Buckingham Palace (UK: / bʌkɪŋəm pælɪs /) is the London residence and administrative headquarters of the monarch of the United Kingdom. Located in the City of Westminster, the palace is often at the center of state occasions and royal hospitality. It has been a focal point for the British people at times of national rejoicing and mourning.
Originally known as Buckingham House, the building at the core of today’s palace was a large townhouse built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703 on a site that had been in private ownership for at least 150 years. It was acquired by King George III in 1761 as a private residence for Queen Charlotte and became known as The Queen’s House. During the 19th century it was enlarged, principally by architects John Nash and Edward Blore, who constructed three wings around a central courtyard. Buckingham Palace became the London residence of the British monarch on the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837.
The last major structural additions were made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the East front, which contains the well-known balcony on which the royal family traditionally congregates to greet crowds. The palace chapel was destroyed by a German bomb during World War II; The Queen’s Gallery was built on the site and opened to the public in 1962 to exhibit works of art from the Royal Collection.
The original early 19th-century interior designs, many of which survive, include widespread use of brightly colored scagliola and blue and pink lapis, on the advice of Sir Charles Long. King Edward VII oversaw a partial redecoration in a Belle Époque cream and gold color scheme. Many smaller reception rooms are furnished in the Chinese regency style with furniture and fittings brought from the Royal Pavilion at Brighton and from Carlton House. The palace has 775 rooms, and the garden is the largest private garden in London. The state rooms, used for official and state entertaining, are open to the public each year for most of August and September and on some days in winter and spring.
In the Middle Ages, the site of the future palace formed part of the Manor of Ebury (also called Eia). The marshy ground was watered by the river Tyburn, which flows down below the courtyard and south wing of the palace. Where the river was fordable (at Cow Ford), the village of Eye Cross grew. Ownership of the site changed hands many times; owners included Edward the Confessor and his queen consort Edith of Wessex in late Saxon times, and, after the Norman Conquest, William the Conqueror. William gave the site to Geoffrey de Mandeville, who was bequeathed to the monks of Westminster Abbey.
In 1531, King Henry VIII acquired the Hospital of St James (later St James’s Palace) from Eton College, and in 1536 he took the Manor of Ebury from Westminster Abbey. These transfers brought the site of Buckingham Palace back into royal hands for the first time since William the Conqueror had given it away almost 500 years earlier.
Various owners leased it from royal landlords and the freehold was the subject of frenzied speculation during the 17th century. By then, the old village of Eye Cross had long since fallen into decay, and the area was mostly wasteland. Needing money, James I sold off part of the Crown freehold but retained part of the site on which I have established a 4-acre (16,000 m2) mulberry garden for the production of silk. (This is at the northwest corner of today’s palace.) Clement Walker in Anglican Anarchia (1649) refers to “new-erected sodoms and spintries at the Mulberry Garden at S. James’s”; this suggests it may have been a place of debauchery. Eventually, in the late 17th century, the freehold was inherited from the property tycoon Sir Hugh Audley by the great heiress Mary Davies.
First houses on the site
Possibly the first house erected within the site was that of Sir William Blake, around 1624. The next owner was Lord Goring, who from 1633 extended Blake’s house and developed much of today’s garden, then known as Goring Great Garden. He did not, however, obtain the freehold interest in the mulberry garden. Unbeknown to Goring, in 1640 the document “failed to pass the Great Seal before King Charles I fled London, which was needed for legal execution.” It was this critical omission that helped the British royal family regain the freehold under King George III.
The improvident Goring defaulted on his rents; Henry Bennet, 1st Earl of Arlington obtained the mansion and was occupying it, now known as Goring House, when it was burned down in 1674. Arlington House rose on the site-the location of the southern wing of today’s palace-the next year. In 1698, John Sheffield, later the first Duke of Buckingham and Normanby, acquired the lease.