The official residence of the sovereign and the most senior royal palace in the country, St James’ Palace was built by Henry VIII on the site of an old leper hospital. Although King Henry did prefer the grandeur of the newer Palace of Whitehall, as his Tudor and Stuart relations, the palace was continually used for state occasions, visitor accommodation and office space from the 16th to 19th centuries. The palace is still used by several modern day Royals as their handy Central London Pied a Terre.
A Tudor Home for Newlyweds
Built during the years when Anne Boleyn was Queen and completed in 1536, St James’ Palace is a typical red brick Tudor building. A severe fire in 1809 damaged some key areas of the palace including the monarch’s private apartments – and tellingly they were never rebuilt or replaced. Today the Palace is used to host official parties and receptions for visiting heads of state, for charities patronised by members of the royal family, and as living accommodation.
The St James’ Palace Complex
Rather than being a stand-alone palace, the site includes other notable and historic buildings including the Inigo Jones designed Queen’s Chapel and the Chapel Royal. The site also includes Lancaster House – home to Prince William before his marriage, and Clarence House, long time residence of the late Queen Mother and now the London home of the Prince of Wales.
A Royal Upgrade
The typically Tudor design of St James’s palace proved a real bug bear to the highly fertile George III and his large family of fifteen (yes fifteen) children. The rooms were, by palace standards, somewhat small and pokey, there were no fashionable grand corridors or ballrooms to provide indoor exercise on those wet London afternoons. He purchased the nearby Buckingham House, where the family then spent most of their time. Queen Victoria also preferred the new place, and formalised Buckingham Palace as the primary residence shortly after her succession to the throne in 1837. However it seemed that Victoria did still have a soft spot for the old Palace of St James’ – using it as the venue for her wedding in 1840. London Duck Tours thinks St James’s Palace might be old and cramped, but it is terribly handy for the shops! Just round the corner from Fortnum and Mason in fact!