 1305 by Anthony Bek, then the Bishop of Durham. The palace served as the royal residence from the 14th century right up until the 16th century. One account suggests that King Edward III was inspired by an incident which occurred here to form the Order of the Garter. As the monarchy moved on, the palace became the favourite place of Henry IV and ended up hosting the only Byzantine emperor ever to visit England, Manuel II Palaiologos.
The emperor’s visit lasted from December 1400 to January 1401, with a joust hosted in his honour. A jousting tilt yard still exists at the palace to this day. The Great Hall at the palace was built by Edward IV in the 1470s. Henry VIII also grew up here, although he was known as Prince Henry at the time.
Over the years, Eltham Palace was often used by Tudor courts for their Christmas celebrations. However, the palace began to be used less often following the grand rebuilding of Greenwich Palace, which could be more easily accessed. Soon, the palace was most often used for its hunting grounds, due to their abundance of deer. These grounds included the Great Park (596 acres), the Middle Park (333 acres) and the Home Park (336 acres).
The palace was no longer used by the royal family by the 1630s, so a suite of rooms was given to Sir Anthony van Dyck to by used as a country retreat.