Banqueting House stands on a site that was originally the property of the Archbishops of York. In the 14th century, a rather grand London residence was built for the men who were appointed to one of the two most important appointments in the Church.
Their house, named York Place, was conveniently situated near the King's principal residence at Westminster and was, from early on, very well appointed.
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 high appointments brought great wealth, and York Place was gradually expanded into a substantial residence.
Cardinal Wolsey by an unknown artist, c1520. In 1519, the Venetian ambassador described the Cardinal's residence, York Place, as 'a very fine palace, where one traverses eight rooms before reaching his audience chamber'.
Cardinal Wolsey and Henry VIII
In 1514 Thomas Wolsey (c1475-1530) was made Archbishop of York and began work to further extend York Place, which soon became a favourite visiting place for his king, Henry VIII (1509-47).
Wolsey's unparalleled position of trust with the King began to break down in the late 1520s but before he fell from favour Henry VIII stripped him of all his assets in the south of England, including the Archbishop's town house, York Place.
Of the Cardinal's possessions York Place was the most important to the King, because the old royal palace at Westminster had been largely destroyed by fire in 1512 and Henry had been staying at Lambeth Palace as a substitute.
The acquisition of York Place, renamed Whitehall, meant that the monarchy once more had an appropriate residence in Westminster.
Henry’s pleasure buildings
Henry VIII continued and extended Wolsey's building programme. He acquired a large plot of land opposite his new palace on the west (or park) side of the public road from Charing Cross to Westminster.
There 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, stood on the east side of the road (the side of the present Banqueting House) stretching 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.