There are so many tourist attractions in Westminster that it’s inevitable that some worthy places to visit often get overlooked, and I reckon that the Banqueting House is one of them.
I’ve read that some people are somewhat underwhelmed when they come here, which is a bit of a shame really because there’s more substance to it than many people realise. I think it’s better to regard it as a Banqueting Hall rather than a house, because it’s just basically one room – but what a room!
From 1530 until the fire, the palace was the home of the monarchy, and with more than 1,500 rooms, was also the largest palace in Europe, larger even than The Vatican and Versailles.
It was designed by Inigo Jones in 1622 for King James I in a style that Londoners had never seen before. Built in the classical style, the highlight without any shadow of doubt is the fantastic ceiling painted by Peter Paul Rubens, and the seating arrangements around the room enable visitors to gain the maximum amount of vision to see and understand the paintings.
A short film in the undercroft gives a good introduction to the history of the former palace and the role that the Banqueting House played, and so it’s worth taking a look.
Imagine, if you can, 17th century England when James I held his famous ‘Masques’ here, when the Stuart belief in the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ manifested itself into the most outlandish, lavish and even bizarre gatherings you could possibly imagine for its time.
But the Divine Right of Kings also came to and end here when Charles I left his Banqueting House for the last time on 30th Jan 1649 for The Scaffold outside.
After his defeat in the Civil War, he was tried and sentenced to death in Westminster Hall and when his execution was about to take place he seemed to treat it as though it was just another masque. Among his final words were ‘I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown’.
The Rubens ceiling portrays the Stuarts in an allegorical setting which not only makes it a wonderful work of art, but also a real microcosm of British history of the time.
It’s not expensive to go in and you don’t need to spend a great deal of time in here, so if you possibly can, try and find a moment to drop into this historical and ornate reminder of what Whitehall used to be like.