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Why St James’s Palace is no longer London’s primary royal residence

For more than 300 years, St James’s Palace has been the setting for some of the most important moments in royal history. Serving as the residence for monarchs of England until the reign of Queen Victoria, today it is still the home of several members of the Royal Family but primarily a working palace.

Located in Westminster, the palace was built by Henry VIII in 1531. This makes it even older than the monarch’s official London residence, Buckingham Palace. Perhaps it might not have ever been a royal residence if it wasn’t for a fire at the Palace of Whitehall.

In 1691, a fire broke out in the much-renovated apartment previously used by the Duchess of Portsmouth at the Palace of Whitehall. Several years later, in 1698, a second fire destroyed the remaining residential and government buildings. This led all monarchs until William IV to live at St James’s for part of the time.

In 1809, a fire destroyed part of St James’s, including the monarch’s private apartments. The Royal Family began spending most of their time at the predecessor to Buckingham Palace, Buckingham House. St James’s was used only for formal occasions like thrice-weekly levées and public audiences.

In the late 18th century, George III refurbished the state apartments but neglected the living quarters. William IV was the last monarch to take up residence, at least for part of the year. Queen Victoria formalised the move in 1837, ending St James’s being used as the primary residence of the monarch.

Today, the palace is still working, and the Royal Court is based there. While many royals take up residence at Kensington Palace, only a few members of the Royal Family make St James’s their London residence. This includes Princess Anne, Princess Beatrice, and Princess Alexandra.

Until autumn 2017, Princess Beatrice shared an apartment with her sister, Princess Eugenie. Most flats in the palace span four floors and have multiple bedrooms, and it’s believed the sister’s flat had four floors. In the past, Princes William and Harry lived with their father, King Charles, in York House, which is within palace walls.

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About author

My name is Sydney Zatz and I am a University of Iowa graduate. I graduated with a degree in journalism and sports studies, and a minor in sport and recreation management. A highlight of my college career was getting the chance to study abroad in London and experiencing royal history firsthand. I have a passion for royals, royal history, and journalism, which led me to want to write for Royal Central.