St. James's Palace
Nearest Tube: St James's Park, alternative, Victoria.
Built for Henry VIII in 1532, on the site of a former leper hospital, St James's Palace was a royal residence for 300 years. A comfortable red-brick house with crenelated turrets, it bears an obvious resemblance to Hampton Court, Henry's favourite retreat. The Gate House, at the bottom of St James' Street, is one of London's most evocative Tudor landmarks. The original and early palace buildings were considerably more extensive than those remaining to us today; a fierce fire broke out in 1809 destroying the entire west wing. Later additions replaced some of what had been consumed by the conflagration, but they now surround only four courts, whereas many more had existed in the 18th century. St James's Palace was the last royal palace to be built as such in the capital.
Many monarchs have been born or have died in the palace. Queen Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII, died here in 1558, bitterly unhappy and the last catholic to sit on the English throne. Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) and James I (1603-25) both made the palace a primary royal residence, holding court here. Charles I (1625-49) spent his last night in the palace guardroom, before taking his last earthly walk across the park to loose his head on the scaffold on the 30th January 1649. George III (1760-1820) and George IV (1820-30) were both married at St James's Palace. In 1952, Queen Elizabeth II made her first speech as queen in the confines of the palace.
After 1698, when Whitehall Palace burned down, St James became the official royal residence in London; it was the setting for all court functions and foreign ambassadors are still accredited to 'the Court of St James'.
Nearby, is the distinctive white stucco of Clarence House. Built in 1825 by John Nash for the Duke of Clarence, the future William IV, it is most closely associated with the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. It is now the London home of Prince Charles, and once a year the public gain access to the opulent groundfloor.
Also close by is Spencer House, the palladian palace built between 1756-66 by John Vardy for John, 1st Earl Spencer. It remains London's only great 18th century aristocratic town house to survive intact. John Spencer, heir to the Duchess of Marlborough, who became Earl Spencer in 1765, was an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales, formerly Lady Diana Spencer. The house contains some wonderful paintings and contemporary furniture, as well as the beautifully decorated Painted Room and the exquisite Palm Room.