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Palace of Whitehall
The Old Palace of Whitehall by Hendrik Danckerts.jpg
The Palace of Whitehall by Hendrick Danckerts, c. 1675.[1] The view is from the west, in St. James's Park. The Horse Guards barracks are on the extreme left, with the taller Banqueting House behind it. The four-towered building left of centre is the palace gatehouse, the "Holbein Gate".[2]
Location City of Westminster, London, England, United Kingdom
Coordinates 51°30′16″N 00°07′32″W / 51.50444°N 0.12556°W / 51.50444; -0.12556Coordinates: 51°30′16″N 00°07′32″W / 51.50444°N 0.12556°W / 51.50444; -0.12556
Built c. 1240, 15-17th cent.
Demolished 1698 (due to fire)
Palace of Whitehall is located in Central London
Palace of Whitehall
Location of the Palace of Whitehall in central London
Inigo Jones's plan, dated 1638, for a new palace at Whitehall.

The Palace of Whitehall (or Palace of White Hall) was the main residence of the English monarchs in London from 1530 until 1698 when most of its structures, except for Inigo Jones's 1622 Banqueting House, were destroyed by fire. Before then, it had grown to be the largest palace in Europe with more than 1,500 rooms, overtaking the Vatican, though being overtaken by the expanding Palace of Versailles which was to reach 2,400 rooms.[3] The palace gives its name, Whitehall, to the road on which many of the current administrative buildings of the UK government are situated, and hence metonymically to the central government itself.


At its most expansive, the palace extended over much of the area bordered by Northumberland Avenue in the north; to Downing Street and nearly to Derby Gate in the south; and from roughly the elevations of the current buildings facing Horse Guards Road in the west, to the then banks of the River Thames in the east (the construction of Victoria Embankment has since reclaimed more land from the Thames)—a total of about 23 acres (93,000 m2). It is about 650 metres from Westminster Abbey.


By the 13th century the Palace of Westminster had become the centre of government in England, and had been the main London residence of the king since 1049. The surrounding area became a popular and expensive location. The Archbishop of York Walter de Grey bought a nearby property as his London residence soon after 1240, calling it York Place.

King Edward I stayed at York Place on several occasions while work was carried out at Westminster, and enlarged it to accommodate his entourage. York Place was rebuilt during the 15th century and expanded so much by Cardinal Wolsey that it was rivalled by only Lambeth Palace as the greatest house in London, the King's London palaces included. Consequently, when King Henry VIII removed the cardinal from power in 1530, he acquired York Place to replace Westminster as his main London residence, inspecting its possessions in the company of Anne Boleyn. The name Whitehall or White Hall was first recorded in 1532; it had its origins in the white stone used for the buildings.

A plan of Whitehall Palace in 1544.

Henry VIII hired Flemish artist Anthony van den Wyngaerde to redesign York Place, and he extended it during his lifetime. Inspired by Richmond Palace, he included a recreation centre with a bowling green, indoor tennis court, a pit for cock fighting (on the site of the Cabinet Office, 70 Whitehall) and a tiltyard for jousting (now the site of Horse Guards Parade). It is estimated that more than £30,000 (approaching £11m in 2007 values using RPI, or £4bn when compared to share of GDP)[4] were spent during the 1540s, 50% more than the construction of the entire Bridewell Palace. Henry VIII married two of his wives at the palace—Anne Boleyn in 1533 and Jane Seymour in 1536. Henry died at the palace in January 1547. In 1611 the palace hosted the first known performance of William Shakespeare's play The Tempest.

James VI and I made significant changes to the buildings, notably the construction in 1622 of a new Banqueting House built to a design by Inigo Jones to replace a series of previous banqueting houses dating from the time of Elizabeth I. Its decoration was finished in 1634 with the completion of a ceiling by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, commissioned by Charles I (who was to be executed in front of the building in 1649). By 1650 Whitehall Palace was the largest complex of secular buildings in England, with more than 1,500 rooms. Its layout was irregular, and its constituent parts were of many different sizes and in several different architectural styles, making it look more like a small town than a single building.[5]

A plan of Whitehall Palace in 1680.
Part of a proposal for the replacement of the palace drawn by Christopher Wren in 1698. The palace was never rebuilt.

Charles II commissioned minor works. Like his father, he died at the palace—but from a stroke. James II ordered various changes by Sir Christopher Wren, including a chapel finished in 1687, rebuilding of the queen's apartments (c. 1688), and the queen's private lodgings (1689).


By 1691 the palace had become the largest and most complex in Europe. On 10 April a fire broke out in the much-renovated apartment previously used by the Duchess of Portsmouth that damaged the older palace structures, though apparently not the state apartments.[6] This actually gave a greater cohesiveness to the remaining complex. At the end of 1694 Mary II died in Kensington Palace of smallpox, and on the following 24 January lay in state at Whitehall; William and Mary had avoided Whitehall in favour of their palace at Kensington. However a second fire on 4 January 1698 destroyed most of the remaining residential and government buildings;[7] the diarist John Evelyn noted succinctly the next day: "Whitehall burnt! nothing but walls and ruins left."[8] Beside the Banqueting House, some buildings survived in Scotland Yard and some facing the park, along with the so-called Holbein Gate, eventually demolished in 1769. Despite some rebuilding, financial constraints prevented large scale reconstruction. In the second half of the 18th century, much of the site was leased for the construction of town houses.

During the fire many works of art were destroyed, probably including Michelangelo's Cupid, a famous sculpture bought as part of the Gonzaga collections in the seventeenth century. Also lost were Hans Holbein the Younger's iconic mural Portrait of Henry VIII and Gian Lorenzo Bernini's marble portrait bust of King Charles I.

Present day

Henry VIII's Wine Cellar

The Banqueting House is the only integral building of the complex now standing, although it has been somewhat modified. Various other parts of the old palace still exist, often incorporated into new buildings in the Whitehall government complex. These include a tower and other parts of the former covered tennis courts from the time of Henry VIII, built into the Old Treasury and Cabinet Office at 70 Whitehall.[9]

Beginning in 1938, the east side of the site was redeveloped with the building now housing the Ministry of Defence. An undercroft from Wolsey's Great Chamber, now known as Henry VIII's Wine Cellar, a fine example of a Tudor brick-vaulted roof some 70 feet (21 m) long and 30 feet (9 m) wide, was found to interfere not just with the plan for the new building but also with the proposed route for Horse Guards Avenue. Following a request from Queen Mary in 1938 and a promise in Parliament, provision was made for the preservation of the cellar. Accordingly, it was encased in steel and concrete and relocated nine feet to the west and nearly 19 feet (5.8 m) deeper in 1949, when building was resumed at the site after the Second World War. This was carried out without any significant damage to the structure and it now rests within the basement of the building.[10]

A number of marble carvings from the former chapel at Whitehall (which was built for James II) can now be seen in St. Andrew's Church, Burnham-on-Sea, in Somerset, to where they were moved in 1820 after having originally been removed to Westminster Abbey in 1706.

See also


  2. ^ The buildings are identified in a pictorial map of 1682 by William Morgan. Reproduced in Barker, Felix; Jackson, Peter (1990). The History of London in Maps. London: Barrie and Jenkins. pp. 42–43. ISBN 0-7126-3650-1. ; the so-called "Holbein Gate" as it was known in the 18th century, though any connection with Hans Holbein was fanciful (John Summerson, Architecture in Britain 1530–1830, 9th ed. 1993: 32) survived the fire and was demolished in 1769.
  3. ^ "Whitehall". BBC. Retrieved 15 August 2012. 
  4. ^ Measuring Worth calculator
  5. ^ "Nothing but a heap of Houses, erected at divers times, and of different Models, which they made Contiguous in the best Manner they could for the Residence of the Court", noted the French visitor Samuel de Sorbière about 1665.
  6. ^ "Fire in Whitehall ends an age of palaces". London Online. Retrieved 1 January 2011. 
  7. ^ Thurley, Simon (1999). Whitehall Palace: an architectural history of the royal apartments, 1240–1698. Yale University Press. p. 142. ISBN 978-0-300-07639-4. Retrieved 2 January 2012. 
  8. ^ Evelyn, John (1906). The diary of John Evelyn. Macmillan and co., limited. p. 334. Retrieved 2 January 2012. 
  9. ^ Duncan, Andrew (2006). "Cabinet Office". Secret London (5 ed.). London: New Holland. p. 111. ISBN 978-1-84537-305-4. 
  10. ^ The Old War Office Building; a History

External links

16 Annotations

Philip Meers  •  Link

There is an excellent chapter in the book "London: As it might have been", Barker, F. and Hyde, R., 1982 (ISBN 0-7195-3857-2, John Murray Publishers) dealing with the designs that Inigo Jones created for the redevelopment of Whitehall Palace. These would have been reconsidered during the time that Pepys knew the site, as Charles II was as interested in his father in building a palace more in keeping with his position.

Philip Somervail  •  Link

Christopher Hibbert in his 1969 book, ‘London: Portrait of a City’, gives a vivid account of Whitehall Palace, "the halls and chambers of the royal palace … which … covered acres of ground on the river front between Charing Cross and Westminster Hall. Here had once stood York Place, the London residence of the Archbishops of York, where Cardinal Wolsey had lived in the 1520s in a style as grandiose as that of the royal Court itself…. When Wolsey fell from power, after failing to arrange a speedy divorce for Henry VIII from Catharine of Aragon, York Place, although it belonged to the See of York and not personally to the Cardinal, was taken over, like Hampton Court, by the King. Magnificent as it already was, Henry immediately set about making it finer. He bought additional land from the Abbot of Westminster and other neighbours and extended the grounds behind the Palace to take in acres upon acre of land for his new gardens. He built a new flight of steps to the river, and since the various buildings of the Palace were split in two by the road from London to Westminster he built two splendid bridges across the roadway.

“The beauties of Whitehall Palace, as it now came to be called, were further enhanced by three lofty galleries – the Privy gallery, which had been removed from Wolsey’s mansion at Esher, the Stone Gallery, where the guests at royal banquets could look down upon the river, and the Long Gallery with a ceiling painted by Holbein. In the grounds below were four tennis courts, a bowling green, a cockpit and a tilt yard.” In the tiltyard, to quote from the Encyclopedia of London (1983), “tournaments and bear baiting were arranged as royal entertainments.”

To continue from the same source, “the new property was connected to the old by the Holbein Gate and the King Street Gate which spanned the street. Whitehall became the chief London residence of the court…. During James I’s reign, Inigo Jones and John Webb drew up plans for a huge new palace, but only the Banqueting House was ever completed. Even so, by this time the palace comprised some 2,000 rooms…. In 1698, apparently through the carelessness of a Dutch laundry woman, the old palace was burned to the ground, with only the Banqueting House surviving.”

To this I would just add that there is a superb model of Whitehall Palace at the Museum of London, showing it in its heyday.

language hat  •  Link

Whitehall Palace:
This book looks like the thing to read if one is interested in further detail:

Here's an online history:

The Blue Guide to London says, of Henry VIII's taking over York Place, "He renamed the palace 'Whitehall', a name then generally applied to any centre of festivities," so it had nothing to do with the color of the walls.

And let's not forget Shakespeare:

You must no more call it York Place, that's past:
For, since the cardinal fell, that title's lost;
'Tis now the King's, and call'd Whitehall.
--King Henry VIII, IV, i.

hazel-mary  •  Link

Whitehall Palace - According to the works accounts of 1623-4, Isaac de Caus, a fashionable garden designer, grotto builder and engineer, was paid to create a shell grotto in the cellars of Inigo Jones's Banqueting Hall around this time. This was a Privy cellar or private drinking den for James I and his cronies. It is not clear when it was removed. Maybe Pepys visited it. It certainly sounds like his sort of thing.

Emilio  •  Link

Here's Macaulay's description of Whitehall in 1685. The passage gives a vivid impression of the place as Pepys knew it, and can be found at .

"Whitehall naturally became the chief staple of news. Whenever there was a rumour that anything important had happened or was about to happen, people hastened thither to obtain intelligence from the fountain head. The galleries presented the appearance of a modern club room at an anxious time. They were full of people enquiring whether the Dutch mail was in, what tidings the express from France had brought, whether John Sobiesky had beaten the Turks, whether the Doge of Genoa was really at Paris These were matters about which it was safe to talk aloud. But there were subjects concerning which information was asked and given in whispers. Had Halifax got the better of Rochester? Was there to be a Parliament? Was the Duke of York really going to Scotland? Had Monmouth really been summoned from the Hague? Men tried to read the countenance of every minister as he went through the throng to and from the royal closet. All sorts of auguries were drawn from the tone in which His Majesty spoke to the Lord President, or from the laugh with which His Majesty honoured a jest of the Lord Privy Seal; and in a few hours the hopes and fears inspired by such slight indications had spread to all the coffee houses from Saint James's to the Tower."

Esme  •  Link

There are pictures of Whitehall Palace in the fantastic collection of London pictures on the historic Guildhall Library's Collage website at

You can search in various ways including putting dates into the "Advanced Search", or drilling down through the "Places" category.

Just give yourself plenty of time, as there are lots of interesting leads to follow.

Pauline  •  Link

Matted Gallery
from L&M Companion entry for Whitehall
On the first floor, roughly parallel to the river, immediately above the Stone Gallery, running from the e. end of the Privy Galley to the staircase leading down to the Bowling Green. For those with business at the palace, it was a convenient semi-private walk. The Duke of York’s closet and chief apartments were reached from it in the ’60s, with subsidiary rooms belonging to him on the floor below.

in Aqua Scripto  •  Link

Plan of the White hall palace showing it to be a large complex, it even shows where Carlos Rey would sneak over to the apartment No. 32 [of Palmer] down the hallway from No. 7 L. Albermarle [Moncke]. Carlos Rey would enjoy the trip thru the privey across two streets, lots of work.

Michael Robinson  •  Link

Hollar, Wencaslas (Czech/British, 1607-1677)

Whitehall Palace; view W, from an inlet of the Thames, with part of Lambeth Marsh on the left, Whitehall Palace, the Banqueting House and Whitehall stairs on the opposite bank, the tower of old St Martin-in-the-Fields, and the SW turret of Suffolk (Northumberland) House on the right, with numerous wherries on the river
Pen and grey ink, tinted with watercolour

Inscriptions: Inscribed by the artist in grey and brown ink: "White Hall Palatium Regis" and in grey ink: "Thamesis fluvius"

Dimensions: Height: 98 millimetres, Width: 293 millimetres

Curator's comments
From Hollar's first period in London 1637-43. Possibly connected with Hollar's etching 'Palatium Regis prope Londinum vulgo Whitehall' (Pennington 1039).

Image and additional descriptive text:

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.