Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Banqueting House

By Cryssa Bazos

A few days after the anniversary of the execution of King Charles I in 1649, I am reminded of the place where this drama played out--the Banqueting House at Whitehall.

The Banqueting House- Wikimedia Commons

Completed in 1622, the Banqueting House is the only remaining structure of Whitehall Palace and is situated across from Horse Guards Parade. During the Tudor age, the original Banqueting House was little better than a temporary venue. When King James I of England (VI of Scotland) succeeded Elizabeth on the throne in 1603 and ushered in the Stuart Age in England, he got down to work building a proper Banqueting House. His queen, Anne of Denmark, had been fond of masques and was a patroness of the arts.

The famous 17th century architect, Inigo Jones, was commissioned to design the building. What you have is a beautiful example of Palladian architecture with stately pillars and expansive high ceilings. Galleries line the upper hall. But what is truly a marvel in the Hall did not exist until King Charles I succeeded his father to the throne.

Interior Hall: Photo by C. Bazos

Charles commissioned the great Flemish artist, Peter Paul Rubens, to create a series of paintings to grace the ceiling. The panels were completed in Ruben's workshop before being shipped to England for installation.

The paintings were a delight of classical gods and motifs, the most noteworthy being the centre panel titled The Apotheosis of James I. The scene glorifies his late father, James I as though he were being crowned by the heavens. It is meant to reinforce the concept of the king being God's representative on earth and his divine right to rule.

Detail of ceiling:Wikimedia Commons

These paintings remain the only work of Rubens on display outside of a museum. Fortunately for the preservation of the paintings, masques ceased to be performed following their installation. The smoke from the candles would have damaged them over time.

Below the Banqueting Hall is an area known as the Undercroft. During King James's time, it was used as the royal party den, but in later years, they held other amusements such as lotteries. It's curved ceilings gives the impression of a cosy cave. One can imagine how it once looked, crowded with men drinking and gambling while lit with golden torchlight.

The Undercroft: Photo by C. Bazos

Ironically, the Banqueting House, which evolved as a testament to the divinity of kings, would stand as a confirmation of their mortality.

On a cold winter day, on 30 January, 1649, a scaffold was erected outside the Banqueting House, accessed from a second story landing. King Charles I stepped out on the scaffold, clad only in two shirts and a cap. Facing his subjects, he left them with his famous parting words, "I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown." Here ended his reign.

There is so much art and history wrapped up in the Banqueting House. The next time you are visiting London, I encourage you to visit this marvellous building. You may even be greeted by a Parliamentary soldier.

Parliamentary guard: Photo by C. Bazos

Wikimedia Commons attribution:
The Banqueting House: "Banqueting House London" by en:User:ChrisO - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Banqueting_House_London.jpg#/media/File:Banqueting_House_London.jpg

Apotheosis of James I: "Banqueting House 03" by The wub - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Banqueting_House_03.jpg#/media/File:Banqueting_House_03.jpg

Cryssa Bazos is a historical fiction writer and 17th Century enthusiast with a particular interest in the English Civil War (ECW). For more stories about the English Civil War and the 17th Century, visit her blog.


  1. Lovely post, Chryssa! I really enjoy these windows into history and I'd love to see the banqueting house.

  2. I love this! Thanks for your photos.

  3. Very cool:) I visited the King's Head in Galway, and they have a slightly different version of events (as you might imagine) ;)

    1. An interesting profile of this great heritage site, Cryssa. The Banqueting House is the last vestige of the once great Whitehall Palace, which burned down in 1698, having survived the Great Fire of 1660. Like Cryssa, I found the basement as fascinating as the hall, and I have to say, the bathrooms are a marvel of art deco design that nevertheless beautifully suits the building. There is so much mystery, mythical assertion, politics, passion and pathos in this place, both royalist and republican at once. One has to wonder, as you wander along its front facing windows, which one provided the passage from mortal king to heavenly spirit that transported Charles Stuart. History did not record this fact. But in a way, all the portals from this building led to a new era in the reflections of kings and their power on earth.

    2. Funny you should say about the new era, Sally, but right across is where the Horse Guards are. This unit was created by Charles II when he was restored to the throne. Their mandate was to protect him. Ironic that they would be housed just across from the Banqueting House--or perhaps by design?

    3. Mark, I can very well imagine!

  4. We visited the Ruben house in Antwerp, Belgium. It was beautiful as were the gardens.

    1. Rubens is one of my favourite artists. I remember falling in love with his attention to intricate details. The folds of their clothes could have passed for a photograph. And his colours were vibrant. I would love to see his house.

  5. The photographs are remarkably evocative. Thank you for posting

  6. Thank you everyone for your lovely comments!


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