The present Banqueting-House of Whitehall was begun by Inigo Jones, and completed in 1622, forming only the central portion of one wing in his immense design for a new palace, which, if completed, would have been the finest in the world. The masonry is by a master-mason, Nicholas Stone, several of whose works we have seen in other parts of London. “Little did James think that he was raising a pile from which his son was to step from the throne to a scaffold.” The plan of Inigo Jones would have covered 24 acres, and one may best judge of its intended size by comparison with other buildings. Hampton Court covers 8 acres; St. James’s Palace, 4 acres; Buckingham Palace, 2% acres. It would have been as large as Versailles, and larger than the Louvre. Inigo Jones received only 8s. 4d. a day while he was employed at Whitehall, and £46 per annum for house-rent. The huge palace always remained unfinished.
Whitehall attained its greatest splendor in the reign of Charles I. The mask of Comus was one of the plays acted here before the king; but Charles was so afraid of the pictures in the Banqueting-House being injured by the number of wax lights which were used, that he built for the purpose a boarded room called the “King’s Masking-House,” afterward destroyed by the Parliament. The gallery toward Privy Garden was used for the king’s collection of pictures, afterward either sold or burned. The Banqueting-House. was the scene of hospitalities almost boundless.
The different accounts of Charles I.’s execution introduce us to several names of the rooms in the old palace. We are able to follow him through the whole of the last scenes of the 30th of January, 1648. When he arrived, having walked from St. James’s, “the Bing went up the stairs leading to the Long Gallery” of Henry VIII, and so to the west side of the palace. In the “Horn Chamber” he was’ given up to the officers who held the war-rant for his execution. Then he passed on to the “Cabinet Chamber,” looking upon Privy Garden. Here, the scaffold not being ready, he prayed and conversed with Bishop Juxon, ate some bread, and drank some claret. Several of the Puritan clergy knocked at the door and offered to pray with him, but he said that they had prayed against him too often for him to wish to pray with them in his last moments. Meanwhile, in a small distant room, Cromwell was signing the order to the executioner, and workmen were employed in breaking a passage through the west wall of the Banqueting House, that the warrant for the execution might be carried out which ordained it to be held “in the open street before Whitehall”.
Almost from the time of Charles’s execution Cromwell occupied rooms in the Cockpit, where the Treasury is now, but soon after he was in-stalled “Lord Protector of the Commonwealth” (December 16, 1653), he took up his abode in the royal apartments, with his “Lady Protectress” and his family. Cromwell’s puritanical tastes did not make him averse to the luxury he found there, and, when Evelyn visited Whitehall after a long interval in 1656, he found it “very glorious and well furnished.” But the Protectress could not give up her habits of nimble housewifery, and “employed a surveyor to make her some little labyrinths and trap-stairs, by which she might, at all times, unseen, pass to and fro, and come unawares upon her servants, and keep them vigilant in their places and honest in the discharge there-of.” With Cromwell in Whitehall lived Milton, as his Latin Secretary. Here the Protector’s daughters, Mrs. Rich and Mrs. Claypole, were married, and here Oliver Cromwell died (September 3, 1658) while a great storm was raging which tore up the finest elms in the Park, and hurled them to the ground, beneath the northern windows of the palace.
In the words of Hume, Cromwell upon his death-bed “assumed more the character of a mediator, interceding for his people, than that of a criminal, whose atrocious violation of social duty had, from every tribunal, human and divine, merited the severest vengeance.” Having inquired of Godwin, the divine who attended him, whether a per-son who had once been in a state of grace could afterward be damned, and being assured it was impossible, he said, “Then I am safe, for I am sure that I was ones in a state of grace.” Richard Cromwell continued to reside in Whitehall till his resignation of the Protectorate.
On his birthday, the 29th of May, 1660, Charles II returned to Whitehall. The vast labyrinthine chambers of the palace were soon filled to over-flowing by his crowded court. The queen’s rooms were facing the river to the east of the Water Gate. Prince Rupert had rooms in the Stone Gallery, which ran along the south side of Privy Gardens, beyond the main buildings of the palace, and beneath him were the apartments of the king’s mistresses, Barbara Palmer, Countess of Castle-main, afterward Duchess of Cleveland, and Louise de Querouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth. The rooms of the latter, who first came to England with Henrietta, Duchess of Orleans, to entice Charles II into an alliance with Louis XIV., and whose “childish, simple, baby-face” is described by Evelyn, were three times rebuilt to please her, having “ten times the richness and glory” of the queen’s. Nell Gwynne did not live in the palace, the she was one of Queen Catherine’s Maids of Honor!
Charles died in Whitehall on February 6, 1684. With his successor the character of the palace changed. James II, who continued to make it his principal residence, established a Roman Catholic chapel there.
It was from Whitehall that Queen Mary Bea-trice made her escape on the night of December 9, 1688. The adventure was confided to the Count de Lauzun and his friend M. de St. Victor, a gentleman of Avignon. The queen on that terrible evening entreated vainly to be allowed to remain and share the perils of her husband; he assured her that it was absolutely necessary that she should precede him, and that he would follow her in twenty-four hours. The king and queen went to bed as usual to avoid suspicion, but rose soon after, when the queen put on a disguise provided by St. Victor. The royal pair then descended to the rooms of Madame de Labadie, where they found Lauzun, with the infant Prince James and his two nurses. The king, turning to Lauzun, said, “`I confide my queen and my son to your care : all must be hazarded to convey them with the utmost speed to France.” Lauzun then gave his hand to the queen to lead her away, and, followed by the two nurses with the child, they crossed the Great Gallery, and descended by a back staircase and a postern gate to Privy Gardens. At the garden gate a coach was waiting, the queen entered with Lauzun, the nurses, and her child, who slept the whole time, St. Victor mounted by the coachman, and they drove to the “Horse Ferry” at Westminster, where a boat was waiting in which they crossed to Lambeth.
On the 11th the Dutch troops had entered Lon-don, and James, having commanded the gallant Lord Craven, who was prepared to defend the palace to the utmost, to draw off the guard which he commanded, escaped himself in a boat from the water-entrance of the palace at three o’clock in the morning. At Feversham his flight was arrested, and he returned amid bonfires, bell-ringing, and every symptom of joy from the fickle populace. Once more he slept in Whitehall, but in the middle of the night was aroused by order of his son-in-law, and hurried forcibly down the river to Rochester, whence, on December 23, he escaped to France. On the 25th of November the Princess Anne had declared against her unfortunate father, by absconding at night by a back staircase from her lodgings in the Cockpit, as the northwestern angle of the palace was called, which looked on St. James’s Park. Compton, Bishop of London, was waiting for her with a hackney coach, and she fled to his house in Aldersgate Street. Mary II arrived in the middle of February, and “came into Whitehall, jolly as to a wed-ding, seeming quite transported with joy.”
But the glories of Whitehall were now over. William III., occupied with his buildings at Hampton Court and Kensington, never eared to live there, and Mary doubtless stayed there as little as possible, feeling opprest by the recollections of her youth spent there with an indulgent father whom she had cruelly wronged, and a step-mother whom she had once loved with sisterly as well as filial affection, and from whom she had parted with passionate grief on her marriage, only nine years before. The Stone Gallery and the late apartments of the royal mistresses in Whitehall were burned down in 1691, and the whole edifice was almost totally destroyed by fire through the negligence of a Dutch maidservant in 1697.
The principal remaining fragment of the palace is the Banqueting-House of Inigo Jones, from which Charles I. passed to execution. Built in the dawn of the style of Wren, it is one of the most grandiose examples of that style, and is perfect alike in symmetry and proportion. That it has no entrance apparent at first sight is due to the fact that it was only intended as a portion of a larger building. In the same way we must re-member that the appearance of two stories externally, while the whole is one room, is due to the Banqueting-House being only one of four intended blocks, of which one was to be a chapel surrounded by galleries, and the other two divided into two tiers of apartments. The Banqueting-House was turned into a chapel by George I., but has never been consecrated, and the aspect of a hall is retained by the ugly false red curtains which surround the interior of the building. It is called the Chapel Royal of Whitehall, is served by the chaplains of the sovereign, and is one of the dreariest places of worship in London. The ceiling is still decorated with canvas pictures by Rubens (1635) representing the apotheosis of James I. The painter received £3,000 for these works. The walls were to have been painted by Vandyke with the History of the Order of the Garter. “What,” says Walpole, “had the Banqueting-House been if completed,” Over the entrance is a bronze bust of James I. attributed to Le Sceur.