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Banqueting House was built by Inigo Jones in the early 17th-century, after a commission from James I. It was said to be truly unique—Britain’s first Renaissance building—and hated by practically everybody for a hundred years.
When Charles I came to the throne in 1625 he paid the famous Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens £3,000 to cover the ceiling in homage to his father. With magnificent decorations such as these, Banqueting House quickly became a favourite reception hall for meeting foreign dignitaries.
Unfortunately for Charles, when the English Civil War ended in the mid 17th-century, he was put to death on a scaffold outside the window. Several thousand people gathered in the street below to watch his execution.
Oliver Cromwell then moved in until his death in 1660, but with his demise came the return of the King – Charles II. He marched down Whitehall on the night of 29th May 1660, and took speeches on the very spot where his father met his maker.
A special service is still held yearly to commemorate the King’s execution.
The last great event to be held at Banqueting House was after the exile of James II, when William of Orange was offered the English Crown. But when the newly crowned King and Queen chose to live at Kensington Palace instead, the House fell out of favour.
Four years after Queen Mary’s death, a great fire ripped through the building leaving just the Holbein Gates and House intact. Christopher Wren was commissioned to turn it into a private chapel, which it remained until 1890. The Holbein Gate was finally demolished in 1759.
The government reclaimed the building in 1962, and restored it to its former glory. It now serves its original purpose once more – as a reception hall for meeting foreign dignitaries.
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