Buckingham Palace in London
Buckingham Palace, in London, is the principal residence and office of the British monarch. Located in the City of Westminster, the palace is a setting for state occasions and royal hospitality. It has been a focus for the British people at times of national rejoicing and crisis.
Originally known as Buckingham House, the building which forms the core of today's palace was a large townhouse built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1705 on a site which had been in private ownership for at least 150 years. It was subsequently acquired by George III in 1761 as a private residence for Queen Charlotte, and known as "The Queen's House". During the 19th century it was enlarged, principally by architects John Nash and Edward Blore, forming three wings around a central courtyard. Buckingham Palace finally became the official royal palace of the British monarch on the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837. The last major structural additions were made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the East front which contains the well-known balcony on which the Royal Family traditionally congregate to greet crowds outside. However, the palace chapel was destroyed by a German bomb in World War II; the Queen's Gallery was built on the site and opened to the public in 1962 to exhibit works of art from the Royal Collection.
The original early 19th-century interior designs, many of which still survive, included widespread use of brightly coloured scagliola and blue and pink lapis, on the advice of Sir Charles Long. King Edward VII oversaw a partial redecoration in a Belle Époque cream and gold colour scheme. Many smaller reception rooms are furnished in the Chinese regency style with furniture and fittings brought from the Royal Pavilion at Brighton and from Carlton House. The Buckingham Palace Garden is the largest private garden in London.
The state rooms, used for official and state entertaining, are open to the public each year for most of August and September, as part of the Palace's Summer Opening.
In the Middle Ages, Buckingham Palace's site formed part of the Manor of Ebury (also called Eia). The marshy ground was watered by the river Tyburn, which still flows below the courtyard and south wing of the palace. Where the river was fordable (at Cow Ford), the village of Eye Cross grew. Ownership of the site changed hands many times; owners included Edward the Confessor and his queen consort Edith of Wessex in late Saxon times, and, after the Norman Conquest, William the Conqueror. William gave the site to Geoffrey de Mandeville, who bequeathed it to the monks of Westminster Abbey.
In 1531, Henry VIII acquired the Hospital of St James (later St. James's Palace) from Eton College, and in 1536 he took the Manor of Ebury from Westminster Abbey. These transfers brought the site of Buckingham Palace back into royal hands for the first time since William the Conqueror had given it away almost 500 years earlier.
Various owners leased it from royal landlords and the freehold was the subject of frenzied speculation during the 17th century. By then, the old village of Eye Cross had long since fallen into decay, and the area was mostly wasteland. Needing money, James I sold off part of the Crown freehold but retained part of the site on which he established a 4 acre mulberry garden for the production of silk. (This is at the northwest corner of today's palace.) Clement Walker in Anarchia Anglicana (1649) refers to "new-erected sodoms and spintries at the Mulberry Garden at S. James's"; this suggests it may have been a place of debauchery. Eventually, in the late 17th century, the freehold was inherited from the property tycoon Sir Hugh Audley by the great heiress Mary Davies.
First houses on the site
Possibly the first house erected within the site was that of a Sir William Blake, around 1624. The next owner was Lord Goring, who from 1633 extended Blake's house and developed much of today's garden, then known as Goring Great Garden. He did not, however, manage to obtain freehold interest in the mulberry garden. Unbeknown to Goring, in 1640 the document "failed to pass the Great Seal before King Charles I fled London, which it needed to do for legal execution". (It was this critical omission that helped the British royal family regain the freehold under King George III.)
The improvident Goring defaulted on his rents; Henry Bennet, 1st Earl of Arlington obtained the mansion and was occupying it, now known as Goring House, when it burned down in 1674. Ventilation was so bad that the interior smelled, and when a decision was taken to install gas lamps, there was a serious worry about the build-up of gas on the lower floors. It was also said that the staff were lax and lazy and the palace was dirty.
The Palace measures 108 metres by 120 metres, is 24 metres high and contains over 77000 m2 of floorspace. The principal rooms of the palace are contained on the piano nobile behind the west-facing garden façade at the rear of the palace. The centre of this ornate suite of state rooms is the Music Room, its large bow the dominant feature of the façade. Flanking the Music Room are the Blue and the White Drawing rooms. At the centre of the suite, serving as a corridor to link the state rooms, is the Picture Gallery, which is top-lit and 55 yards (50 m) long. The Gallery is hung with numerous works including some by Rembrandt, van Dyck, Rubens and Vermeer; other rooms leading from the Picture Gallery are the Throne Room and the Green Drawing Room. The Green Drawing room serves as a huge anteroom to the Throne Room, and is part of the ceremonial route to the throne from the Guard Room at the top of the Grand staircase.
When paying a state visit to Britain, foreign heads of state are usually entertained by the Queen at Buckingham Palace. They are allocated a large suite of rooms known as the Belgian suite, situated at the foot of the Minister's Staircase, on the ground floor of the North-facing garden wing. The rooms of the suite are linked by narrow corridors, one given extra height and perspective by saucer domes designed by Nash in the style of Soane. A second corridor in the suite has Gothic influenced cross over vaulting.
Formerly, men not wearing military uniform would wear knee breeches of an 18th-century design. Women's evening dress included obligatory trains and tiaras or feathers in their hair (or both).
The dress code governing formal court uniform and dress has progressively relaxed. After World War I, when Queen Mary wished to follow fashion by raising her skirts a few inches from the ground, she requested a Lady-in-Waiting to shorten her own skirt first to gauge the King's reaction. King George V was horrified and her hemline remained unfashionably low. Subsequently, King George VI and his consort, Queen Elizabeth, allowed daytime skirts to rise.
Today, there is no official dress code. Most men invited to Buckingham Palace in the daytime choose to wear service uniform or lounge suits, a minority wear morning coats, and in the evening, depending on the formality of the occasion, black tie or white tie. If the occasion is "white tie" then women, if they possess one, wear a tiara.
State banquets also take place in the Ballroom; these formal dinners take place on the first evening of a state visit by a visiting Head of State. In 1982, Michael Fagan, was able to break into the palace twice, and conversed with the Queen on one of these. Reportedly, Her Majesty maintained her composure while the palace police were en route and Fagan made no threatening motions towards the Queen.
The Garden, the Royal Mews and the Mall
At the rear of the palace, is the large and park-like garden which, together with its lake, is the largest private garden in London. Here the Queen hosts her annual garden parties each summer, and also holds large functions to celebrate royal milestones, such as jubilees. Originally landscaped by Capability Brown, it was redesigned by William Townsend Aiton of Kew Gardens and John Nash. The artificial lake was completed in 1828 and is supplied with water from the Serpentine, a river which runs through Hyde Park.
Adjacent to the palace is the Royal Mews, also designed by Nash, where the royal carriages, including the Gold State Coach, are housed. This rococo gilt coach, designed by Sir William Chambers in 1760, has painted panels by G. B. Cipriani. It was first used for the State Opening of Parliament by George III in 1762 and is used by the monarch only for coronations or jubilee celebrations. Also housed in the Mews are the carriage horses used in royal ceremonial processions.
The Mall, a ceremonial approach route to the palace, was designed by Sir Aston Webb and completed in 1911 as part of a grand memorial to Queen Victoria. It extends from Admiralty Arch, up around the Victoria Memorial, bounded by the Canada Gate, South Africa Gate and Australia Gate, to the palace forecourt. This route is used by the cavalcades and motorcades of all visiting heads of state, and by the Royal Family on state occasions such as the annual State Opening of Parliament as well as Trooping the Colour each year.
21st century: Royal use and public access
Every year some 50,000 invited guests are entertained at garden parties, receptions, audiences and banquets. The Garden Parties, usually three, are held in the summer, usually in July. The Forecourt of Buckingham Palace is used for Changing of the Guard, a major ceremony and tourist attraction (daily during the summer months; every other day during the winter).
The palace, like Windsor Castle, is owned by the British state. It is not the monarch's personal property, unlike Sandringham House and Balmoral Castle. Many of the contents from Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Kensington Palace and St. James's Palace are known collectively as the Royal Collection; owned by the Sovereign, they can, on occasions, be viewed by the public at the Queen's Gallery, near the Royal Mews. Unlike the palace and the castle, the gallery is open continually and displays a changing selection of items from the collection. The rooms containing the Queen's Gallery are on the site of the former chapel, which was damaged by one of the seven bombs to fall on the palace during World War II. The palace's state rooms have been open to the public during August and September since 1993. The money raised in entry fees was originally put towards the rebuilding of Windsor Castle following the 1992 fire which destroyed many of its state rooms.
In May 2009, in response to a request from the Royal Family to the government for money for a backlog of repairs to the palace, a group of MPs on the Public Accounts Committee proposed that in return for the extra £4 million in annual funds requested, the palace be open to the public more than the 60 days it is now, as well as when members of the Royal Family are in residence. The British Government currently provides £15 million yearly for the palace's upkeep.
Thus, Buckingham Palace is a symbol and home of the British monarchy, an art gallery and tourist attraction. Behind the gilded railings and gates which were made by the Bromsgrove Guild<ref name="rob9" /> and Webb's famous façade which has been described in a book published by the Royal Collection as looking "like everybody's idea of a palace";<ref name="rob9" /> is not only the weekday home of the Queen and Prince Philip but also the London residence of the Duke of York and the Earl and Countess of Wessex. The palace also houses the offices of the Royal Household and is the workplace of 450 people.
- Flags at Buckingham Palace
- List of British Royal Residences
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