Craig recommends… St. James’s Palace is the one Royal residence in London that always remains closed to the public, but there are plenty more that are worth visiting. Prince Charles lives in the creamy-looking Clarence House next-door, whilst Buckingham Palace is just a short walk down The Mall. Kensington Palace is at the other end of Kensington Gardens, whilst Henry VIII’s Hampton Court and Windsor Castle are both a train ride away.
The area around St. James’s Park was originally a medieval leper hospital. In 1531 Henry VIII bought the land so he could build himself a palace, and the burial ground (where Green Park stands today) was drained and stocked with deer.
It’s closeness to Westminster Abbey, Whitehall Palace and the City of London quickly turned the palace into one of the Royal Family’s most frequented homes, and this continued all the way through the Tudor and Stuart periods.
Mary Tudor actually died here, and Charles I famously spent his final night sweating in the halls before being led away for his execution outside Banqueting House. His nemesis, Oliver Cromwell, treated it with contempt by turning it into a prison, but its fortunes quickly recovered at the Restoration.
St. James’s glory days can be dated to the early 18th-century, after Whitehall Palace burned down to the ground. It briefly took over as the chief residence of the monarchy until another disastrous fire in 1809 forced George III to move to Buckingham Palace.
The palace was rebuilt soon after, but never recovered its former glory, and by the time Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837 Buckingham Palace had become established as the monarch’s main home.
Buckingham Palace remains the official residence of Her Majesty the Queen today, but St. James’s Palace is still used for receptions, weddings and occasions of State. When foreign dignitaries arrive in London they are still technically accredited to the Court of St. James.
In modern times the palace has principally been a home for lesser royals. Princess Diana resided here for a short while until her divorce in 1996, after which she moved into Kensington Palace. The only major Royal to occupy a room today is Princess Anne.
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