Westminster Palace

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Westminster, palace of. From the time of Edward the Confessor to the early years of the reign of Henry VIII, Westminster was the main royal residence. The palace grew up around the abbey built by the Confessor on Thorney Island and consecrated in December 1065, a week before the king's death. The abbey was completely rebuilt by Henry III from 1245 onwards, though far from finished in his lifetime. William Rufus built the great hall and first held court in it in 1099: it was reroofed by Richard II and for centuries was the home of the law courts, the place of impeachments and state trials, and the venue for the coronation banquet. John began the building of St Stephen's chapel, which was taken over after the Reformation by the House of Commons. Henry II built domestic rooms for the household, including the great chamber, and Henry III added the painted chamber, adorned with biblical stories. In Edward III's reign the Jewel Tower was built, later to be used as the House of Lords Record Office. By the 15th cent., the palace was a rabbit warren of rooms and corridors, swarming with servants and lawyers, and liable to flooding. In 1512, soon after a grand celebration in honour of the king's young son, who died a week later, there was a disastrous fire. Henry moved to Whitehall and the palace of Westminster was totally given over to public offices. After the fire of 1834, only Rufus' great hall was left. The rest was rebuilt according to the design of Sir Charles Barry, assisted by Augustus Pugin.

J. A. Cannon

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