Situated in Pall Mall, north of St James’s Park, St James’s Palace is one of London’s oldest palaces. Though for two centuries no sovereign has resided there, it has remained the official residence of the sovereign and the most senior royal palace in the UK. For this reason it lends its name to the Royal Court (the ‘Court of St James’s’).
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. St James’s Palace is one of the four buildings in London where guards from the Household Division can be seen (the other three are Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and Horse Guards). It is the ceremonial gathering place of the Accession Council which proclaims a new sovereign.
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, Princess Beatrice of York and Princess Alexandra, the Honourable Lady Ogilvy. The Palace forms part of a sprawling complex of buildings housing Court offices and officials’ apartments. The immediate palace complex includes York House, the former home of the Prince of Wales and his sons, Princes William and Harry. Lancaster House is located next door and used by HM Government for official receptions, and the nearby Clarence House, the home of the late Queen Mother is now the residence of the Prince of Wales.
Because the Royal Family still lives here, it is not possible to get inside the Palace.
The palace was commissioned by Henry VIII, on the site of a former leper hospital dedicated to Saint James the Less, after whom the Palace and its nearby Park have been named. The hospital was disbanded in 1532.
The new palace was constructed between 1531 and 1536 in the red-brick Tudor style around four courtyards: its gatehouse survives on the north side, flanked by polygonal turrets with mock battlements, fitted with Georgian sash windows.
During the reign of William III and Mary II, after Whitehall Palace was destroyed by fire, St James’s Palace became the principal residence of the monarch in London and the administrative centre of the monarchy, a role it retains.
In 1809 a fire destroyed part of the palace, including the monarch’s private apartments at the south-east corner. These apartments were not replaced, leaving the Queen’s Chapel in isolation, and Marlborough Road now runs between the two buildings. George III had purchased Buckingham House – the predecessor to Buckingham Palace – for his queen back in 1762, and St James’s continued to decline in importance in the first half of the 19th century. It 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 primary residence of the monarch. Some structures and interiors by Sir Christopher Wren and William Kent survive, but most were remodelled in the 19th century. William Morris and his firm were commissioned to redecorate the Armoury and the Tapestry Room in 1866-67.
On the 12th of June 1941 Representatives of Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa and of the exiled governments of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Yugoslavia, and the general de Gaulle of France met and signed the Declaration of St James’s Palace which was the first of six treaties that established the United Nations.
Diana, Princess of Wales’s coffin was kept for a few days in the Chapel Royal at the Palace before being taken to Kensington Palace on the eve of her funeral at the Westminster Abbey in September 1997.