Doctoral partnership puts Holly at the heart of two huge museum events

24 Aug 2023
wom,an stood in front of crown to couture poster

A University of Winchester PhD student has taken part in two major museum events thanks to a partnership with the Historic Royal Palaces and the National Portrait Gallery.

Historian Holly Marsden honed her research skills working on the ‘Crown to Couture’ exhibition currently running at Kensington Palace and the long-awaited re-opening of NPG.

These two amazing opportunities came Holly’s way as part of Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) which means that her PhD project is jointly supervised by the University and the REACH Consortium (which includes the Historic Royal Palaces, the NPG, the Royal Museums Greenwich, the British Film Institute and the National Trust).

Holly’s PhD is on the “The Multiple Identities of Mary II: Queenship, Culture and Politics in the 17th Century” and the often-overlooked monarch, the wife of William III, lived at Kensington Palace and Hampton Court - both of which are within the Historic Royal Palaces group.

Away from her PhD research Holly worked for two days per week for 15 months on the ‘Crown to Couture’ exhibition which features more than 200 items and draws parallels between the fashions of the Georgian royal court and today’s red-carpet creations worn by the likes of Beyonce and Billy Porter.

Holly’s tasks ran from filling in documentation needed to secure loan items to researching and writing text for exhibit labels and penning articles for the catalogue.

Her more unusual assignments included researching Georgian characters, sedan chair carriers, for a computer animation and visiting a barbershop museum to find out about men’s razors from the period.

“The subject matter for this placement was really a dream come true,” said Holly. “I love dress history and I would like to go into it further after my PhD.”

Holly, 27, took a three-month break from her work at the palace to switch to the National Portrait gallery where she helped with preparations for its reopening in June after three years of closure.

Part of her job was to re-write labels for the paintings in line with the gallery’s aim of reflecting a greater cultural diversity in British history.

She also worked on the gallery website dealing with comments from the public.

Holly, who grew up in the small Cambridgeshire village of Stretham near Ely, said both placements have whetted her appetite for a role in a curation.

“I would still get to do research but I would also get to interact with the public and tell a story which is what I really enjoy,” she said.

Funding from REACH included a stipend and she also received funding from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art who awarded Holly a grant towards her research in the Netherlands earlier this year.

Dr Ellie Woodacre, Reader in Renaissance History at the University of Winchester, said: "Holly's research project on the identity of Mary II is both innovative and exciting. It demonstrates the benefits of doing a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership as on top of the academic supervision for her thesis, she has been able to gain key curatorial experience working with Historic Royal Palaces, National Portrait Gallery and Royal Museums Greenwich. Her placements have not only enriched her research but given her wonderful experience working on the big rehang at the NPG and exciting exhibitions like the current Crown to Couture."

Ellie talks to lead curator Polly Putnam and Holly about the Crown to Couture exhibition on the latest Royal Studies Podcast. Hear it from 25 August at

Crown to Couture runs at Kensington Palace until October 29.

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