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  • Writer's pictureJoel Robinson

St James's Palace - The 'Other' Palace

There's more than one Palace in Westminster?

As one of the oldest royal palaces in the city, St James’s Palace, has not just witnessed the rise and fall of dynasties, but played an active role in shaping Royal history, as the official Royal residence for almost 300 years.

st james's palace

When was St James's Palace built?

The site was once an isolated leper hospital, dedicated to St James the Less, built on undesirable marshland, until King Henry VIII commissioned architect William Vertue to build a grand palace for him and his new bride Anne Boleyn. Construction was completed by 1536, though Anne would be executed on the King’s orders just months later. The fireplaces inside are still adorned with the letters H & A, a constant reminder of their failed romance.

st james palace

Most of the palace is red brick, giving it a distinctly Tutor feeling, and features four courtyards: the Colour Court, the Ambassador's Court, the Engine Court, and the Friary Court, the only one visible from the outside. The most recognisable feature of the palace is the north gatehouse, which has four storeys, two octagonal towers, and a central clock. The clock was added in 1731 and refurbished in 1834.

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Who lived in St James's Palace?

The Palace remains emblematic of the Tudor dynasty with Henry spending much time here, even raising his children here, the future monarchs, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I with Mary taking her final breath here. In 1649, King Charles I spent his final night in St James’s Palace before his execution the following day. In 1809 part of the Palace was destroyed by a candle in a servant’s room, but the damage was soon repaired.

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Is St James's Palace still there today?

St James’s Palace still plays an important role today, with tourists lining up outside to watch the end of the Changing of the Guard Ceremony, while the Chapel Royal inside was chosen for the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1840 and to host Prince George’s christening in 2013.  In 2022 it was from here that Charles III was pronounced King, just like Elizabeth II had been pronounced Queen from here in 1952. Next door is Clarence House, one of the few aristocratic homes still standing in central London. Built in the early 19th Century by John Nash, it has been a private residence for King Charles III & Queen Camilla, The Queen Mother and Prince Harry over the last 25 years.

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Can you go inside St James's Palace?

Sadly St James’s Palace is not open to the public, but you can visit the adjoining building, Clarence House in August. You can book your tickets here. You can still visit the outside of St James's Palace by joining us on our Royal Westminster Tour.

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