Site of a grand medieval residence
Banqueting House stands on a site originally owned by the Archbishops of York. They built a house here called York Place in the 14th century, conveniently close to the King's palace at Westminster.
During the 15th century York Place was occupied by archbishops who were not only great churchmen but who also held high positions in the State. These appointments brought great wealth, and York Place was expanded into a grand residence.
The Venetian ambassador described York Place, as 'a very fine palace, where one traverses eight rooms before reaching the audience chamber'.
Cardinal Wolsey and Henry VIII
In 1514 Thomas Wolsey was made Archbishop of York and began work to further extend York Place, which soon became a favourite visiting place for King Henry VIII .
But in the 1520s Wolsey's relationship with the King began to break down. Henry stripped him of all his assets in the south of England, including the Archbishop's town house, York Place.
York Place was the most important, because the old royal palace at Westminster had been destroyed by fire in 1512 and Henry had been staying at Lambeth Palace as a substitute. Henry took over York Place, renamed it Whitehall and finally had a kingly residence in Westminster.
Henry’s pleasure buildings
Henry VIII acquired a large plot of land opposite his new palace. He built for himself a series of pleasure buildings including tennis courts, a tiltyard for tournaments and a cockpit. The main buildings of the palace, including the great hall, chapel and royal apartments, stretched from the site of the present Banqueting House down to the river.
The street was spanned by two splendid gateways, the King Street Gate and Holbein Gate, which enabled members of the court to pass from St James's Park to the palace without crossing the public road.
On Henry VIII's death the palace covered 23 acres and was the largest royal palace in Europe.
The first banqueting houses at Whitehall
Whitehall Palace had a number of large communal spaces for entertainment that included the great hall and the chapel, but sometimes temporary structures were constructed for special occasions. The largest of these was built by Queen Elizabeth I who erected a large banqueting house to hold entertainments connected with her marriage negotiations with the Duke of Alençon in 1581. This building occupied the site of the present Banqueting House.
The Banqueting House of 1581 was meant to be temporary but it lasted for 25 years. In 1606 James I of England and VI of Scotland (1602-25) decided to replace it with a permanent building. Built of brick and stone and completed in 1609, the new banqueting house had a large hall above a ground floor basement. James's first banqueting house was destroyed in a fire in 1619.
James I's new banqueting house was specifically built to provide an appropriate setting for a new and elaborate type of court entertainment - the masque. Unfortunately it burnt down on 12 January 1619 but James immediately decided to rebuild it.