Restoration & 18th-Century Studies in English at Western
UC Western Tower


London ca. 1676

London Palaces

London and Westminster had, during the middle ages and Renaissance, been the site of a fair number of palaces, for royalty and others. By the Restoration, however, these had, for all intents, dwindled to three, two of which were royal palaces, and the third of which belonged the Archbishop of Canterbury.



Whitehall Palace was the primary abode of the Stuart kings from the accession of James I. It was a chaotic and rambling complex of courts, yards, gardens, and buildings constructed over a wide span of time, and to no central plan. The Palace had, initially, served as a residence of Cardinal Wolsey, but, with the fall of that courtier, it was seized, and much improved, by Henry VIII. Henry's royal children, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I, also used Whitehall, although it was not their main residence.

James I, however, established Whitehall as the "home abode" of the monarchy in London. To ensure that his London residence properly reflected the magnificence of his reign, he commissioned Inigo Jones to design a magnificent new palace on the site; unfortunately, however, costs were prohibitive, and only parts of this were every actually constructed. Most important of these was the great Banqueting House, which was completed in 1622; its interior was embellished, in 1633 (during the reign of Charles I), by the addition of a magnificent painted ceiling, the work of Paul Rubens, and representing the apotheosis of James I. The Banqueting House was to assume a central role in the history of the Stuarts: it was in front of this building that Charles I was beheaded on 30 January, 1649, and it was from here that his son, James II, fled the country in 1688.

Upon his restoration, Charles II adopted Whitehall as his London residence, and made such minor improvements as he could afford. It has frequently been noted that the rambling and confused layout of the palace both reflected and suited Charles' monarchical style: certainly, its main byways, alleys, and corridors proved convenient for his "backstairs" politics. Numerous Restoration satires make reference to the admission of his mistresses and "whores" through the many back doors and hidden entrances into his personal chambers here. Indeed, with the possible exception of St. James's Park, no London venue was more closely associated with Charles.

The Palace had numerous outbuildings and attached features. A small but well designed garden looked out and across to St. James's Park; it was in this garden that the Earl of Rochester, during a drunken nighttime ramble with some friends, destroyed a glass chronometer that stood there. Additionally, the Palace boasted a small theatre, the Cockpit, designed by Inigo Jones and employed, in the reign of Charles I, for royal masques.

Whitehall in 1741

Whitehall was not, however, a very commodious, comfortable, or convenient residence. It was, for example, periodically inundated with water from the overflowing river, which at times all but surrounded the palace and flooded the kitchens. James II made a number of improvements to the palace, but, three years following the Glorious Revolution, a large fire badly damaged parts of the building. This was to be followed, in January of 1698, with an even more calamitous fire, which destroyed the entire complex, sparing only Inigo Jones' Banqueting House; the fire was started, it was said, by a maidservant who had hung wet laundry too close to a fireplace.

Whitehall was never rebuilt; shortly after the fire the land upon which the palace had stood was leased out for private development. A number of expensive town houses were built on the site in the mid-eighteenth century. The site remained, however, a centre for government offices, including the Treasury.

Whitehall in 1741, looking south towards Inigo Jones' Banqueting House (in the approximate centre distance) and the Treasury (distant right). From a print entitled The Motion (February 1741) caricaturing the "Patriot" opposition to Robert Walpole, and celebrating the failure of their attempt to censure the Prime Minister in Parliament.
Reproduced from Thomas Wright, Caricature History of the Georges. (London: John Camden Hotten, [1867]) 129.

St. James's Palace
St. James's Palace, which lay along the north side of the park which bears its name, is a red-brick Tudor edifice, built by Henry VIII in 1528, on lands that had once housed a hospital for lepers; this residence was more convenient and comfortable for Henry than the older and now crumbling Westminster Palace. It was refitted in 1623, in anticipation of the proposed wedding between the future Charles I and the Infanta of Spain.

Following his defeat in the Civil War, Charles was imprisoned in St. James's Palace; it was here that he spent his last night before his execution before Whitehall on 30 January, 1649. It was also from St. James's Palace that the young prince, James, Duke of York (the future James II), escaped from Parliamentary custody on April 20, 1648; having been permitted to stay with his father during the latter's captivity, James made his way to the Continent, where he remained until 1660.

At the Restoration, St. James's Palace became the primary London residence of the Duke of York; even following his accession to the throne in 1685, he retained his connections with his old home. It was here that his only son, the "Old Pretender" (as he was to become known) was born: some contemporary maps of the palace depict the possible routes by which the "changeling" child was allegedly conveyed into the Queen's apartments, hidden in a warming pan.

William of Orange resided at St. James's Palace upon his arrival in London in 1688; upon his instillation as King William III, he and Queen Mary moved to Whitehall. This change in residence proved, however, temporary, for William was forced to return to St. James's Palace upon the destruction of Whitehall Palace by fire in 1698. Indeed, from that time, until the occupation of Buckingham Palace by the reigning monarch in the reign of George IV, St. James's Palace remained, in effect, the only London royal residence. Both King George I and George II had apartments here fitted out for their respective mistresses. In addition, a detached library, replacing an older one within the palace, was built by Queen Caroline, wife of George II, and finished in 1737. (The old library at St. James's was administered by Richard Bentley, and was the setting for Swift's The Battle of the Books ).

Lambeth House
Lambeth House (or Palace, as it is now known), was (and is) the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury; it lies on the south bank of the Thames across from Westminster, and was the site of an important ferry crossing. The palace was built incrementally over many centuries, and was commenced in 1207 by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury. The earliest remaining portions of the palace, however, date from the mid-thirteenth century.

One of the more important components of Lambeth House is its chapel: here, traditionally, all Archbishops are consecrated (although there have, in practice, been exceptions). Previous to, and during, the Civil War, this chapel became a lightning rod for attacks upon the alleged "popish innovations" of Archbishop Laud: he was accused, for example, of having installed the stain glass in the chapel, although this was, in fact, medieval in origin. The chapel was, as a consequence, much damaged and defaced during the Interregnum.

Back to Main London Map

Website maintained by: Mark McDayter
Website administrator: Mark McDayter
Last updated: April 25, 2002