Learn About Banqueting House

The Palace of Whitehall, located in Westminster, London, was the primary residence of English monarchs from AD 1530 to 1698. 

Whitehall Palace was possibly Europe’s grandest palace at the time of its catastrophic destruction in 1698; it served as the seat of English royal authority for 168 years. Cardinal Wolsey designed the magnificent mansion as his central London home. After 1530, King Henry VIII extensively rebuilt and extended it. From Charles I’s death in 1649 until the Glorious Revolution and William III and Mary II’s accession to the throne in 1689–1690, some of the most significant events in English history took place in Whitehall.

The Downfall

In 1691, a fire broke out in one of the older palace buildings. In 1698, a second fire destroyed most of the other homes and government buildings. A lot of priceless works of art were also destroyed. These included Michelangelo’s famous sculpture Cupid, which was bought by the Gonzaga family in the 1600s, Hans Holbein the Younger’s famous portrait mural of Henry VIII, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s marble portrait bust of King Charles I. 

The sole fully functional structure of the royal complex that is still surviving is the Banqueting House, which is one of the few parts of the palace that were spared in the fire. Other remnants include the undercroft from Wolsey’s Great Chamber, which is now known as Henry VIII’s Wine Cellar beneath the Ministry of Defence. The Queen’s steps, a tower, and other parts of the former covered tennis courts from the time of Henry VIII were built into the Old Treasury and Cabinet Office at 70 Whitehall (MOD).

Early Banqueting Houses

There were two banqueting houses before the one we see now. The first structure, which was built of bricks, wood, and canvas and was intended to be temporary, was where Elizabeth I was courted by her aristocratic suitors. Its ceiling was exquisitely decorated with vines and fruit, all of which represented the hoped-for fertility of a marriage that never happened.

Despite its fragile structure, this historic banqueting house was in high demand as a masquerade location by Elizabeth’s successor. This kind of grandiose entertainment was popular with James I and his wife Anne of Denmark. Eventually, James commissioned architect Robert Stickells to build a larger hall. The King, on the other hand, was dissatisfied with the structure. A forest of columns supporting a gallery concealed most of the audience’s vision, despite its beautiful design.

Jone’s Banqueting House

 

One of the best rooms in the nation is the Banqueting House. It was one of the few structures to survive the fire at Whitehall Palace in 1698. Inigo Jones constructed it for James I between 1619 and 1622.

Inigo Jones, the son of a London carpenter, was a creative architect as well as a competent costume and set designer. He had developed several excellent masques for Queen Anne with the playwright Ben Jonson. Jones had traveled extensively in France and Italy, where he created a ton of sketches and notes on the Renaissance and Ancient Rome’s architecture. He was influenced by the classical shapes he saw while traveling, thus he modified and reinterpreted the architectural features he saw to suit his royal clients.

His magnificent Banqueting House was finished in 1622, much to the King’s joy and the amazement of those who saw it.

The Design

Jones’ Banqueting House features a massive hall the size of a double cube that sits over a vaulted Undercroft. The nine Rubens paintings, which were installed in 1636, are currently housed in the magnificently carved and gilded ceiling.

Prior to the installation of Rubens’ paintings, the ceiling was painted simple white; however, following their placement, it was darkened with “walnut-tree” color and lavishly gilded.

The Exterior

The building’s façade was initially constructed using white Portland stone for various architectural elements, and alternated honey-colored and pinkish-brown stone for the outside. Since the front was completely restored by John Soane beginning in 1829, it is now a monochromatic greyish-white. It was largely repaired with Portland stone in 1774.

Rubens Ceiling

 

The nine exquisite ceiling paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, a high-ranking diplomat as well as one of Europe’s most renowned painters, are the Banqueting House’s crowning feature. This superb painting by the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens is the biggest of the artist’s works to survive in its original European setting.

Charles I commissioned it in 1629, though James I had previously contacted Rubens about it before his death in 1625. The proposed painting’s theme was a jubilant tribute to the greatness of the Stuart dynasty. Rubens finished the paintings in 1634 and had them put in the Banqueting House ceiling in early 1636.

Banqueting House: An Execution Site

Charles I saw the ceiling for the final time as a condemned man, just 13 years after Rubens’ painting was hung. On 30 January 1649, the King was executed on a scaffold constructed outside the Banqueting House. Every year on the anniversary of his death, a special ceremony is performed there to remember him.

The Royal Maundy

In 1890, the Banqueting House was utilized for Royal Maundy, when Queen Victoria gave alms. It is a long-standing Christian royal practice to provide money to the needy on the Thursday before Easter. From Charles II through Queen Victoria, monarchs commonly utilized the Banqueting House for this particular ceremonial, which recalled how Jesus took on the role of the lowest servant and washed his followers’ feet at the Last Supper.

The current Queen has continued the Maundy custom. However, she often does not give out cash at the Banqueting House but rather in other churches. In the 18th century, people stopped practicing the practice of washing their feet. To this day, however, the Lord High Almoner continues to observe the centuries-old custom of wearing a towel slung over his right shoulder during the Maundy Thursday ceremony.

Today, The Banqueting House is now a national monument, which means that it is available to the general public and is also protected as a Grade I listed structure. Historic Royal Palaces, an autonomous charitable organization, is in charge of its maintenance. Neither the British government nor the Crown provide financial support for the organization.