St James's Palace

St James's SW1Y

Key Details

Stable Yard Road, London SW1Y 5HZ
16th century


Built largely between 1531 and 1536, St. James's Palace was a residence of kings and queens of England for over 300 years. It remains the official residence of the Sovereign, although, since the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837, the Sovereign has lived at Buckingham Palace. High Commissioners present letters and Ambassadors are still formally accredited to the Court of St. James's for this reason.

The palace was built by Henry VIII on the site of the Hospital of St. James, Westminster. Much survives of the red-brick building erected by Henry VIII, including the Chapel Royal, the gatehouse, some turrets and two surviving Tudor rooms in the State apartments.

Buildings later sprawled to cover the area of four courts now known as Ambassadors' Court, Engine Court, Friary Court and Colour Court. The great Tudor Gatehouse at the southern end of St. James's Street still bears Henry VIII's royal cypher HR, surmounted by his crown, above the original foot passages leading through to Colour Court.

Henry VIII's illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy, whom he contemplated recognising as his heir, was living in the Palace when he died in 1536 at the age of seventeen. From then on St. James's House, as it was known, saw a succession of Royal inhabitants who lived there while playing their part in some of the more famous events in English history.

Henry VIII's second wife, Anne Boleyn, stayed there the night after her coronation. Before she was discarded following the birth of Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth, the initials HA entwined in a lovers' knot appeared on a couple of Tudor fireplaces in the State apartments.

It was in St. James's Palace in 1558 that Mary Tudor signed the treaty surrendering Calais. Elizabeth I was resident during the threat posed by the Spanish Armada and set out from St James's to address her troops assembled at Tilbury, to the east of London.

The future Charles II and James II were both born and baptised at St James's, as were Mary of York (Mary II), Anne of York (Queen Anne) and James Francis Edward Stuart (the Old Pretender).

After the destruction of the Palace of Whitehall, all monarchs until William IV lived at St. James's for part of the time.

In 1809, much of the east and south ranges of the Palace was destroyed by fire, but the State rooms were restored by 1813. At this time the Prince Regent (later George IV) was living at Carlton House, but four of his brothers were provided with houses within the Palace walls. Frederick, Duke of York was given Godolphin House, now Lancaster House, and William, Duke of Clarence (later William IV) was given Clarence House, today occupied by The Prince of Wales.

William IV was the last Sovereign to use St. James's Palace as a residence. After his death, Court functions were still held in the State apartments, which had been enlarged by Christopher Wren and embellished by William Kent. Some rooms were later partly redecorated by William Morris. Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in the Chapel Royal in 1840, and court levées continued to be held at St. James's Palace until 1939.

The State Apartments of the Palace contain many beautiful items of furnishing.

There are Mortlake tapestries ordered by Charles I as Prince of Wales in the Old Presence Chamber, and a fine display of arms and armour in the Armoury.

The State Apartments also contain an interesting range of Royal portraits from the time of Henry VIII, including important works by Mytens, Van Somer, Michael Wright and Wissing; portraits of military and naval heroes painted for George IV by Reynolds and Hoppner; a portrait of George IV by Lawrence; and important battle pieces by Wootton and George Jones.

Today, St. James's Palace remains a busy working palace. The State Apartments are sometimes used for entertaining during in-coming State Visits, as well as for other ceremonial and formal occasions. They host receptions for charities with which members of the Royal Family are involved, numbering approximately 100 in a year.

The offices of the Royal Collection Department, the Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps, the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, the Chapel Royal, the Gentlemen at Arms, the Yeomen of the Guard and the Queen's Watermen are all located at St. James's Palace. Since January 2009, the Household Office of Prince William and Prince Harry has been based at St. James’s Palace, although their official residence remains Clarence House.

St. James's Palace also retains an important ceremonial function. The Accession Council meets in St. James's Palace following the death of a monarch and, later, the accession of a new Sovereign is proclaimed by Garter King of Arms from the Proclamation Gallery overlooking Friary Court.

St. James's Palace contains the London residences of The Prince of Wales, The Princess Royal and Princess Alexandra.

The St. James's Detachment of The Queen's Guard mounts daily guard in Friary Court.

The Queen's Chapel and Chapel Royal remain active places of worship.

Clarence House, the former London home of the late Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, is within the environs of St. James's Palace and provides an official residence for The Prince of Wales, The Duchess of Cornwall and Prince William and Prince Harry.


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