Exploring the Banqueting House

This article was originally written for the English Historical Fiction Authors Blog (EHFA) and posted Feb 2, 2016. If you haven’t yet visited the EHFA blog, I encourage you to check out their website (click here) for high quality articles pertaining to English history.


 

On this 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.

Banqueting_House_London-2

Wikimedia commons- see Media below for attribution

Completed in 1622, the Banqueting House is the only remaining structure of Whitehall Palace and is situated across from the Horse Guards. 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.

The Banqueting Hall

The Banqueting 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.

Banqueting_House_03

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 (vaulted basement)

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 in two shirts to keep warm. 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

Parliamentary Guard outside the Banqueting House- Photo by C. Bazos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Media:

Street view of the Banqueting House: “Banqueting House London” by en:User:ChrisO – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons –

Apotheosis of James I: “Banqueting House 03” by The wub – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons –

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About Cryssa Bazos

Historical fiction writer and 17th century enthusiast.
This entry was posted in 17th century and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Exploring the Banqueting House

  1. Thanks, Cryssa … as one of your American followers, this posting is a timely reminder of what can happen when a “leader” forgets that he rules at the consent of the people. Throughout history there are such examples; civil war is not a desirable outcome, and it seems to me that Charles I brought this on himself. But on your post — I always assumed he wore trousers and boots as well as the two shirts and a cap??? If not, that would be really humiliating.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My main problem when visiting the Banqueting House was that they should have had really comfy beds to lie on while studying the ceilings 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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