Queen Elizabeth arrives at her favourite palace
Court was wherever the Queen happened to be and was made up of all those who surrounded the Queen from servants to the courtiers themselves. Once a year the Queen would go on a progress to the southern counties, but most of the time she resided in one of her great royal palaces: Whitehall, Hampton Court, Greenwich, Richmond, Westminster, St James, Windsor Castle, and towards the end of her reign, Nonsuch. All these palaces were, in their different ways, magnificent to behold with high fanciful towers and a sea of spiralling chimneys. Whitehall was reputedly the largest palace in Europe, spanning an incredible 23 acres, and it was in this palace Elizabeth lived more than any other.
Over a thousand people generally attended court. Therefore, the larger the palace, the easier it was to accommodate this number of people. But no matter which palace the Queen stayed in, it was still not possible to house everyone and many courtiers, ambassadors, or other people who wished to attend court had to lodge nearby. All these palaces were in or near London so finding suitable lodgings was not difficult. London was one of the biggest cities in Europe, having a population of 200,000 and growing, and offered everything that a visitor could want from travelling inns to shops to entertainment. However, being lodged at court was an honour and the Spanish Ambassador, Count de Feria, was not at all pleased that he had to lodge in city dwellings rather than at court as he had done in Mary I's reign.
The Queen would usually retire to Whitehall for Christmas and then move on to another palace, such as Richmond or Greenwich, before moving to Windsor for Easter and the Maundy ceremony. In this ceremony, Elizabeth would ceremoniously wash the feet of poor women (the same number as the Queen's age), sign their feet with a cross, and then kiss them. The women would then be given presents of cloth, shoes, fish, bread, wine, and purses containing the same number of coins as the Queen's age. St George's Day was also celebrated at Windsor.
It was important that the court moved after a few weeks as the palaces needed to be "aired and sweetened". Sewerage facilities were primitive so unless the palaces were cleaned after several weeks, it would become an unhygienic and unpleasant place to be. When the court was not in residence, the Palace would be cared for by a Keeper and resident staff and they were expected to have things ready so that the Queen and her court could arrive at a moment's notice. Windsor Castle, for example, was the strongest and best placed castle to offer the best defence should enemy forces invade the country, so it was imperative that the Queen and court could resort there immediately should an invasion occur.
At her accession, the Queen inherited over sixty royal residences. Some Elizabeth occasionally frequented, but many were dilapidated. Others fell into ruin over the course of the reign as the cost of maintaining them was enormous. One solution was to bestow these residences on favoured courtiers. Robert Dudley, in particular, did well in this regard, receiving, amongst others, Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire.