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St. James's Palace is one of Londonmarker's oldest palaces. It is situated in Pall Mallmarker, just north of St. James's Parkmarker. Although no sovereign has resided there for almost two centuries, it is considered the most senior royal palace in the UK and 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 whom the Palace and its nearby Park take their names); the hospital was disbanded in 1532. The new palace, secondary in interest to Henry's Whitehall Palacemarker, was constructed 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. It became the principal residence of the monarch in London in 1698, during the reign of William III and Mary II when Whitehall Palacemarker was destroyed by fire, and became the administrative centre of the monarchy (a role it still retains). Two of Henry VIII's children died there: Henry Fitzroy 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 a 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.

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. 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 Chapelmarker in isolation, and Marlborough Road now runs between the two buildings. George III had purchased Buckingham House the predecessor to Buckingham Palacemarker 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 official 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.

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 Palacemarker. It is also the London residence of the Princess Royal and Princess Alexandra, The Honourable Lady Ogilvy. The Palace forms part of a sprawling complex of buildings housing Court offices and officials' apartments. The complex includes York Housemarker, the former home of the Prince of Wales and his sons, the Princes William and Harry, Lancaster Housemarker, which is used by HM Government for official receptions, as well as the nearby Clarence Housemarker, the home of the late Queen Mother and now the residence of the Prince of Wales.

The Queen's Chapelmarker, 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 Guardsmarker).

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 Palacemarker.

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. Until recently the brothers' duties were looked after by Prince Charles's office, Clarence House.

References

  1. The uncertainty as to which James was intended is expressed in the Survey of London ascription (http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=45186. Edward Walford, 'St James's Palace', Old and New London Vol. 4 (1878:100-122. Date accessed: 22 February 2008.) of the hospital's dedication to "St. James the Less, Bishop of Jerusalem"; bishop of Jerusalem was a title of James the Just, brother of Jesus..
  2. Pevsner, Nikolaus. The Buildings of England: London 6: Westminster (2003), pp 594-601
  3. Pevsner


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