Whitehall Palace is a former royal palace in the City of
Westminster, London, between its rise in the 1530s and its destruction by fire in 1698 it was for
much of its existence the largest of the English sovereign’s residences.
Whitehall Palace Architecture and History
The Whitehall Palace covered a greater area than the Palace of
Versailles, but unlike its rationally planned French counterpart, the sequential manner of building
over the decades without a master-plan gave Whitehall Palace a random appearance. Although
externally the palace might have lacked grandeur, its interior was considered sumptuous.
At its architectural peak in the 1680s, the Whitehall Palace
consisted of a series of long galleries, living-quarters, state rooms, banqueting rooms, chapels,
grand entrance-gates, gardens, a great number of different types of entertainment buildings,
courtyards and support buildings, all lying between the capital’s principal transportation route,
the River Thames, and the royal pleasure grounds of St James’s Park .
The nucleus of Whitehall Palace was York
Place, which for three centuries had been the London residence of the archbishops of
York. In 1529 Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who had rebuilt the house on a magnificent scale, was forced,
on his fall from favor with Henry VIII, to relinquish it to the King.
When Henry bought neighboring property and embarked on an ambitious building
program, London’s new palace acquired the name Whitehall. The core of Wolsey’s mansion, the Great
Hall (1528), was retained and became the principal setting for banquets and plays during the Tudor
period. Henry VIII also inherited the Chapel Royal, which adjoined the Great Hall on the river
side, and the vaulted wine cellars, which are the oldest surviving remains.
The Whitehall Palace was divided, physically and functionally,
into two distinct sections: on the east or river side lay the main buildings, while on the west or
park side were the entertainment buildings. Through the centre of the palace ran a public road
called the Street, later known simply as Whitehall. At either end Henry ordered the construction of
two monumental gatehouses. The Holbein Gate to the north was a
three-storey structure in a chequered pattern of stone and flint, adorned with portrait medallions
probably by Giovanni da Maiano.
In contrast to this portal’s distinctly Tudor-style profile was the contemporary
King Street Gate to the south the pilasters and pediments of which illustrated the increasing
influence of the Italian Renaissance. The principal approach to Whitehall
Palace, however, was by water. The public used the simple wooden steps of Whitehall
Stairs; dignitaries entered by the Privy Stairs, a double-tiered pier extending into the Thames.
This wharf was demolished in 1691 to make way for Mary II’s riverside terrace, an ornamental
To the south lay the Privy Garden, divided into 16
grassed sections, each containing a statue, except for one that contained a complex sundial
designed by the mathematician Edmund Gunter. Two sides of the garden were lined by long gallery
buildings and apartments. The ceiling of the eastern gallery, known as the Long or
Matted Gallery, was painted by Hans Holbein, who was also responsible for the most
famous Tudor portrait from the palace, the wall painting in the Privy
Chamber representing Henry VIII and Jane Seymour flanked by the King’s parents, Henry
VII and Elizabeth of York.
During the reign of Charles I the Long Gallery served
as the picture gallery, in which were displayed the many fine paintings acquired by Charles and his
brother Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales. The lodgings for the king and queen both looked out on to
the river and were separated by the Volary Garden. Nearby was the Great Court, divided from the
Pebble Court by a terrace. Further to the north were several large courtyards, all confusingly
called Scotland Yard.
Various entertainment buildings were located near the park. Throughout the
history of the Whitehall Palace there existed several tennis courts, some
enclosed, others open-air; the walls of one survive, incorporated in Charles Barry’s
Privy Council Building.
There was a tiltyard, a long enclosure used for jousts, military exercises and
bear-baiting, alongside which ran a gallery that served as a royal box for watching events below
and as the main passage leading between Holbein Gate and the staircase descending into the park.
The Cockpit, with brick walls and a tall pyramidal roof, at first was used for cockfights, but
between 1629 and 1630 it was converted into a playhouse.
The finest building at Whitehall Palace and almost the only one
to survive the fire of 1698 was the Banqueting House, the first completed
Renaissance building in England. The two-storey façade of seven bays divided by columns and
pilasters encloses one large, double-cube room, which was used for a variety of court festivities
Rubens’s nine great ceiling canvases depicting, the achievements of James I were
installed in 1635, when the hall became reserved for royal audiences; a new room for masques,
constructed of timber, was built alongside.
The Civil War and execution of Charles I destroyed any chances of success for
the scheme proposed by John Webb in the late 1630s and 1640s for rebuilding a vast new Whitehall
Palace on an amplified theme of Jones’s Banqueting House.
Whitehall Palace Map&Location
The remains of Whitehall Palace is located in center London in the City of
Adress: Park Pl, Westminster, London SW1A 2ER, UK. Use this map to get help with directions
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Whitehall Palace Photos
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Whitehall Palace in summer
Whitehall Palace panorama
Whitehall Palace panorama detail
Whitehall Palace interior
Whitehall Palace paint by Hendrik Danckerts
Whitehall Palace The Horseguards
Whitehall Palace Henry VIII paint
Whitehall Palace plan