St James's palace

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St James's palace, though still nominally the headquarters of the British monarchy, since ambassadors are accredited to the court there, is not well known and has been much patched. Originally it was the leper hospital of St James's. Henry VIII purchased the property, still in the fields outside London, in 1532 and began building round four courtyards. The basic pattern is still red-brick Tudor. His daughter Mary liked the place and her heart and bowels were buried at the Chapel Royal. Prince Henry and his younger brother Prince Charles held court there and Charles II, when prince of Wales, escaped from custody there in 1648. During the Commonwealth, it was used as a barracks. At the Restoration, Charles began its renovation and the park, with its lake, was laid out. Nearby Pall Mall was the pitch for the fashionable croquet-like game which the royal princes brought back from their exile in France. The palace was greatly used during the next 100 years, since Greenwich had been given up and Whitehall was burned in 1698. The ‘warming-pan baby’, later to become the Old Pretender, was born there in June 1688, when the palace was the residence of James II's wife Mary of Modena. Queen Anne spent most of her time there and at Kensington palace, and the 2½-year-old Samuel Johnson was taken to St James's to be touched for the evil by the queen in 1712. George II and Caroline spent much time there and it was to St James's that Frederick, prince of Wales, hustled his wife, in labour, in 1737. Damaged in a fire in 1809, the palace was still much used by Victoria, who was married in 1840 in the Chapel Royal. But gradually Buckingham palace replaced it for most state occasions, and St James's is now given over to grace-and-favour residences and used only occasionally for grand receptions.

J. A. Cannon