Banqueting Hall

Explore James I's 'great hall', completed in 1622 as a venue for extravagant entertainment

Explore James I's 'great hall', completed in 1622 as a venue for extravagant entertainment

Updated 12 June. As a result of the Coronavirus global pandemic, we have taken the difficult decision to close Banqueting House until March 2021. We apologise for any disappointment this may cause. Please read our statement

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Banqueting Hall highlights

The enormous double-cube proportions of the hall were designed to impress, and to reflect the magnificence of the Stuart king. Inigo Jones had created his own version of an ancient Roman basilica, where James I was to sit enthroned in state, just like an Emperor.

Inigo Jones’ carved and gilded ceiling frames the huge canvases painted by Rubens. The carved ceiling is made from timber, jointed and pieced together. It is a huge construction, supported by the walls of the Banqueting House. Inigo Jones’ design for the ceiling was influenced by some of the impressive carved ceilings that he saw in Venice. The white paint on the carved ceiling was added in 1964, but Ruben’s paintings were originally framed with a walnut-tree brown colour and lots of gilding.

A wall painting of masks and garlands can be seen beneath the ceiling. This reflects the carved frieze of the same design outside the building, and relates to the original function of the Banqueting House as a venue for masque performances.

The gilded capitals, which seem to ‘support’ the ceiling are carved in stone and are richly gilded with pure gold leaf. They are important survivals of Inigo Jones’ original construction, as all of the capitals on the outside of the building were replaced in the nineteenth century.

Rubens’ Ceiling

This unique masterpiece by Sir Peter Paul Rubens was installed in the Banqueting Hall in 1636. It is the only surviving in-situ Rubens ceiling painting.  

The history of the Banqueting Hall

Inigo Jones’ Banqueting Hall was intended to house masques - grand theatrical performances which celebrated the reign of the Stuart monarchs. It was also the setting for important ambassadorial receptions and grand feasts, as well as royal ceremonies, such as dispensing Maundy money and ‘Touching for the King’s Evil’.

Charles II was restored to the Throne in a ceremony in the Banqueting Hall, over 11 years after his father, Charles I, had been executed just outside.

William of Orange and his wife Mary Stuart were read the Bill of Rights in February 1689 in this room, before they jointly accepted the crown. In 1698 the rest of Whitehall Palace burnt down, leaving only the Banqueting House. William III, Mary’s widower, ordered that the Banqueting House be saved from the fire. Adjacent buildings were demolished and windows bricked up, to stop the flames from spreading.

 

The Banqueting House. The main hall looking south west
Aquatint by John Bluck (fl.1791-1819) depicting the Banqueting House, Whitehall in use as a chapel. The location 'Whitehall' is inscribed at the bottom of the print. 

After fire destroyed Whitehall Palace in 1698, the Banqueting House was fitted up as a Chapel Royal. In the early 19th century it became a military chapel and from the 1830s until 1890 was again used as a Chapel Royal.

A Chapel Royal

Following the fire, the hall underwent refurbishment as the main 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 hall served as a chapel for preaching and public ceremonies. In 1809 the building became a military chapel, where up to 2,000 soldiers took part in a service.

After the 1830s sumptuous velvet swags hung between the pillars and pew boxes ran down the long sides of the hall. 

The Museum

In 1895 Queen Victoria granted the building to the Royal United Services Institution to use as a museum. Cases full of military curiosities were crammed into the hall while banners hung from the ceiling. The Banqueting House was restored to public ownership in 1964, cleared of museum cases, and is cared for today by Historic Royal Palaces.

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Vertical shot looking straight up at Rubens' Ceiling at Banqueting House Whitehall, London
Things to see

Marvel at Sir Peter Paul Rubens' ceiling in its original setting of Inigo Jones' spectacular Banqueting House.

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Banqueting House

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Arches lit by candlelight in the Undercroft of Banqueting House Whitehall, London
Things to see

Explore the vaulted drinking den beneath the Banqueting House, which was used by James I for decadent royal parties.

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Banqueting House

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Aerial view of a formal garden with green lawns on either side of a main path running towards the baroque palace. A fountain runs in the foreground at the centre of the path
Things to see

Take time to explore and relax in these world-renowned gardens without the usual crowds.

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Hampton Court Palace

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Royal Palace Crest fine bone china tankard (30167796), Royal Palace Crest fine bone china bonbon dish (30167799), Royal Palace Crest fine bone china 17cm plate (30167801), Royal Palace Crest fine bone china 21cm plate (30170352), Royal Palace Crest fine bone china tea cup and saucer (30167797)

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Royal Palace fine bone china dessert plate 30142978.  Royal Palace luxury ceramic bauble 30169631. Royal Palace fine bone china tea for two gift set 30162646 comprising of two cups and saucers and tea strainer, Royal Palace china tea po

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