In the seventeenth and eighteenth cenuries kings were at the height of their glory. All over Europe they acquired more and more power, so that in France Louis XIV could announce, with splendid effrontery: “I am the state.” One of the ways they showed their power was in their palaces. Versailles is and always was the most famous example, but Versailles was only one of hundreds of palaces that sprang up like mushrooms all over Europe. It wasn’t only kings and emperors who built them; every tin-pot German prince or Italian grand duke had to have his own version of Versailles, complete with fountains, avenues and interminable vistas in all directions.
The English kings ranked very low in this palace-building league, but not for lack of trying. At various times they had plans on the grand scale drawn up for new palaces in Whitehall, Greenwich, Richmond, Hyde Park, Winchester, Kensington and Hampton Court; but they could never raise the funds to build them. This failure was a direct result of their inability to make themselves all-powerful monarchs on the continental model. To do this they had to control parliament, but parliament refused to be controlled. Charles I tried, and lost his head; James II tried and lost his throne.
—Mark Girouard, Historic Houses of Britain (a delightful out-of-print thrift shop find)