St. James’s Palace
Although no longer used as a residence for the Sovereign, St. James’s Palace is the official palace of the British Monarchy. Used primarily for official functions and office space, it also contains the London residences of The Princess Royal and Princess Alexandra, The Hon. Lady Ogilvy. Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie of York have an apartment there as well. Adjoining the palace is Clarence House, the official residence of The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. (Read more about Clarence House HERE!)
St. James’s Palace was commissioned by King Henry VIII a smaller residence than Whitehall Palace, which was the sovereign’s residence at the time. It was built between 1531-1536 on the site of a former leper hospital dedicated to Saint James the Less, which is where the palace gets its name. The palace consists of numerous wings built around several courtyards – Colour Court, Ambassador’s Court, Engine Court and Friary Court. Perhaps the most recognized part of the palace is the Tudor Gatehouse on the northern wing. Spanning four stories, it is flanked by two octagonal towers and features a large central clock (which was added later, in 1731).
The palace was used by successive sovereigns as a secondary palace, and in 1638, King Charles I gave the palace to his mother-in-law, Marie de Medici who lived there for several years. It was at St. James’s Palace that King Charles I was confined prior to his execution in 1649. Oliver Cromwell converted the palace to barracks during the English Interregnum of 1649-1660. Following the restoration of the monarchy, King Charles II returned the palace to its former glory and laid out the expansive St. James’s Park. After Whitehall Palace was destroyed by fire in 1698, St. James’s Palace became a regular residence of the British sovereigns (although many preferred to live at Kensington Palace which had been purchased in the late 1680s).
St. James’s Palace became the working center of the monarchy, housing many of the offices of the royal court, as well as the offices of the German Chancery during the personal union with the Kingdom of Hanover. Kings George I and II used the palace occasionally, and both provided apartments there for their mistresses. A fire in 1809 destroyed much of the eastern and southern wings of the palace, including the private apartments of the King, located in the southeast corner of the building. While the State rooms were restored, much of the rest of this section was not rebuilt. This resulted in the Queen’s Chapel being separated from the rest of the Palace complex, as it remains today.
While her predecessors used St. James’s Palace as one of their residences, Queen Victoria instead chose to make Buckingham Palace her primary residence. St. James’s Palace continued to be used for formal and official occasions, and housed the private apartments of various royals and court officials. One of the more notable examples is Queen Victoria’s nephew, Prince Victor of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, who lived in a large suite of rooms in the southern wing, overlooking The Mall.
One part of the palace which continues to be used often is the Chapel Royal, located on the northern wing of the palace next to the gatehouse. The Chapel Royal has been the site of many royal weddings, including that of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1840, and the future King George V and Princess Mary of Teck in 1893. It has also be the site of many royal christenings, including the 2013 christening of Prince George of Cambridge.
Today, the palace remains the official home of the British monarchy, and it is to the Court of St. James that foreign ambassadors are accredited. It also houses the offices of The Royal Collection and the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, as well as the Gentlemen at Arms and the Yeomen of the Guard who are based there. The Royal Philatelic Collection has been housed at St. James’s Palace since the early 2000s.
As the senior palace of the Monarchy, St James’s Palace also retains one very important ceremonial function. At the demise of the crown (the death of the Sovereign), the Accession Council convenes, and the accession of the new sovereign is proclaimed by the Garter King of Arms from the Proclamation Gallery, overlooking Friary Court.
Rarely seen by the public, the State Apartments are often the site of formal receptions and functions, particularly relating to the many charities patronized by members of the Royal Family. Following the announcement of their engagement in November 2010, Prince William and Catherine Middleton appeared at St. James’s Palace to greet the media. They also had their official engagement portraits taken there – a more formal photo taken in The Council Chamber (see above), and a more casual photo taken in the Cornwall Room.
Also part of St. James’s Palace is York House, located in the northwestern corner of the building. Built in 1736 for Frederick, Prince of Wales (son of King George II), York House has been the home of numerous members of the British Royal Family through the years, including Prince Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (later King of Hanover). In 1893, it became the home of the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George V and Queen Mary) until moving to Marlborough House in 1903. It became the home of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) in 1919. Following his abdication in 1937, York House became the home of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, who remained there until 1970. They were followed by the present Duke and Duchess of Kent who lived at York House from 1972 until the mid-1990s. It then became the home of The Prince of Wales and his sons, following his separation from Diana, Princess of Wales. Today, York House is used primarily as offices for the Household of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.
Learn more about the other British Royal Residences here!