Greenwich Park has always been strategically important because it is on the only hill overlooking the Thames on the eastern approach to London.
The area has been settled by people for thousands of years. Early stone tools have been found in the park at Croom's Hill. There are the remains of important Roman buildings near Maze Hill Gate. The Danes occupied Greenwich several times in the early 11th century and raised protective earthworks in what is now the park. After the Norman conquest, the area became a large manor.
In 1427, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester inherited the land. He was the brother of King Henry V and later became Regent and protector to the young King Henry VI. Humphrey enclosed the Park in 1433 and built a tower on the site of what is now the Greenwich Observatory. When he died in 1447, Margaret of Anjou, the wife of King Henry VI, seized the estate and it became known as the Manor of Plesaunce or Placentia.
Greenwich Park was popular with the Tudors. King Henry VII rebuilt the manor house to make the Palace of Placentia - or Greenwich Palace. King Henry VIII was born and spent much of his time there. He married two of his wives at the palace and this is where his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, were born and his son Edward died.
In the 17th century, the Stuarts transformed the park. King James I replaced the fence around the park with a 12ft high brick wall, much of which still exists. He gave the park and palace to his wife, Anne - allegedly as an apology for swearing at her in public when she accidentally shot one of his favourite dogs. In 1616, Anne commissioned Inigo Jones to build a new palladian-style palace (the first in Britain) but she died three years later before it was finished. The building - known as the Queen's House - was finally completed in 1635 after King Charles l gave Greenwich to his wife, Henrietta-Maria.
In the 1660s, King Charles lI demolished the remains of the Tudor palace and buried the foundations. He commissioned a new palace to be built on the site. It was not finished until much later because the King ran out of money. But he did remodel the park to a formal design inspired by André Le Notre, gardener to Louis XIV of France.
A series of grass terraces were cut into the slope. They were known as the Great Steps and were lined with hawthorn hedges. The terraces are almost invisible but you can still see evidence of hawthorn. The scheme included a formal avenue of chestnut trees - now called Blackheath Avenue - and a large semicircle of chestnuts inside Blackheath Gate, known as The Rounds. Small woodlands were also planted in The Wilderness and Ranger's Field. Some of the trees from this time survive and work is underway to restore many of the avenues.
King Charles also supported scientific research in Greenwich. He commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to build the Royal Observatory on the site of Duke Humphrey's medieval watchtower. It was called Flamsteed House after the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed.
The last monarch to use Greenwich was King James II. After that royal interest faded. James's daughter, Mary, donated the palace site as a hospital for sailors and in the early years of the 18th century, the park was opened to pensioners. During the Georgian era, relatives of the King often became ranger of Greenwich Park but the appearance changed little. In 1873, the Royal Naval Hospital became the Royal Naval College and eventually, in 1933, the Queen's House was restored to create the National Maritime Museum.
During World War 2, enemy bombers followed the line of the River Thames to find their targets and anti-aircraft guns were set up in the park. Some of the trees in the Flower Garden had their tops cut off to give the guns a better field of fire - and today you can still see the strange shapes that resulted.