St James’s Palace is located in the City of Westminster in London, England. The palace was commissioned by King Henry VIII on the site of a former leper hospital for women. The hospital was dedicated to Saint James the Less, who was one of the twelve Apostles of Christ. When the inhabitants of the hospital died from the Black Death, the buildings were leased to various occupiers until 1439, when King Henry VI granted the hospital along with the surrounding land to Eton College. In 1531 King Henry VIII took the hospital and lands from the college in trade for royal lands elsewhere. The hospital was eliminated in 1531 and construction for King Henry VIII’s secondary palace took place from 1531-1536. The palace was commissioned as a hunting lodge, close to the official royal residence of Whitehall Palace as well as the Royal Deer Park. King Henry VIII enclosed 300 acres of land for his hunting preserve, this enclosure survived as St James’s Park. St James’s Palace is one of London’s oldest palaces and is steeped in history. It was the residence for many kings and queens over the centuries.
The palace was constructed in the Tudor style with red brick, and in time, the structure spread to include four courtyards. These courtyards are currently known as Ambassadors’ Court, Engine Court, Friary Court, and Colour Court. The palace’s gatehouse is one of the surviving elements from the Tudor Period and is located on the north side, flanked by polygonal turrets with mock battlements. The Chapel Royal, the gatehouse, and two Tudor rooms in the State Department still survive. In one of these rooms there is a fireplace that still bears the love-knot initials of Henry and Anne Boleyn. The palace was one of the grandest buildings of its time and Henry VIII’s insignia, the letters HR surmounted by a crown, can still be seen upon the gatehouse.
King Charles I took up residence at the palace upon his marriage. After being defeated for a second time in the English Civil War in 1649, the doomed king decided to spend his last night at St James’s Palace so he would not have to listen to the noise of his scaffold being built. He took his last Holy Communion in the palace’s Royal Chapel the morning of his execution.
In 1689 the palace became the principal residence for King William III and Queen Mary II after Whitehall Palace (the former principal royal residence) was destroyed in a fire. From then on, St James’s Palace became the administrative center for the monarchy.
In 1809, St James’s Palace suffered through a fire causing the destruction of the monarch’s private apartments. These apartments were not replaced, in turn leaving the Queen’s Chapel in isolation. Marlborough Road now runs between the two buildings.
The State rooms were restored in 1813. The Prince Regent was living at Carlton House at this time, but four of his brothers were provided houses within St James’s Palace walls. The Prince Regent became King George IV and later married Caroline of Brunswick at the palace. Queen Victoria also married Prince Albert in the Chapel Royal in 1840.
George IV’s third son, King William IV was the last sovereign to use St James’s Palace as a residence. The palace remains the official residence of the sovereign, since the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837, although the sovereign currently lives at Buckingham Palace. St James’s Palace is used for official functions and for ceremonial purposes, and is not accessible to the public. The Queen’s Guard, consisting of regiments of the British Army, are responsible for guarding the palace. The changing of the guard ceremony takes place in the Friary Court everyday in the summer at 11:00 am, and on alternate days in the winter.
A special thank you to British History Online and The British Monarchy.