Something Old: The Banqueting House, Whitehall

On my last trip to London I paid a visit to one of the most spectacular buildings that I have ever been in, The Banqueting House in Whitehall. The Banqueting House was completed in 1622 by King James I and today it remains the sole remaining part of the sprawling Whitehall palace of  Henry VIII dating from the 1500′s.  The elegant façade disguises the stunning jewel that lies within.

The Banqueting Hall

As I ascended the large stone staircase, following in the footsteps of all the previous generations, my spine actually tingled with anticipation. Once I took my first glimpse of the main room I had goosebumps as I was in awe and quickly falling to the buildings charms.  I have never seen such a magnificent space and I felt truly humbled in its presence, as any fan of architectural or decorative history would be.

Throne in the Banqueting Hall

The crowning glory of the Banqueting room is, of course, the ornate painted ceiling. Painted by the Italian master Rubens and commissioned by King Charles I it is an amazing piece of work.  As with all great painted ceilings, it tells a story, in this case that of the divine right of kings.  The large central panel depicts King James I ascending to heaven, surrounded by depictions of victory and justice.  Above the Throne the painting depicts King James I enthroned in Heaven on the throne of King Solomon. Above the door the scene depicts what many consider to be the greatest legacy of King James I, the unification of Scotland and England to form Great Britain.  This ceilings leaves the viewer in no doubt as to who is in charge  (And of how very modest he was -Ed).  If they are still this awe inspiring now, one can only imagine the impact that they had in the 17th Century. That is why it was designed that way, to impose the power of the King.

Ornate Ceiling

As one could imagine a building could not be nearly 400 years old without witnessing its fair share of historic events. This is a building which is literally groaning under the weight of its own history.  The most important part occurred on a freezing cold January morning in 1649, When King Charles I walked to the Banqueting house from St James’s Palace, not to a ball, but to his death.  After his loss in the English civil war, the King was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. The location of his execution was highly poetic and ironic, as one of the last things he would have seen was the ornate ceiling he had installed that depicted his attitude towards kingship, his divine right to rule and his almost god like status.  It is this attitude that had got the King in hot water, caused the war. and ultimately that January morning where he not only lost his Crown, but his head.  With that swing of the axe, Britain became a republic, although briefly under the tyranny of the infamous Cromwell.  During this period, the Banqueting house was effectively mothballed used rarely and never for anything fun!  But when the monarchy was restored in 1660 this stunning building came to life again, and has maintained its original purpose until the present day.

King James I

Of course there is much more history tied to this building then I can cover in one post, so I urge you if in London, pop along for a visit and savour the history and stunning architecture.  The entry fee is only £5 for an adult which is more than reasonable, and the money goes to funding the programme of restoration. So you will not only get  to experience it but will also help preserve it for our future generations!

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If you would like to learn more try English Country House Interiors by Jeremy Musson or you can get cute postcards of the Banqueting House itself.



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