4th January 1698. End of Whitehall.

In Zanadu did Kublai Khan a stately Pleasure Dome decree’: S T Coleridge.

The Palace of Whitehall separated by the Holbein Gate, with its 2,000 rooms was where Henry VIII had his octagon-shaped cockpit and played real tennis, (one exterior wall of which exists).

Old Palace of Whitehall.

Old Palace of Whitehall. c 1675 by Danckerts from St James’ Park. Horse Guards to the left and Banqueting Hall in background.

This was until today in 1698 when a Dutch maidservant lit a charcoal fire to dry the laundry in a lodging in the vicinity of the Tudor and Stuart Palace. Within hours ‘merciless and devouring flames’ destroyed the setting of Shakespeare’s finest plays.

From the time of Edward the Confessor, the Palace of Westminster, the principal residence of kings, revolved around Westminster Hall. When the Palace was taken over by the Houses of Parliament, the Hall remained the Nation’s Courts of Law.

Whitehall looking south with Holbein Gate.

Whitehall looking south with Holbein Gate.

Westminster Palace remained a royal residence until Henry VIII in 1533 moved the Court to Whitehall and Hampton Court, (after being appropriated after Wolsey’s fall).

Elizabeth lived at Whitehall at the time of the Armada whence she had set forth to Tilbury Camp. to rally the forces. There Samuel Pepys, along with other ‘Persons of good Fashion and Good Appearance’ were allowed to watch the Royal Family dine.

The more exalted one’s station in life, the nearer the monarch one could move in the ‘Enfilade’ of interconnecting rooms with some allowed entrance to the bed chamber.(1)

However Whitehall by 1664 was described as ‘nothing more than an assemblage of several houses badly built at different times’.

Now all that remains of the Old Palace is the Inigo Jones’ Banqueting House, (one of the first two pure Renaissance buildings in Britain) where in January 1649 Charles 1st was executed, and some underground vaults and a walkway near Downing St.

Whitehall had begun life as York Place which hosted vast banquets and masked balls and was originally the London residence of the archbishops of York, being remodelled from 1514 by Cardinal Wolsey.

A brick vaulted cellar beneath the Ministry of Defence, is all that remains of the Palace of York where the Cardinal once kept his wine.

Between 1649 and 1650 Cromwell’s Parliament sold all but seven of the royal palaces, so by 1660 the main royal residences in England were Whitehall, Nonsuch, Hampton Court, Windsor Castle, and St. James’s Palace which is the senior Palace of the Sovereign.

It is to the ‘Court of St James’ built by Henry VIII between 1532-40, that foreign ambassadors are still accredited, as a result of Queen Anne bringing the Court to St James after the fire at Whitehall.

(1) This idea of inter-connecting rooms today is a feature of the Houses of Parliament and National Gallery and the big country houses.

Ref: wikipedia.co.uk/palaces.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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