Essential Architecture-  London

St. James


Sir Christopher Wren


Picadilly, London


1674 to 1687


late English Renaissance  




  Main entrance of St. James's Palace on Pall Mall survives from Henry VII's palace.
St. James's Palace

St. James's Palace is one of London's oldest and most historic palaces. It is situated on The Mall in London, England, just north of St. James's Park.

The palace was commissioned by Henry VIII, on the site of a former leper hospital dedicated to Saint James the Less (from whom the Palace and its nearby Park take their names); the hospital was disbanded in 1532 (Pevsner). The new palace, secondary in interest to Henry's Whitehall Palace, was constructed in the red-brick Tudor style around four courtyards: its gatehouse survives on the north side, flanked by polygonal turrets. It became the principal residence of the monarch in London from 1698, when Whitehall Palace was destroyed by fire, and became the administrative centre of the monarchy (a role it still retains). Mary I died there, with her heart and bowels being buried in the palace's Chapel Royal. It was used as a barracks during the English Commonwealth period, before being renovated by Charles II, who also laid out St. James's Park.

Although the Hanoverians initially used St. James's Palace, it was mostly destroyed by fire in 1809, leaving Henry VIII's gateway as the only major surviving fragment of the Tudor original. While it was being rebuilt, George III chose to live at Buckingham House – the predecessor to Buckingham Palace – instead. St. James's Palace increasingly came to be used only for formal occasions such as official receptions, royal marriages, and christenings. Queen Victoria formalised the move in 1837, ending St. James's status as the official residence of the monarch. Some structures and interiors survive by Sir Christopher Wren and William Kent, but most was remodelled in the nineteenth century. William Morris and his firm were commissioned to redecorate the Armoury and the Tapestry Room, 1866-67 (Pevsner).

St. James's Palace is still a working palace, and the Royal Court is still formally based there – foreign ambassadors are still accredited to the Court of St. James's, even though they are received by the monarch at Buckingham Palace. It is also the London residence of the Princess Royal and Princess Alexandra, The Honourable Lady Ogilvy. The Palace forms part of a sprawling complex of buildings housing Court offices and officials' apartments. The complex includes York House, the former home of the Prince of Wales and his sons, the Princes William and Harry, Lancaster House, which is used by HM Government for official receptions, as well as the nearby Clarence House, the home of the late Queen Mother and now the residence of the Prince of Wales.

The Queen's Chapel, built by Inigo Jones, adjoins St. James's Palace. While the Chapel is open to the public at selected times, the palace is not accessible to the public. St. James's Palace is one of the three buildings in London where Household Cavalry guards can be seen (the other two are Buckingham Palace and Horse Guards).


The Royal Household: about St James's Palace