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Banqueting House
Whitehall facade
TypeBanqueting house
LocationWhitehall, Westminster
Coordinates51°30′16″N 0°07′32″W / 51.5044°N 0.1256°W / 51.5044; -0.1256
ArchitectInigo Jones
Architectural style(s)Palladian
Governing bodyHistoric Royal Palaces
Listed Building – Grade I
Official nameBanqueting House
Designated1 December 1987
Reference no.1357353
Banqueting House is located in Central London
Banqueting House
Location of Banqueting House in Central London

The Banqueting House, on Whitehall in the City of Westminster, central London, is the grandest and best-known survivor of the architectural genre of banqueting houses, constructed for elaborate entertaining. It is the only large surviving component of the Palace of Whitehall, the residence of English monarchs from 1530 to 1698. The building is important in the history of English architecture as the first structure to be completed in the classical style of Palladian architecture which was to transform English architecture.[1]

Begun in 1619 and designed by Inigo Jones in a style influenced by Andrea Palladio,[2] the Banqueting House was completed in 1622 at a cost of £15,618, 27 years before King Charles I of England was beheaded on a scaffold in front of it in January 1649. The building was controversially re-faced in Portland stone in the 19th century, though the details of the original façade were faithfully preserved.[3] Today, the Banqueting House is a national monument, open to the public and preserved as a Grade I listed building.[4] It is cared for by an independent charity, Historic Royal Palaces, which receives no funding from the British Government or the Crown.[5]


Interior of the Banqueting Hall
The old Palace of Whitehall, showing the Banqueting House to the left

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.[6] All evidence of the disgraced Wolsey was eliminated and the building rechristened the Palace of Whitehall.

During Henry's reign, the palace had no designated banqueting house, the king preferring to banquet in a temporary structure purpose-built in the gardens. The Keeper of the Banqueting House was a position enhanced by Queen Mary I by designating it in relation to a building of the same name at Nonsuch Palace, near the south edge of Greater London, which has since been demolished and instead marks the site of a footpath junction of the London Loop. This house was used to entertain the French agent in London and ambassador Antoine de Noailles and his wife in 1556.[7][8]

The Elizabethan banqueting house

A more permanent Banqueting house was built at Whitehall in 1581, costing £1,744-19 shillings.[9] Raphael Holinshed described the building, with its timbered structure covered with canvas painted in imitation of stone, and a painted ceiling including the queen's devices and heraldry. The new building was intended as the venue for entertaining Francis, Duke of Anjou and Alençon. In subsequent years, the decorative scheme was enhanced by the painters George Gower and Lewis Lizard.[10]

The ceiling of this Elizabethan banqueting house, inherited by King James I at the Union of the Crowns, was painted with clouds by Leonard Fryer in 1604.[11] Othello was performed in the Banqueting House on 1 November 1605 by the King's Players.[12]

The first Jacobean banqueting house at Whitehall

King James began building a new banqueting house in 1607, which was destined to only have a short life. The building was probably designed by Robert Stickells.[13] A "geometrical model" for the roof was made by a Scottish designer, James Acheson.[14] William Portington was the carpenter, and Peter Street made a special augur to hollow out the columns. The interior was painted and gilded by John de Critz.[15] King James visited the construction site in September 1607 and was displeased with the placing of pillars which obscured the windows.[16] A Venetian diplomat, Orazio Busino, praised the proportions of the space, and the decoration and carving of the wooden columns (in two Classical orders) which supported viewing galleries on three sides.[17]

The new banqueting house was the venue for The Masque of Beauty in January 1608,[18] the Venetian ambassador, Zorzi Giustinian, wrote that "the apparatus and the cunning of the stage machinery was a miracle".[19] Stage mechanisms for The Masque of Queens in February 1609 included "sundry seats above for the Queen and ladies to sit on and be turned round about". Alterations for staging masques were made by Andrew Kerwyn, paymaster of the royal works.[20] Prince Henry's Barriers was performed in January 1610.[21]

Robert Smythson made a drawing of the ground plan.[22][23] An adjacent chamber was built to host events for the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Frederick V of the Palatinate in 1613.[24] Pocahontas and Tomocomo came to see the masque The Vision of Delight on 6 January 1617.[25] The banqueting house was destroyed by fire in January 1619,[26] when workmen, clearing up after New Year's festivities, decided to incinerate the rubbish or oil rags inside the building.[27][6]


Inigo Jones' 1638 plan for a new palace at Whitehall, "one of the grandest architectural conceptions of the renaissance in England";[28] the Banqueting House is incorporated to the near left of the central courtyard (for the most part, Jones's plan was ultimately never executed)

The replacement Banqueting House 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 eclectic style of the Jacobean English Renaissance with a more pure, classical design, which made no attempt to harmonise with the Tudor palace of which it was to be part.

The design of the Banqueting House is classical in concept. It introduced a refined Italianate Renaissance style that was unparalleled in the free and picturesque Jacobean architecture of England, where Renaissance motifs were still filtered through the engravings of Flemish Mannerist designers. The roof is essentially flat and the roofline is defined by a balustrade. On the street façade, the engaged columns, of the Corinthian and Ionic orders, the former above the latter, stand atop a high, rusticated basement and divide the seven bays of windows.

The building is on three floors: The ground floor, a warren of cellars and store rooms, is low; its small windows indicating by their size the lowly status and usage of the floor, above which is the double-height banqueting hall, which falsely appears from the outside as a first-floor piano nobile with a secondary floor above. The lower windows of the hall are surmounted by alternating triangular and segmental pediments, while the upper windows are unadorned casements. Immediately beneath the entablature, which projects to emphasize the central three bays, the capitals of the pilasters are linked by swags in relief, above which the entablature is supported by dental corbel table. Under the upper frieze, festoons and masks suggest the feasting and revelry associated with the concept of a royal banqueting hall.[29]

Much of the work on the Banqueting House was overseen by Nicholas Stone, a Devonshire mason who had trained in Holland. It has been said that, until this time, English sculpture resembled that described by the Duchess of Malfi: "the figure cut in alabaster kneels at my husband's tomb."[30] Like Inigo Jones, Stone was well aware of Florentine art and introduced to England a more delicate classical form of sculpture inspired by Michelangelo's Medici tombs. This is evident in his swags on the street façade of the Banqueting House, similar to that which adorns the plinth of his Francis Holles memorial.

A contemporaneous German print showing the execution of Charles I on 30 January 1649 outside the Banqueting House, which is inaccurately depicted

In 1638, Jones drew the designs for a new and massive palace at Whitehall in which his banqueting house was to be incorporated as one wing enclosing a series of seven courtyards, visible on the monumental main façade as only a small flanking wing. These revealed the ideas behind Jones' concept of Palladianism. However, King Charles I, who commissioned the plans, never amassed the resources to execute them;[31] his lack of funds and the tensions that eventually led to the Civil War intervened and the plans were permanently shelved. The Second English Civil War resulted in Charles I's own execution outside Banqueting House following the defeat of Royalist forces.[32]

In January 1698, the Tudor Palace was razed by fire that raged for 17 hours. All that remained was the Banqueting House, Whitehall Gate, and Holbein Gate.[33] Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor were asked to design a new palace, but nothing came of the scheme. It has been said that the widowed King William III never cared for the area, but, had his wife, Mary II, been alive, with her appreciation of the historical significance of Whitehall, he would have insisted on the rebuilding.[33]


The term Banqueting House was something of a misnomer. The hall within the house was, in fact, used not only for banqueting, but also royal receptions, ceremonies, and the performance of masques.[34] The entertainments given there would have been among the finest in Europe, for, during this period, England was considered the area's leading musical country. On 5 January 1617, Pocahontas and Tomocomo were brought before the king at the Banqueting House, at a performance of Ben Jonson's masque The Vision of Delight. According to John Smith, James I was so unprepossessing, neither Pocahontas nor Tomocomo realized whom they had met until it was explained to them afterward. Such masques were later augmented with French musicians, whom Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of Charles I, brought to the court.[35] The masques began a slow decline, however, after the death in 1625 of Orlando Gibbons, who died on a trip to meet the newly married Henrietta Maria and her musicians.

Inside the building is a single two-storey, double-cube room. The double-cube, in which the length of the room is twice its equal width and height,[36] is another Palladianism, where all proportions are mathematically related. At the upper level, the room is surrounded by what is sometimes mistakenly referred to as a minstrels' gallery. While musicians may have played from this vantage point, its true purpose was to admit an audience; at the time of the Banqueting House's construction, kings still lived in "splendour and state", or publicly. The less exalted and the general public would be permitted to crowd the gallery in order to watch the king dine. The lower status of those in the gallery was emphasised by the lack of an internal staircase, the gallery only being accessible by an external staircase. The building was, however, later extended to accommodate an internal staircase.

The Apotheosis of James I, the central panel of the ceiling, by Peter Paul Rubens

James I, for whom the Banqueting House was created, died in 1625 and was succeeded by his son, Charles I. The accession of Charles I heralded a new era in the cultural history of England. The new king was a great patron of the arts. He added to the Royal Collection and encouraged the great painters of Europe to come to England. In 1623 he visited Spain where he was impressed by Titian, Rubens, and Velázquez.[37] It became his ambition to find a comparable painter for his own court. Rubens while in England as a diplomat was asked to design and paint the Banqueting House ceiling which was sketched in London but completed at his studio in Antwerp due to the scale of the job. It was probably commissioned in 1629–30, and finally installed in 1636, the ceiling having been completely remodelled to frame the various sections. The subject, commissioned by the king, was the glorification of his father, titled The Apotheosis of James I, and was an allegory of his own birth.[38] To the king's chagrin, Rubens took his knighthood and decamped back to Antwerp, leaving Anthony van Dyck, lured not only with a knighthood but also a pension and a house, to remain in England as the court painter.[38] The panels for the ceiling were all painted in Rubens' atelier in Antwerp and sent to London by ship. Inigo Jones later designed another double-cube room at Wilton House, to display Van Dyck's portraits of the aristocratic Pembroke family.

Although Charles I lavished attention and effort on the Banqueting House, it was the scene of his death. On the afternoon of 30 January 1649, he stepped out of a first-floor window of Banqueting House onto the scaffold that had been erected outside for the purpose of his own execution.[39] The actual window no longer exists, as it was not in the main hall but just outside it in an adjacent part of the building which has now gone. Seen from the outside, it would have been the next window along at the north end, roughly above the current visitors' entrance.[40]


Unlike the architecture of the more southern European countries, English architecture went through no period of evolution to classicism. Through Jones it arrived suddenly and fully formed. Before this, English architecture had still been based on the styles of the Middle Ages, if for the previous century influenced by Netherlandish and French renaissance classicism, which had resulted in an English renaissance style during the late Elizabethan and Jacobean periods.[41] However, as can be seen at prodigy houses like Hatfield House, one of England's first purpose-built "Renaissance" houses, even during this era, English domestic architecture never quite lost its "castle air".

Although English architecture had been influenced, mostly indirectly, by Italian classicism for a century or so, resulting in the use of classical forms and motifs in late Tudor, Elizabethan and Jacobean buildings, on his return from Italy Jones brought with him far more thorough and up to date understanding of the underlying principles of late Renaissance classicism. With his work at the Queen's House in Greenwich, and the Banqueting House, Jones transformed English architecture.

The overthrow of the monarch and establishment of the puritanical Commonwealth caused the style to be seen as Royalist, which delayed its spread; but within a few years of the Restoration almost every English county was to have some buildings in the classical style. The Banqueting House and its features became much copied. A much-favoured motif was the placing of pediments above not only the focal point of a façade but also its windows. The use of alternating segmental and triangular pediments, an arrangement employed by Vasari as early as 1550 at the Medicis' Palazzo Uffizi in Florence,[42] was a particular favourite. Provincial architects began to recreate the motifs of the Banqueting House throughout England, with varying degrees of competence. Examples of the style's popularity can be found throughout England; the then-remote county of Somerset alone contains three 17th-century versions of the Banqueting House: Brympton d'Evercy, Hinton House, and Ashton Court.[43] Following the fall of the monarchy, Jones' career was effectively ended, his style seen as royalist. He died in 1652, never having seen the popularity of the architectural concepts he introduced.

James II was the last monarch to live at Whitehall; William III and Mary II preferred to live elsewhere and eventually reconstructed Hampton Court Palace. Following the fire which destroyed Whitehall Palace, the Banqueting Hall became redundant for the purpose for which it was designed, and it was converted to a chapel to replace the Chapel Royal of Whitehall, which had been destroyed in the fire and was used to host concerts. It remained a chapel before being given to the Royal United Services Institute by Queen Victoria in 1893.[29] Highly controversial plans to partition the large mansion house space in the service of offices for the Institution were quickly dropped in favour of the creation of a museum which displayed personal items of famous commanders and included the skeleton of Napoleon's horse. The museum closed in 1962, and the great south window, closed up by the RUSI, was restored.[44]

Today, the banqueting hall is open for tours and use as a venue space.


  1. ^ While the Queen's House at Greenwich is often referred to as England's first consciously classical building, its completion was delayed until 1635, some thirteen years after the completion of the Banqueting House. Halliday, p 149
  2. ^ Coppelstone, p 835
  3. ^ William, p 47
  4. ^ Historic England. "Banqueting House (1357353)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 3 November 2019.
  5. ^ "Who We Are". Historic Royal Palaces. Archived from the original on 1 September 2011. Retrieved 31 January 2012.
  6. ^ a b Williams, p 45
  7. ^ H.E. Malden, ed. (1911). "Parishes: Cuddington". A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 3. Institute of Historical Research. Retrieved 25 October 2013.
  8. ^ Wikimedia photograph of Banqueting House Junction in the forest of Nonsuch Park. Retrieved 2013-10-25
  9. ^ Jane Ashelford, Dress in the Age of Elizabeth I (Batsford, 1988), p. 126.
  10. ^ John H. Astington, English Court Theatre, 1558-1642 (Cambridge, 1999), pp. 133-4.
  11. ^ Edward Town, 'A Biographical Dictionary of London Painters, 1547-1625', Walpole Society Volume, 76 (2014), p. 83.
  12. ^ Peter Cunningham, Extracts from the Accounts of Revels at Court (London, 1842), 203.
  13. ^ Simon Thurley, Palaces of the Revolution, Life, Death & Art at the Stuart Court (William Collins, 2021), pp. 91-3.
  14. ^ Frederick Devon, Issues of the Exchequer (London, 1836), p. 302.
  15. ^ John Orrell, 'Architecture of the Fortune Playhouse', Shakespeare Survey, 47 (Cambridge, 1992), 17.
  16. ^ Maurice Lee, Dudley Carleton to John Chamberlain, 1603-1624 (Rutgers UP, 1972), p. 99.
  17. ^ Gerald Eades Bentley, The Jacobean and Caroline Stage (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), p. 257.
  18. ^ Simon Thurley, Palaces of the Revolution, Life, Death & Art at the Stuart Court (William Collins, 2021), p. 92.
  19. ^ Herford & Simpson, Ben Jonson, 10 (Oxford, 1965), p. 457.
  20. ^ Oliver Jones, 'Evidence for Indoor Theatre', Andrew Gurr & Farah Karim-Cooper, Moving Shakespeare Indoors: Performance and Repertoire in the Jacobean Playhouse (Cambridge, 2014), 75–76: Herford & Simpson, Ben Jonson, 10 (Oxford, 1965), pp. 494, 548.
  21. ^ Janette Dillon, The Language of Space in Court Performance, 1400-1625 (Cambridge, 2010), pp. 145-6.
  22. ^ Simon Thurley, Whitehall Palace: An Architectural History (London: HRP, 1999), 79–80.
  23. ^ RIBA Banqueting House, Robert Smythson
  24. ^ Thomas Birch & Folkestone Williams, Court and Times of James the First, vol. 1 (London, 1848), p. 229.
  25. ^ Dagmar Wernitznig, Europe's Indians, Indians in Europe: European Perceptions and Appropriations (University Press of America, 2007), 16.
  26. ^ HMC 12th report part I, Earl Cowper, Coke (London, 1888), p. 103.
  27. ^ John Sherren Brewer, Court of King James, 2 (London, 1839), 187–188.
  28. ^ Fletcher, p 715
  29. ^ a b Fletcher, p 716
  30. ^ Halliday, p 154
  31. ^ The completed palace would have been 1,280 by 950 feet (390 by 290 m) and the central courtyard would have been twice the size of the courtyard of the Louvre. Fletcher, p 711 & 715
  32. ^ Edwards 1999, p. 176
  33. ^ a b Williams, p 50
  34. ^ Great Buildings
  35. ^ Halliday, p 156
  36. ^ "The Banqueting House". Survey of London: volume 13: St Margaret, Westminster, part II: Whitehall I. 1930. Retrieved 17 July 2009. beinge in Lengthe 110 foote, and in breadth 55 foote, the under story being arched 16 foote in haight, the upper story 55 foote highe
  37. ^ Halliday
  38. ^ a b Halliday, p 152
  39. ^ Samuel Rawson Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War: 1642–1649 (Volume 4), Longmans, 1893, at page 321
  40. ^ Plaque above doorway on Banqueting House
  41. ^ Halliday, p 148
  42. ^ Coppelstone, p 249
  43. ^ Dunning, p 21
  44. ^ "History of the Building". Royal United Services Institute. Archived from the original on 18 January 2012. Retrieved 2012-01-31.


  • Copplestone, Trewin (1963). World Architecture. London: Hamlyn.
  • Dunning, Robert (1991). Somerset Country Houses. Wimborne, Dorset: The Dovecote Press.
  • The Department for the Environment (1983). The Banqueting House Whitehall. Her Majesty's Stationery Office. ISBN 0-86056-106-2.
  • Edwards, Graham (1999), The Last Days of Charles I, Sutton: Sutton Publishing Ltd, ISBN 978-0-7509-2679-9
  • Fletcher, B (1921). A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method. London: B.T. Batsford, Ltd.
  • Halliday, F. E. (1967). Cultural History of England. London: Thames & Hudson.
  • Hart, V. (2002). '"Immaginacy set free": Aristotelian Ethics and Inigo Jones's Banqueting House at Whitehall', RES: Journal of Anthropology and Aesthetics, vol.39, pp. 151–67.
  • Hart, V. (2011). Inigo Jones: The Architect of Kings. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300141498
  • Williams, Neville (1971). Royal Homes. Lutterworth Press. ISBN 0-7188-0803-7

External links

6 Annotations

First Reading

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

The old Banqueting House was burnt down on Tuesday, January 12, 1618-1619, and the present Banqueting House, designed by Inigo Jones, commenced June 1, 1619, and finished March 31, 1622.
The event which is most closely associated in the popular mind with Whitehall is the execution of King Charles I., which took place on January 30, 1649, on a scaffold erected in front of the Banqueting House, towards the Park. The warrant directs that he should be executed "in the open street before Whitehall." Lord Leicester tells us in his Journal that he was "beheaded at Whitehall Gate." Dugdale, in his Diary, that he was "beheaded at the gate of Whitehall;" and a broadside of the time, preserved in the British Museum, that "the King was beheaded at Whitehall Gate." There cannot, therefore, be a doubt that the scaffold was erected in front of the building facing the present Horse Guards. ... It is almost certain that Charles went out of an opening made in the centre blank window of the front, next the park. It must be remembered that all the windows were then blank. As late as 1761 the centre window only was glazed.
---London, Past and Present. H.B. Wheatley, 1891.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Cosmo, the future Grand Duke of Turin, describes the Banqueting House during his visit to London in the Spring of 1669:…

He notes that no amount of washing had yet removed King Charles I's blood from one of the window frames.

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

The meaning of the Banqueting House's incredible ceiling, and importance of the Baroque to British architecture is explored in Episode 3 of "The Baroque Tradition: From St. Peter's to St. Paul's" -- hosted by Waldemar Januszczak -- but I recommend watching the whole series!…

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






  • Feb