Whitehall Palace

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 panorama

Whitehall Palace 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.

Whitehall Palace plan

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.

Whitehall Palace paint by Hendrik Danckerts

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 riverside, 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 riverside lay the main buildings, while on the west or park side were the entertainment buildings. Through the center 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-story 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 garden.

Whitehall Palace The Horseguards

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, which 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 onto 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.

Whitehall Palace interior

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-story façade of seven bays divided by columns and pilasters encloses one large, double-cube room, which was used for a variety of court festivities and entertainments.

Whitehall Palace

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 Location

The remains of Whitehall Palace are located in the center of London in the City of Westminster, London.
Address: Park Pl, Westminster, London SW1A 2ER, UK. Use this map to get help with directions:

Whitehall Palace Map

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