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Charles Rex

Guidebook: Whitehall

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The palace of Whitehall, formerly known as York's Palace till the Tudors expanded it, is the Kings residence in London. It stretches over 23 acres, containing over 2000 rooms in all different sizes , shapes and agricultural styles, ending at the embankment of the Thames. It looked almost like a town upon itself.

 

"The Palace is ill Built, and nothing but a heap of Houses, erected at divers times, and of different Models, which they made Contiguous in the best Manner they could for the Residence of the Court; Which yet makes it a more Commodious Habitation than the Louvre, for it contains above Two Thousand Rooms, and that between a Fine Park and a Noble River, so that 'tis admirably well Situated for the Conveniency of walking, and going about Business into the City."

 

Entry point to:

  • Whitehall Gates
    • The Whitehall Gate gave the visitor access to the Whitehall Palace. Entering the palace by the gate gave access to the Whalebone Court, through which was the passage to the Great Hall (Whitehall), the Royal Chapel and the Water Gate.
       
      The gatehouse itself was a lofty baroque building with a conical roof. It was entered by a door flanked by two passages, each in the form of a quadrant, together making a semi-circle. The rooms over the gate were used as lodgings. Among others the Lord Almoner had his residence here. The Porter's Lodge was on the ground floor under the Gate. It was occasionally used as a prison.

    [*]Water Gate

    • From the Thames the busy traffic directed at the palace entered through the Water Gate, heavy but beautifully decorated iron bars that in time of panic could close off the entrance, guarded heavily by the Life Guard who checked everybody who came in and out. Of course the private yacht of the royals did not make use of this public gateway using instead the Privy Stairs to the Thames.
       
      Beyond the Water Gate one would enter the Whalebone Court.

    [*]Whalebone Court

    • Accessed by Whitehall Gates on the one side and the Water Gate on the other side the Whalebone Court was the main access point to the palace. It was thus also know as the Great Court. It gave way to the Great Hall (Whitehall)Great Hall.
       
      The most telling feature were the enormous large Whale bones that stood as decoration along the side of the courtyard, speaking of that dangerous profession of English Whalers.

    [*]Fountains of the Courtyard

    • A vain attempt to imitate the French style that had so impressed the young lords and royals in exile before the Restoration, the courtyard sported a large collection of fountains in a big pool of water. They were connected to each other with an ingenious system, a mechanism causing them to spring forth in a rhythm, one after the other, or indeed in any order that the Master of the Garden wished for.
       
      This was the area previously known as the Pebble Court, just behind the Banqueting House, and separated from the Whalebone Court by a brick gallery that had been built in 1668, leading from the Banqueting House to the King's Apartment. The gallery was wrought prettily, with many windows and stairs on the two ends.

 

Exit to:

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Great Hall

 

Accessed from the Whalebone Court, the Great Hall was about 40 feet wide and 70 feet long, in chief, excluding the servants' access to the buttery and kitchen. The east wall contained an oriel window and vaulted ceiling, which highlighted the dais. Opposite this was a vast arched fireplace. Six bays flanked the huge chamber, each with triple-light windows, and windows of stained glass displaying heraldry above. External buttresses supported the lofty ceiling of bare timbers, which was covered in, in 1675, to aid with acoustics. The floor was paved with stone. In 1665, the Great Hall was fitted with a gallery at the south end and tiring-rooms close at hand, thus converting it for regular use as a playhouse.

 

Exits to:

  • Whalebone Court
    • Accessed by Whitehall Gates on the one side and the Water Gate on the other side the Whalebone Court was the main access point to the palace. It was thus also know as the Great Court. It gave way to the Great Hall (Whitehall)Great Hall.
       
      The most telling feature were the enormous large Whale bones that stood as decoration along the side of the courtyard, speaking of that dangerous profession of English Whalers.

    [*]Portrait Gallery

    • The long hallway connecting the Banqueting House and the Great Hall is decked out in portraits, landscapes and sculptures from all the past masters. Stools dot the hallway, as well as a fireplace or two, to warm it in the winter months. Also scattered about are small nooks that lend an air of privacy in the open corridor, especially at night.

    [*]Wine Cellar

    • An expansive area underground, where the King and his companions are known to congregate for a bit of drinking. Women are not normally allowed down here, unless accompanied by a gentleman known by the Sommelier.
       
      If one were given to flights of fancy, it would be easy to imagine some creature hiding in the ink black recesses of the Wine Cellar. Luckily most men who find their way down there are not given to such thoughts and have a merry time under the high arches and flickering torchlight. Among the wine bottles and casks, there is a table set up with comfortable chairs, one larger than the rest.

    [*]Shield Gallery[*]Privy Gallery[*]Central Drawing Room

    • The room is decorated in a rich burgundy, the chairs and settees scattered around in small groupings matching the décor. There are no windows in the room, so the light is supplied by a large chandelier, which is reflected off several mirrors strategically placed about the room. Servants circulate about the room, ready to fetch any drink that one may require, from tea to wine to brandy.

    [*]Scarlet Drawing Room

    • The Scarlet Drawing Room was in an out of the way location in Whitehall, quite near the Royal Quarters. It had also been dubbed the Restoration Drawing Room for it was here that Charles I met with Edward Hyde and his Privy Council members when he returned to London. Its use by the King has been largely forgotten, as Charles preferred other drawing rooms closer to his bedchamber. Although open to the public, it was hard to find and, therefore, favoured by those who enjoyed the King's favour and knew of its whereabouts high up in a tower of the palace.
       
      The walls of the drawing room are draped in red silk. A portrait of the King, painted in the month of his restoration, hangs prominently on the wall. Windows present a glorious view of St. James' Park to the west. A large dining table rests in the centre of this modestly sized room.

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Banqueting House

 

The current Banqueting House was build in 1619. The building comprises two storeys: a vaulted ground storey and an upper storey containing the Banqueting Hall. The east and west elevations are faced with Portland stone, while the north and south ends, where exposed, are in cement with stone dressings. The south end has a large semi-circularheaded window, with a doorway leading from the gallery floor to the main staircase of the adjoining premises.The east and west elevations are symmetrical, each comprising seven bays.The general wall treatment to the bays is rusticated, and the windows are square-headed.The upper storey is in two stages, an Ionic Order, carrying a Composite Order, typical Baroque pilasters.Between the capitals to the upper stage is a boldly carved frieze representing draped female masks between swags of fruit. The annexe at the north end contains an entrance hall and main staircase leading to the Banqueting Hall, with a secondary staircase continuing from the Hall to the gallery and offices above.

 

Entrypoint to:

  • Banqueting Hall
    • The rows of tables are laid out in straight lines, with strict seating arrangements that appear casual. Those closest to the King's tables are more in his favour. A buffet is laid out at the back of the hall, to allow courtiers to pick and chose what they desire, though wine and other drinks are supplied by the multitude of servants scurrying about.
       
      The ceiling was painted by Rubens on orders of King James I, grandfather to King Charles II.
       
      The subject of the middle panel is the Apotheosis of James I. Justice is raising the King, who is shown holding a sceptre, with one foot on a globe and the other on the wing of a flying eagle, which is grasping a thunderbolt in its talons. In attendance are figures representing Zeal, Religion, Honour and Victory. Above the King are cherubs with the crown and orb, and others are blowing trumpets.
       
      The large south panel represents the King, seated on a throne within an architectural composition, and pointing to Peace and Plenty embracing on his right. Angels support a laurel wreath over his head and a cherub behind him carries the crown. On his left Minerva, holding a thunderbolt in her right hand and a shield in her left, is driving Rebellion; who holds a flaring torch, down to Hell, where Satan, attended by monsters, awaits him. Mercury is pointing with his caduceus to his downfall.
       
      The large north panel is an allegorical representation of the birth and crowning of Prince Charles I. The King is seated on his throne, holding the orb, and pointing with his sceptre to Prince Charles (a nude infant figure), who is attended by two draped females, of whom one, who is crowned, may be intended for the Queen. Behind is Minerva, who is holding a crown over the prince. The background shows an architectural composition, with a domed coffered ceiling. In the upper part of the picture two cherubs support a crowned cartouche, bearing the Stuart arms, with garlands of roses.
       
      The two oval panels at the south end of the ceiling represent Royal Bounty, pouring, from a cornucopia, crowns, emblems and medals, and trampling on Avarice; and Government, holding a bridle, and trampling on Rebellion.
       
      Two similar panels at the north end represent Hercules (Heroic Virtues) clubbing Envy; and Minerva (Heroic Chastity) with a spear destroying Lust. Above her is a flying owl holding a wreath.
       
      On each side of the large central panel are long oblong panels. That on the east side shows a procession of cherubs, with a chariot laden with fruit and drawn by a ram and a wolf, the former ridden by an infant Bacchus. In front is a cherub riding a tiger, preceded by other cherubs carrying a huge cornucopia of fruit, the whole representing the Peace and Plenty of King James's reign. The other panel is supposed to represent the Harmony and Happiness of the reign, and contains gambolling cherubs on a rope of fruit which issues from a chariot drawn by a lion and a bear. Cherubs are loading up the chariot with a huge cornucopia of fruit. The lion has a cherub on his back tickling his ear, while another in front is drawing his teeth.
       
      The scale of the figures in the whole composition is extraordinary, the cherubs being more than 9 feet high.

 

Exit to:

  • Portrait Gallery
    • The long hallway connecting the Banqueting House and the Great Hall is decked out in portraits, landscapes and sculptures from all the past masters. Stools dot the hallway, as well as a fireplace or two, to warm it in the winter months. Also scattered about are small nooks that lend an air of privacy in the open corridor, especially at night.

    [*]Great Hall

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Privy Gallery

 

The Privy Gallery extended from the passage over the Holbein Gate, past the Privy Garden, and into the main rooms of the Palace, including the Council Chamber. It was warmed with fireplaces spaced periodically along with wide hallway. Windows looked down into the Privy Garden and chairs were placed discreetly at intervals near the fireplaces for those in need of a brief rest and a little warmth.

 

Entry to:

  • Offices
    • Office of the Exchequer
    • Office of the Lord Chamberlain
    • Office of the Lord Chancellor
    • Office of the Lord High Treasurer
    • Office of the Northern Secretary
    • Office of the Privy Purse
    • Office of the Household Treasurer
    • Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland
    • Office of the Sollicitor General

    [*]Central Drawing Room

    • The room is decorated in a rich burgundy, the chairs and settees scattered around in small groupings matching the décor. There are no windows in the room, so the light is supplied by a large chandelier, which is reflected off several mirrors strategically placed about the room. Servants circulate about the room, ready to fetch any drink that one may require, from tea to wine to brandy.

    [*]Music Room

    • The room is decorated in gentle shades of lavender and plum, intended for use for small concerts in the upcoming winter months. Set central to the room is a Piano forte, with a selection of some other instruments, a harp and a lute, a great horn, a cello and two violins, three flutes and a triangle being the most notable ones. Against one of the walls are set three stands that can be moved around the room as needed and a doorless cupboard filled with numerous shelves offering a selection of music, mostly from England, Italy and Germany.
       
      Musicians one and all are welcomed to the room, whereupon impromptu performances and practise might idle away the hours of early afternoon.

    [*]Royal Library

    • The ceilings of the Royal Library are 15 feet high. Shelves of polished walnut climb the walls to a height of 10 feet and are filled with books. Bindings of rich brown calf are interspersed with jewel-toned volumes of red, blue and green.
       
      Windows set high in the walls above the shelving fill the room with light. A number of comfortable chairs in rich tobacco coloured leather are dotted about for the use of those reading for pleasure. For those who have a serious purpose, several tables and upright chairs are provided.
       
      Damp is the natural enemy of the book. With the palace so close to the river, the battle is waged continuously. The Library has 6 fireplaces: fires are lit every day. The size of the blaze depends on the weather.
       
      Mr Potts is the Keeper of the King's Books. It is rumoured that Mr Potts never sleeps and that he has forgotten his way home as a result of his devotion to his beloved volumes. Nonsense, surely, but Mr Potts does always seem to be in the Library...
       
      His desk, well supplied with paper, quills and ink, is situated near the main door of the library. It is here that he works on his catalogue of the King's books. He also has an excellent view of the room and the doings of those therein, as well as seeing everyone who comes and goes.
       
      The greatest treasure of the Library is situated by Mr Potts' desk. Held in an ever-locked case of walnut and glass, lies the Bible of King Henry VIII, who founded the English church. Bound in the finest of ruby-coloured leather, richly ornamented with gold and jewels, the book is a thing of great beauty quite apart from it's historical significance.

    [*]Cards Room

    • The room is decorated in blue and teal, the chairs and settees scattered around in small groupings matching the decor, located in the tower just two stories beneath the Scarlet Drawing room.
       
      Clusters of chairs set around felt covered tables are frequently filled with merry courtiers enjoying banter and a glass of wine over sometimes heated games of cards.

 

Exit to:

  • Shield Gallery
  • Great Hall
    • Portrait Gallery
      • The long hallway connecting the Banqueting House and the Great Hall is decked out in portraits, landscapes and sculptures from all the past masters. Stools dot the hallway, as well as a fireplace or two, to warm it in the winter months. Also scattered about are small nooks that lend an air of privacy in the open corridor, especially at night.

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Shield Gallery

 

Running from east to west alongside the Thames, the Shield Gallery provided an excellent viewing point to watch the Privy Stairs. The gallery took its name from the circumstance that the shields offered on the occasion of tournaments in the Tilt Yard were hung there.

 

 

"We were taken into a long passage across the water, which on both sides is beautifully decorated with shields and mottoes. These shields originate from tournaments which the queen orders to be held twice a year, the first on her birthday, the second when she ascended the throne. Everybody who wishes to take part must ask permission; this being granted, he offers the shield to the queen, who orders it to be hung up there."

Von Wedel, 1584.

 

 

"Their landing was at the Privy Staires of Whitehall, where in the Shield Gallery stood on each side ranged those Ladies of quality and beauty, that had not yet seen the Queen."

Landing of Queen Henrietta Maria in 1625

 

Entry into:

  • King's Back Stairs
    • The marble stairs at the back of the Kings Apartment, accessible by water and through a small passage from the Whalebone Court, were frequently visited, but mostly at night, when one or more ladies were rushed inside to attend on the King. The door was invariably guarded by the Kings personal manservant and a set of Life Guards. Green vines curled around a lantern that lightened the way of the rushed footsteps of the ladies.
       
      A small corridor gave direct access to the Kings Bedroom.

    [*]Privy Stairs

    • Built in 1530, the Privy Stairs to the Thames was a private landing place for any travel of the royals over water, though often nobles could beg to make use of it. The platform carried the Kings Arms and was made of wood, while the brick stairs lead up to the Kings Apartment, right towards what was know as the Kings Back Stairs, while to the side was the Shield Gallery which provided an excellent viewing point to see the goings on at the Privy Stairs. It often was the scene of pleasure and recreation, with larger and smaller boats being rowed over the Thames, and the King using it as a waterway to get discreetly towards some of his mistress outside the palace.

 

Exit to:

  • Privy Garden
  • Water Gate
    • From the Thames the busy traffic directed at the palace entered through the Water Gate, heavy but beautifully decorated iron bars that in time of panic could close off the entrance, guarded heavily by the Life Guard who checked everybody who came in and out. Of course the private yacht of the royals did not make use of this public gateway using instead the Privy Stairs to the Thames.
       
      Beyond the Water Gate one would enter the Whalebone Court.

    [*]Privy Gallery

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The Royal Chapel

 

Close by to the Banqueting House exists the Royal Chapel.

 

Seven broad stone steps lead up to the old building; grand arched double doors are wide open. Within, great vaulted wooden ceilings capture a great volume of air above the congregation - high above heavenly depictions look lovingly upon the mahogany pews. Candles flicker in sconces, the building itself is not overly well lit - behind the altar stained glass windows filter the light in a brilliance of colours.

 

A priest moves quietly about lighting tapers, available to tend to the needs of the flock.

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