St James’s Palace - History and Facts | History Hit

St James’s Palace

London, England, United Kingdom

St James’s Palace has been the official residence of the British Sovereign since the reign of King Henry VIII.

Amy Irvine

21 May 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About St James’s Palace

St James’s Palace has been the setting for some of the most important events in Royal history. It was also the official residence of Kings and Queens of England for over 300 years, from King Henry VIII up until the reign of Queen Victoria, when this role was taken over by Buckingham Palace.

History of St James’s Palace

The redbrick Tudor structure of St James’s Palace was built by King Henry VIII from 1531-1536 on the former site of the Hospital of St James. The Palace was intended to be used by Henry VIII as a residence to ‘escape formal court life’, and you can still see the initials ‘H.A.’ (for Henry and his second wife Anne) on a couple of the Tudor fireplaces in the state apartments.

Despite much of the palace being destroyed by fire in 1809 (with a majority of the original palace being remodelled during the 19th century) much of the original Tudor work remains today, including a gatehouse, some turrets, parts of the state rooms and the Chapel Royal.

St James’s Palace has played host to many important events including the death of Henry VIII’s illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy in 1536 and the signing of the treaty of the surrender of Calais by Mary Tudor in 1558. Elizabeth I was resident during the threat posed by the Spanish Armada in 1588, setting out from St James’s to address her troops assembled at Tilbury, and Charles I spent his last night inside the Palace and took communion here on the morning of his execution.

St James’s Palace was also an important location for many happier events, such as the births and baptisms of numerous future monarchs including Charles II, James II, Mary II, Queen Anne and James Francis Edward Stuart. Additionally, royal marriages such as William and Mary, George III and Queen Charlotte, Queen Victoria’s and Prince Albert and George V and Queen Mary all took place here.

St James’s Palace today

Today, St James’s Palace is still a working palace, being the home of several members of the Royal Family and their household offices (including the London residences of Princess Anne, Princess Beatrice and Princess Alexandra. The offices of Royal Collection Trust, the Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps, the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, the Chapel Royal, the Gentlemen at Arms, the Yeomen of the Guard and the Queen’s Watermen are all located here too.

The State Apartments are sometimes used for entertaining during State Visits, as well as for other ceremonial and formal occasions, and the Palace also hosts up to 100 receptions each year for charities associated with members of the Royal Family.

On the death of the monarch, The Accession Council meets in St James’s Palace before the Garter King of Arms proclaims the accession of a new monarch. Happier occasions have included hosting the christening of Prince George in 2013.

St James’s Palace is closed to the public, but you can still visit the Chapel Royal. Visitors can also view the Household Cavalry guards inspection at St James’s Palace, and the Changing of the Guard also departs from the Palace everyday (11am on weekdays, 10am on Sundays) towards Buckingham Palace.

Getting to St James’s Palace

Green Park tube station is only a 3 minute walk away. The nearest rail stations are Charing Cross (13 minutes) or Victoria (15 minutes). Bus routes 9 and N9 also stop nearby.

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