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Today we’re headed toward London and the palaces associated with St James’s Park since I haven’t written about London yet, except in passing. This park happens to be the oldest and most used by royalty than all of the nine royal parks of London. Despite its size, bustle and commerce, London remains one of the greenest of all capital cities, with acres of parkland and quiet squares offering rest and relaxation in the midst of the hectic pace. There are four palaces associated with St. James’s Park- three of which you can spot from across the beautiful landscaped lake- the Palace of Westminster, St. James’s Palace, Buckingham Palace and the remains of Whitehall Palace (pictured above).
Just south of Trafalgar Square, the first Palace of Westminster was erected on the present site of the Houses of Parliament– one of the most recognized spots in London with its wonderful Big Ben clock tower. (You’ll notice it’s the theme of my background on this blog!) The original palace was erected by Edward the Confessor in 1042. That palace became the official royal residence and the control center of London merchants and government for England until 1512 when it was destroyed by a fire. Thereafter, it became the chambers of Parliament, the meeting place for the House of Lords and the House of Commons, strictly. Henry VIII’s reformation of 1529-36 ousted the domination of the Church’s influence which made the House of Commons more powerful than the House of Lords. Another devastating fire in 1834 paved the way for the magnificent Victorian Revival Gothic ( Perpendicular) structure of today- designed and built by Sir Charles Barry and the interior decorated by A.W. Pugin beginning in 1840. During the Blitzkrieg of WWII this building was hit fourteen times but only sustained serious damage when in was hit on May 10, 1941. The Commons Chamber was destroyed, killing three people, and it was rebuilt by Giles Gilbert Scott by 1950. This structure contains 1,100 rooms, has 100 staircases and a total of 3 miles worth of corridors and the original Westminster Hall remains. To view the magnificent interiors you can pay a nominal charge to enter the Strangers’ Galleries for the House of Commons and the House of Lords, Big Ben and the Lord Chancellor’s Apartments. To find out more about dates and times available- both in session and out- you can call 020 7219 3000 or 0207344 9966 or just join the queue outside of St Stephen’s entrance.
( Don’t miss the bronze statue of Boudicca on Westminster Bridge. This insulted Queen of the native Iceni tribe of Norfolk sacked Colchester and London along with the Iceni tribe in 62 AD after the Romans robbed and flogged her. Guess she showed them a thing or two, huh?)
The entirety of St James’s Park was the grand stomping ground of many royal feet. A deer park and hunting lodge was built by Henry VIII in 1532, eventually becoming the still charming St. James’s Palace. James I started a menagerie here of pelicans, crocodiles and even an elephant with a proclivity for drinking wine ! (These were exotic animals in his day.) Today it is where the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace begins its pompous circuit and has frequent visitors who come to picnic and feed the ducks much the same as Charles II did in the 17th century!
St James’s Park was once a marshy water meadow and was the site chosen for a leper hospital in the 13th century from which the name of the park was taken. The possession of the land by the royal palaces and buildings changed the landscape through the centuries after Elizabeth I took to the throne. Her successor, James I, improved the drainage and got control of the water supply. Later, the road which runs in front of St James’s Palace was placed which is The Mall today but the most dramatic changes to the area and park occurred with Charles II. He had the park landscaped to its present look and made it open to the public becoming the most accessible royalty besides Princess Diana !
The Hanovers created Horse Guards Parade by filling in one end of the long canal which is now the lake and its present look is attributed to John Nash who transformed it to a more romantic style. John Nash was the Georges Euge`ne Haussmann of London and his work in St James’s Park was exceptional. In 1837 the Ornithological Society of London presented birds to the park and erected a cottage for a bird keeper which still exists. At present two ornithologists look after 1,000 birds representing 45 species and the park itself is an important migration point and breeding ground. Pelicans were brought to Duck Island, which is located at the lake, by a Russian Ambassador who presented them to Charles II.
Over the centuries the palaces had been used by royalty and as one passed out of use, another became their actual residences- respectively. Westminster was used as such from the period of 1049 until 1530, then Whitehall Palace from 1530 until 1698, thereafter St. James’s Palace was used officially from 1702 to 1837 and Buckingham Palace has been in full use from 1837 up to the present day. The only exception is William III ( crowned in 1689) who suffered from asthma and moved himself and his wife Mary into Kensington Palace. (It was supposed that Whitehall Palace was unhealthy for him.) Queen Anne added to the Orangery at Kensington and Queen Victoria was born at the palace on May 24, 1819 but spent her days as Queen at Buckingham Palace.
A few paces north of Parliament, Whitehall Palace– once the largest built in the vicinity and the largest in the world for a period- was in use by the royal family ( or its members) from 1530 until 1698. Henry VIII married two of his brides here- Anne Boleyn in 1533 and Jane Seymour in 1536. He also died here in January of 1547 miserable with disease.
This grand edifice had 1,500 rooms at the end of its era and its area was bordered by Northumberland Ave. on the north extending to Downing St., Derby Gate on the south, Horse Guards Road on the west and to the banks of the Thames River on the east. In all, it occupied about 23 acres of land. This map below was the original plan for its construction. By 1650 the palace was the largest complex of secular buildings that had ever been built in England. The map shows that the layout was extremely irregular and the integral layout were of many different architectural styles much like Blois Castle in the Loire Valley in France. As a result, it appears like a town in this painting rather than a single edifice.
The unfortunate demise of Whitehall was the result of two major fires- one which burned down all the Tudor buildings and on January 4, 1698 government and residential portions of it were destroyed. The only remains of it now are the Banqueting House and a few buildings from the old complex which have been incorporated into the Whitehall government offices. The Banqueting House is a Palladian marvel in Portland stone designed by Inigo Jones, built between 1619 and 1622. This remaining hall is well worth a visit to see the Rubens ceiling, a commission by the ill-fated Charles I (who was beheaded outside the Palace on January 30, 1649- the only member of the crowned British monarchy to suffer such a public execution.) This ceiling was painted over a two year period beginning in 1634 and the nine allegorical paintings depict the unification of Scotland and England. (James I was also James VI of Scotland.) Rubens was given the knighthood for his work! Plans were drawn up by Sir Christopher Wren to rebuild Whitehall which were never carried out.
St. James’s Palace along the north side of the park became the official royal residence by 1702 and many royals occupied it until 1837. It was actually built during the period between 1531 and 1536 as it was built by Henry VIII and much of the red-brick Tudor gatehouse and some rooms remain intact. Visitors will see the Chapel Royal where Charles II, James II, Mary II, Queen Anne and James Stuart (the old Pretender, so-called) were born and/or baptized, the gatehouse, turrets and a few of the remaining State Apartments. Anne Boleyn was brought here, gave birth to Princess Elizabeth, and you will find her and Henry’s combined initials (HA) above some of the Tudor fireplaces which also remain. Royal marriages also took place at the Chapel Royal such as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on February 10, 1840, the Duke of York and Princess Mary of Teck and King George V and Queen Mary tied the knot at the chapel in 1893. Several historically important events took place at this Palace, also. You can view the Queen’s Chapel from the outside here but its interior is unavailable to the public. This lovely building was built by Inigo Jones. If you want to see the inside you’ll have to become a good friend of the Queen! Her extensive international Philatelic collection is housed within the Palace along with Royal portraits from the time of Henry VIII along with important works by Mytens, Van Somer, Michael Wright and Wissing and several more royal portraits.
It was here that Mary Tudor signed the treaty surrendering Calais in 1558 and Elizabeth I was in residence when the Spanish Armada threat made it imperative for her to leave and address her troops at Tilbury Fort in Essex, which is east of London. In 1809 the east and southern portions of the Palace were destroyed by fire. The remaining State rooms were restored by 1813 and four of George IV’s brothers were provided housing within St James’s walls. One being Frederick, Duke of York, was given what is today referred to as Lancaster House and William, Duke of Clarence, ( William IV) was given Clarence House which is currently occupied by Prince Charles !
After the death of William IV the palace fell out of use as a residence for the British Monarchy but court functions were still held in the State Apartments until 1939. Buckingham Palace came into official use as the London royal residence by 1837 shortly before the marriage of Queen Victoria and it has remained so since that time. Buckingham House is the core building from which the palace was started in 1710 and still exists as part of the west façade within the quadrangle. George III bought it in 1761 as a private residence for his new bride, 17 year old Charlotte. It then became known as "The Queen’s House" and over a period of seventy-five years it was expanded and rebuilt with three wings around the central courtyard. The architects involved included William Winde for Sir Charles Long (the first Duke of Buckingham and Normanby), John Nash and Edward Blore, landscaping by Capability Brown and William Townsend Aiton. Some additions were made as late as the 19th and 20th centuries.
In the Middle Ages this was the site of the Manor of Ebury or Eia close to the River Tyburn on marshy ground and a village, Eye Cross, grew around it. This passed through the hands of Edward the Confessor, William the Conqueror and Geoffrey de Mandeville who finally bequeathed it to the monks of Westminster Abbey. By 1531 it naturally fell back into the hands of royalty when Henry VIII took possession of all such acquisitions by the clergy. James I sold it when money was sorely needed and only retained a small part for farming silk! The property passed through moneyed hands through the years and wasn’t again in royal hands until 1703 when the Duke of Buckingham bought the land and the buildings which remained. Subsequently, Buckingham’s descendant, Sir Charles Sheffield sold it to George III for L 21,000.
Through the years of occupation by Victoria and Albert many problems had to be rectified which made the house rather dangerous. Though these were all taken care of, eventually, by 1847 it was too small for the large family they created so a new wing was added, the large East Front which faces the Mall and has the public façade balcony from which the Royal Family acknowledges crowds on various occasions. The ballroom wing and a suite of state rooms were added as well, designed by Nash’s student Sir James Pennethorne. Today it is 77,000 square meters of floor space, throughout, with numerous private and state rooms for many different types of functions. It contains 19 state rooms, 52 bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices, and 78 bathrooms. The Gallery contains a beautiful collection of Rembrandts, van Dycks, Rubens and Vermeers and the Guard Room has marble statues in a tribune lined with Gobelin tapestries. Many rooms are open to the public even when Queen Elizabeth II is in residence ! Visiting heads of state who stay at the palace occupy a suite of rooms known as the Belgian suite, on the ground floor of the North-facing garden. The adjoining corridors here are enhanced by splendid domes which were placed by Prince Albert’s uncle Leopold I. Edward VIII lived in this suite during his brief reign.
Many regular functions, formal dinners, state banquets and ceremonies continue at the palace. One major change came in 1958 when the presentation parties for debutantes were ended. It was presumed that only aristocratic girls would participate. These were very formal attired and properly choreographed presentations to the Queen in the Throne Room. However, Princess Margaret is reported to have said, "We had to put a stop to it, every tart in London was getting in." Today the Throne Room dais is used for royal wedding and full family portraits.
This is home to the largest landscaped garden in London and should be visited along with the Mews- that is- The Queen’s stables and storerooms which house the fairytale-like coaches, horses harnesses and other apparel specifically for these types of ceremonies. It’s best to inspect these during the Buckingham Palace Summer Opening when visitors can see all the palace has to offer.
Tel. 020 7839 1377
Royal hugs and kisses for my loyal subjects !
The Castle Lady
Her majesty is a pretty nice girl..
someday I’m gonna make her mine..
someday I’m gonna make her mine !
– The Beatles
Check out the new London photo album !
Congrats to the Nuggets for winning four straight games in a row !