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HistoryPalaces & Buildings

Royal Residences: A brief history of St James’s Palace

By camerawalker - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Royal Central has taken a look at the history behind the most senior royal palace in the United Kingdom. Read on to learn more about St James’s Palace.

Where is it located?

St James’s Palace is the oldest royal palace in the United Kingdom and is located on the Mall in the City of Westminster, London. The building is attached to Clarence House, another royal residence and is less than a five-minute walk from Buckingham Palace.

When was it built, and when was it used as a royal residence?

St James’s is the most senior royal palace in the United Kingdom, having been built by order of King Henry VIII in the 1530s. For most Tudor and Stuart monarchs, the palace was the second most important residence in London; first was the Palace of Whitehall which was destroyed by a fire in 1698. St James’s was used increasingly by Georgian monarchs and was considered the monarch’s official and ceremonial home but was again sidelined when Buckingham Palace became the principal royal residence in 1837.

Who has lived there?

King Henry VIII had St James’s built as a smaller residence to escape court life’s formality and stresses in Whitehall. Two of Henry’s children died at the palace; first was his illegitimate son Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset in 1536, and second was his daughter Queen Mary I, who died at St James’s in 1558. Henry’s other daughter, Queen Elizabeth I was also known to reside there often and is believed to have spent the night there whilst awaiting news on the Spanish Armada’s progress.

During the Stuart era, King Charles I’s mother-in-law, Marie de Medici lived at St James’s Palace for three years. However, as a Catholic former queen of France, her residence in England proved unpopular with Parliament, and she was asked to leave and return to Cologne. In 1649, Charles I spent his final night in the palace before his execution on January 30.

Both King George I and King George II used the palace as their principal residence in London and used it to house their respective mistresses: the Duchess of Kendal and the Countess of Suffolk. However, King George III found St James’s too small and instead favoured his new home, Buckingham House (later Buckingham Palace) and Windsor Castle. Queen Victoria formalised the tradition set by George III in 1837 whereby the official residence of the monarch was Buckingham Palace, and St James’s would be used for formal occasions and public audiences.

Which key events have happened here?

Some of the most notable monarchs were born at St James’s Palace, including Charles II, James II, Mary II and Anne, Queen of Great Britain.

Queen Victoria’s wedding to Prince Albert also occurred at the palace on February 10, 1840, as well as the wedding of their eldest daughter, Princess Victoria also took place there when she married Prince Frederick of Prussia on January 25, 1858.

Several royal christenings have also taken place at the palace in the Chapel Royal, such as the christenings of Prince George of Cambridge on October 23, 2013, and his younger brother, Prince Louis of Cambridge on July 9, 2018.

Who is it used by today?

St James’s is still a working royal palace and is the location of the Royal Court of St James’s. 

It is the London home to Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, Princess Beatrice and Princess Alexandra. Other former residents include the Prince of Wales and his sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, as well as their cousin, Princess Eugenie.