The hall was built for the performance of ‘Masques’ and for grand ambassadorial receptions.
Masques were a sophisticated blend of poetry, propaganda, music, dance and outlandish costume, and the King and Queen sometimes took part. At the end of the performance it became a strange tradition for the audience to upset the table laid out with food and drink.
The room was where William of Orange and his wife Mary Stuart were read the Bill of Rights in February 1689, before jointly accepting the crown. In 1698 the rest of Whitehall palace burnt down but the Banqueting House survived.
The hall was fitted up after the fire as the principal Chapel Royal. The altar was at the north end, and a royal pew was placed opposite at the south end, where the replica throne is today.
Even when the Chapel Royal moved to St James's Palace the place was used for preaching and public ceremonies. In 1808 the room became a military chapel. Rich velvet swags hung between the pillars and pew boxes ran down the long sides of the hall. Up to 2000 soldiers took part in a service.
In 1895 Queen Victoria granted the building to the Royal United Services Institution to use as a museum. Showcases full of military curiosities were crammed into the hall while banners hung from the ceiling.
The building is now managed by Historic Royal Palaces as an events venue and a tourist attraction.
Come and discuss our book of the month with other members at Hampton Court Palace.
15 November, 13 December
Join Siobhan Clarke at the Banqueting Hall for an exclusive tour of this revolutionary building.
27 October (fully booked) and 4 November (fully booked)