When was St James’s Palace built?
St James’s Palace was built between 1531-1536 on the site of a former leper hospital dedicated to Saint James the Less, during the reign of Henry VIII. At the time of its construction Whitehall Palace, in nearby Westminster, was the official residence of the monarchy and St James’s was used as a more informal residence away from the bustle of the main court. The red-bricked palace is organised around courtyards (Ambassador’s Court, Engine Court, Friary Court and Colour Court) and is home to an impressive four-storey gatehouse, which was decorated with the initials “H” and “A” to symbolise the love of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Henry’s cipher “H.R.” can also be seen at the Tudor gatehouse on St. James’s Street. The subsequent Tudor monarchs made use of the palace – most notably by Elizabeth I, who stayed on the eve of her speech to the troops awaiting the Spanish Armada.
Figure 1 – The North Gatehouse on Pall Mall, St James’s Palace
Source: Tony Hisgett, Wikicommons
St James’s Palace during the Stuarts and Hanoverians
The seventeenth century was quite a dramatic period for St James’s Palace. It was here in 1649 that Charles I spent his final night before being executed at nearby Banqueting House (then part of Whitehall Palace). Oliver Cromwell later used the palace as barracks for his army. The palace also saw the birth of numerous monarchs – Charles II, James II, Mary II and Anne. In the eighteenth century it made its transition to the official palace of the monarchy after a fire in 1691 burned down most of Whitehall Palace. Since 1707 the Proclamation Gallery in Friary Court at St James’s Palace has been the location of where the new monarch is announced following the death of the reigning monarch. In 1809 a fire at St James’s contributed to the demise of its increasingly unsuitable living quarters, as well as a loss of a large part of the original Tudor interior. Shortly afterwards Buckingham House was purchased by George III, who spent his reign renovating it into a palace.
Figure 2 – View of St James’s in the time of Queen Anne (1702-1707)
Source: E, Walford, ‘St James’s Palace’, in Old and New London, Vol. 4 (London, 1878), pp. 100-122. British History Online [accessed 3 August 2018]
Queen Victoria’s move
In 1837 Queen Victoria officially moved to Buckingham Palace, making it the chief home of the Royal Family for the first time. St James’ Palace, however, retained importance throughout Victoria’s reign for formal, state and administrative occasions. In. In 1840 Victoria married Albert in the Chapel Royal at St James’s, and eighteen years later the Chapel was host to her daughter’s wedding to the future German Emperor, Frederick III.
Figure 4 – The Marriage of Queen Victoria, 10 February 1840
Source: George Hayter, 1842. Credit: The Royal Collection.
The legacy of St James’s Palace
Today St James’s Palace is still a working palace and is the formal palace of the Royal Court. It is also home to some members of the Royal Family and is used for official receptions and charity events.
Opening times/ Access:
As a working palace it is not open to the public. At 11:00am every day the start of the Changing of the Guard ceremony can be seen at Friary Court.
Find out more:
E, Walford, ‘St James’s Palace’, in Old and New London, Vol. 4 (London, 1878), pp. 100-122. British History Online. <https://www.british-history.ac.uk/>
‘Royal Residences, St. James’s Palace’. 2018. The British Monarchy. <https://www.royal.uk/>