It was said, by 17th C. Londoners, that Whitehall Palace was so large that strangers got lost and starved to death (seems unlikely). All that remains is the section known as Banqueting House. The Palace of Whitehall was the creation of King Henry VIII, expanding an earlier mansion that had belonged to Cardinal Wolsey, known as York Place. The King was determined that his new palace should be the "biggest palace in Christendom", a place befitting his newly created status as the Supreme Head of the Church of England. All evidence of the disgraced Wolsey was eliminated and the building rechristened the Palace of Whitehall. The first permanent banqueting house at Whitehall had a short life. It was built for King James I, but was destroyed by fire in January 1619, when workmen, clearing up after New Year's festivities, decided to incinerate the rubbish inside the building. An immediate replacement was commissioned from the fashionable architect Inigo Jones. Jones had spent time in Italy studying the architecture evolving from the Renaissance and that of Andrea Palladio, and returned to England with what were, at the time, revolutionary ideas: to replace the complicated and confused style of the Jacobean English Renaissance with a simpler, classically inspired design. His new banqueting house at Whitehall was to be a prime example. Jones made no attempt to harmonise his design with the Tudor palace of which it was to be part.
The ceiling of the Banqueting House is a masterpiece and the only surviving in-situ ceiling painting by Sir Peter Paul Rubens. It is also one of the most famous from a golden age of painting. Outside the Banqueting House, on the pavement of Whitehall, is the site of Charles I's execution on 30 January 1649. It was bitterly cold. Charles wore a second shirt so not to shiver from the cold, in case it was misunderstood as trembling from fear. He was also persuaded to drink a glass of claret so that he would not faint before he reached the execution block. Charles was led out of an upper window onto a temporary scaffold stage especially erected on Whitehall. The hall was built for the performance of ‘Masques’ and for grand ambassadorial receptions. Masques were a sophisticated blend of poetry, propoganda, music, dance and outlandish costume, and the King and Queen sometimes took part. At the end of the performance it became a strange tradition for the audience to upset the table laid out with food and drink. The room was where William of Orange and his wife Mary Stuart were read the Bill of Rights in February 1689, before jointly accepting the crown. In 1698 the rest of Whitehall palace burnt down but the Banqueting House survived. Braille guides available.
Location : Whitehall, SW1A 2ER
Opening Times: Monday to Sunday 10:00 to 17:00 unless closing for banquets.
Closed 21/12/2015 to 01/04/2016 for repairs.
Tickets : £6.50 gate, £6.10 online. Children under 16 and Carers free.
Available for banquets at £10,000 up.
Tel: 0203 166 6000.