As an author focusing on British royalty and history, I find the pasts of royal homes and their artwork as intriguing as their occupants.
The Manor of Eia
The land which Buckingham Palace sits on today was once in the medieval Manor of Eia which later commonly became known as Ebury. The River Tyburn flowed through Eia and in the 1530’s King Henry VIII (1491-1547) purchased the entire manor so that he could build St. James’ Palace (on the left-hand side of The Mall when looking from Buckingham Palace today.)
The “Buckingham Palace land” was marshland turned into a garden. King James I (1566-1625) planted mulberry trees there as a habitat for silkworms expecting them to produce silk and create revenue. Lord Walter Aston was appointed as the Superintendent of the Mulberry Gardens. Unfortunately, the king acquired the wrong species of silkworm and the project was abandoned. It briefly became a pleasant space for the public to use. Goring House, later Arlington House was constructed on part of the land during the Stuart era. In 1703 Arlington House was demolished.
John Sheffield, the 1st Duke of Buckingham and Normanby (1648-1721), purchased the land. He decided to have a larger property constructed. Buckingham’s red-brick mansion was created by John Fitch after consultations with King William III’s Comptroller of the Works William Talman and Captain William Winde. The house cost Buckingham seven thousand pounds which in 2021 equates to approximately one million pounds.
Buckingham was an author, poet and prominent politician who married as his third wife Lady Catherine Darnley (1680-1743.) She was the illegitimate daughter of King James II/VII (1630-1702) and his long-term mistress Catherine Sedley, Countess of Dorchester and Portmore (1657-1717).
In 1708 Buckingham House was featured in “The New View of London” as “a graceful palace, very commodiously situated at the westerly end of St. James's Park, having at one view a prospect of the Mall and other walks, and of the delightful and spacious canal; a seat not to be condemned by the greatest monarch.”
Sold To King George III
John Sheffield’s son Edmund, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and Normanby died without issue in 1735 aged nineteen. His titles became extinct but the properties were awarded to Sir Charles Herbert (1706-1774,) Edmund’s illegitimate half-brother. He changed his surname to Sheffield. Charles sold Buckingham House to King George III (1738-1820) in 1762 for twenty-one thousand pounds, a little over three million pounds in 2021.
The king wanted his new wife Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818) and their children to have a private family home away from the business-oriented St. James’ Palace. Buckingham House became known as Queen’s House. Modernised between 1762 and 1773, in 1775 the property was given to Queen Charlotte via an act of parliament. She gave birth to most of their children within its walls.
From House to Palace
George IV (1762-1830) ascended to the throne in January 1820. At first, he wished to renovate the property to his tastes. He changed his mind and decided that he wanted a spectacular palace constructed around the existing house. It was to have three wings, a grand forecourt and a triumphal arch to commemorate English military victories. John Nash (1752-1835,) the architect who George had worked with when designing Brighton Pavilion was commissioned for the project.
Nash spent at least two to three times over the original sum agreed and he fell behind schedule. As the bills mounted, the ailing George IV viewed the palace, its exterior clad in golden hued Bath stone, as a masterpiece. An unfinished one. He died in June 1830. New king William IV (1765-1837) and his wife Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen were appalled by the amount of money Nash had spent. The Prime Minister told Nash that he was sacked.
William IV set his First Commissioner of Woods, Forests and Land Revenues, John Ponsonby, Viscount Duncannon (1781-1847, later 4th Earl of Bessborough) to the task of achieving completion of the work at a lower cost. Sir Edward Blore (1787-1879) was hired by Duncannon. He altered the wing lengths and created another entrance on the south side of the palace. The State Rooms were completed by 1834.
William and Adelaide didn’t care for the palace and so they resided at Clarence House and at Bushy House in Teddington, London. When the Houses of Parliament suffered fire damage and had to be rebuilt the king offered Buckingham Palace as a site for the politicians to meet. The statesmen voted and refused.
The First Official Royal Residents
With William IV’s death in June 1837 his niece Victoria (1819-1901) moved in to Buckingham Palace and it became the official London residence of the monarch after centuries at St. James Palace. It still holds this status today.
Queen Victoria found the entertaining spaces too small and there were inadequate nurseries and guest bedrooms so she commissioned another wing to complete the rectangle that we know today. In 1846 she sold George IV’s Brighton Pavilion to offset the building costs. The triumphal arch was relocated to nearby Hyde Park. We know it as Marble Arch. In the 1850’s Victoria and Albert saw the introduction of the Ball and Supper Room and the Ball and Concert Room which were convenient for the state apartments. We have Sir Edward Blore and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1819-1861) to thank for the front balcony, the setting for myriad memorable moments.
Edward VII (1841-1910) made Buckingham Palace the royal headquarters during his reign, realising that the monarch needed to be visibly working and centrally located. He renovated the interiors but left the exteriors as they were.
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During George V’s (1865-1936, r.1910-1936) reign the exterior was re-coated in Portland Stone to give it a more enduring, and to us, familiar tone. Blore had used French stone on the East Front, the balcony side, which could not withstand the weather and soot of central London. George VI’s reign (1895-1952, r..1936-1952) saw the east face of the palace bombed several times in the Second World War. Elizabeth II and Prince Philip had the Queen’s Gallery constructed in what was the bombed private chapel. This was refurbished in 2002 for her Golden Jubilee.
Over the Centuries Buckingham Palace Has Expanded to Include:
- 775 rooms.
- More than 1500 doorways.
- 188 Offices.
- A Coutts Bank cash machine.
- A post office.
- A doctor's surgery.
- 19 staterooms.
- 78 bathrooms
- 52 bedrooms.
Costs of maintaining the palace are substantial and work is ongoing but it always looks majestic and magnificent.
Incidentally, the subterranean River Tyburn still flows beneath the palace’s courtyard and south wing.
British History Online – Institute of Historical Research, London: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol4/pp61-74
Encyclopedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Buckingham-Palace
Royal Family Website: https://www.royal.uk/royal-residences-buckingham-palace
Royal Collections Trust: https://www.rct.uk/visit/buckingham-palace/who-built-buckingham-palace#/
Measuring Worth (for currency values): https://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/ukcompare/relativevalue.php?use%5B%5D=CPI&use%5B%5D=WAGE&year_early=1698£71=7000&shilling71=&pence71=&amount=7000&year_source=1698&year_result=2021
© 2021 Joanne Hayle
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on June 18, 2021:
Thank you for sharing all the information. It was very interesting to learn more about Buckingham Palace.
MG Singh emge from Singapore on June 18, 2021:
Nice informative article
Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on June 18, 2021:
What an informative article. And thank you so much for citing your sources. I've written about the British monarchy also and would love your take on my work and sources.