St. James's Palace

St. James's Palace is one of London's oldest palaces. It is situated in Pall Mall, just north of St. James's Park. Although no sovereign has resided there for almost two centuries, it has remained the official residence of the Sovereign and the most senior royal palace in the UK. For this reason it gives its name to the Royal Court (the "Court of St James's").

History

The palace was commissioned by Henry VIII, on the site of a former leper hospital dedicated to Saint James the Less, from which the Palace and its nearby Park retain their names; the hospital was disbanded in 1532. The new palace, secondary in the king's interest to Henry's Whitehall Palace, was constructed between 1531 and 1536 in the red-brick Tudor style around four courtyards: its gatehouse (illustration) survives on the north side, flanked by polygonal turrets with mock battlements, fitted with Georgian sash windows.

Two of Henry VIII's children died there: Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset and Mary I (Mary's heart and bowels were buried in the palace's Chapel Royal). Elizabeth I was said to have spent the night there while waiting for the Spanish Armada to sail up the channel. Charles I slept rather less soundly—as it was his final bed before his execution. Oliver Cromwell then took it over, and turned it into barracks during the English Commonwealth period. It was then restored by Charles II (Charles I's son), who also laid out St. James's Park. It became the principal residence of the monarch in London in 1698, during the reign of William III and Mary II after Whitehall Palace was destroyed by fire, and became the administrative centre of the monarchy, a role it retains.

The first three Georges used St James's Palace as their principal London residence even though it was far from grand for the city palace of a major European monarchy; Daniel Defoe called it "low and mean" in 1725. For most of the time of the personal union between Great Britain (later the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland) and the Electorate of Hanover (later Kingdom of Hanover) from 1714 until 1837 the ministers of the German Chancery were working in two small rooms within St James's Palace. In 1757, George II donated the Palace library to the British Museum; this gift was the first part of what later became the Royal Collection.

In 1809 a fire destroyed part of the palace, including the monarch's private apartments at the south east corner. These apartments were not replaced, leaving the Queen's Chapel in isolation, and Marlborough Road now runs between the two buildings. George III had purchased Buckingham House – the predecessor to Buckingham Palace – for his queen back in 1762, and St James's continued to decline in importance in the first half of the 19th century. It increasingly came to be used only for formal occasions such as official receptions, royal marriages, and christenings. Queen Victoria formalised the move in 1837, ending St James's status as the primary residence of the monarch. Some structures and interiors survive by Sir Christopher Wren and William Kent, but most was remodelled in the nineteenth century. William Morris and his firm were commissioned to redecorate the Armoury and the Tapestry Room, 1866-67.

The late Diana, Princess of Wales's coffin was kept for a few days at the Chapel Royal at the Palace before being taken to Kensington Palace on the eve of her funeral at the Westminster Abbey in September 1997.

Notable people born at St James's Palace
  • Anne of Great Britain
  • William Neville Hart
  • Charles II of England
Today

St James's Palace is still a working palace, and the Royal Court is still formally based there – foreign ambassadors are still accredited to the Court of St James's, even though they are received by the monarch at Buckingham Palace. It is also the London residence of the Princess Royal, Princess Beatrice of York and Princess Alexandra, The Honourable Lady Ogilvy. The Palace forms part of a sprawling complex of buildings housing Court offices and officials' apartments. The immediate palace complex includes York House, the former home of the Prince of Wales and his sons, Princes William and Harry. Lancaster House located next-door, is used by HM Government for official receptions, and the nearby Clarence House, the home of the late Queen Mother is now the residence of the Prince of Wales.

The Queen's Chapel, built by Inigo Jones, adjoins St James's Palace. While the Chapel is open to the public at selected times, the palace is not accessible to the public. St James's Palace is one of the four buildings in London where guards from the Household Division can be seen (the other three are Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Horse Guards).

Since the beginning of the 2000s, the Royal Philatelic Collection has been housed at St James's Palace, after spending the entire 20th century at Buckingham Palace.

From October 2008 onwards, and officially from 6 January 2009, the staff of Princes William and Harry moved into their own rooms in St James's Palace and began reporting directly to the royal princes for the first time. In addition, the staff also began serving Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge upon her marriage to Prince William in 2011. Prior to 2008, the brothers' duties were looked after by Prince Charles's office at Clarence House.

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