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Views of London : Palaces

Buckingham Palace 1840

S.W.Fores, Buckingham Palace, detail from the Panorama of the Marriage Procession of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. 1840

George III acquired Buckingham House for his Queen Charlotte, ceding his rights to Somerset House in exchange. It was subsequently remodelled to designs by Sir William Chambers.  George IV later employed John Nash to greatly enlarge the house, but on his death in 1830, William IV, seeking economies, dismissed Nash and employed Edward Blore to finish the job. 

This engraving shows the Marble Arch in its original position in front of the palace. It is now set in the midst of traffic just off the north east corner of Hyde Park, serving as an entrance to nothing. Alterations to the palace building completed in 1847, when a fourth wing was added to form a quadrangle, necessitated the removal of the arch, both changes being carried out by the same Edward Blore, much to the detriment of the visual impact of the building as a whole.

The present facade of Buckingham Palace is a remodelling of Blore's design carried out in 1911.

Somerset Palace 1742

John Maurer, A Perspective View of ye Royal Palace of Somerset next ye river. 1742

John Maurer, A Perspective View of ye Royal Palace of Somerset next ye river. 1742

The original Somerset Palace (the building shown) was built to the order of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector (ie effective ruler of the country) during the minority of his nephew Edward VI, in the late 1540's. He owned some land in the area, but also had various church and other properties demolished to create the required space, and used materials from the demolition of the charnel house of St Paul's and the church and tower of the Priory Church of St. John of Jerusalem at Clerkenwell in the building.

He was arrested in 1549, and charged with "enriching himselfe," and building "sumptuous and faire houses," during "all times of the wars in France and Scotland, leaving the king's poore soldiers unpaid of their wages." Soon released, he was arrested again in 1552 on charges of treason, and this time executed, whereupon the palace was seized by the Crown and Edward VI gave it to his sister, Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth I. As queen, she passed it on to her kinsman, Lord Hunsden, who became Lord Chancellor and patron of the group of actors which included William Shakespeare (The Lord Chancellor's Men). 

In the early seventeenth century, various alterations and additions were made to designs by Inigo Jones on the order of Anne of Denmark, wife to James I, who renamed the house 'Denmark House', and Jones also later designed a chapel for Charles I's bride, Queen Henrietta Maria, with a rustic arcade and corinthian columns facing the Thames, where she established a convent of Capuchin friars.

During the ensuing civil war, the chapel and convent were burnt and the house was used as the quarters for General Fairfax who commanded the Parliamentarian army, and many of the royal treasures, which Parliament ordered sold for the benefit of the army in 1649, were collected here and catalogued. The paintings (of which there were 1760) included works by Correggio, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, Tintoretto, Holbein and Van Dyck. 

At the Restoration in 1660, the Queen Mother (Henrietta Maria) returned to Somerset House, which she caused to be repaired. The diarist Pepys writes in October 1664: 'Saw the Queene's new rooms, which are most stately and nobly furnished'. It was subsequently used by Charles II's widow, Catherine of Braganza, until 1693 when, in a situation of increasing tension with the protestant court of William III, she left to become Regent of Portugal.

During the early part of the eighteenth century, the building was used for grace and favour apartments and entertainments, particularly masked balls or masquerades, and subsequently for a variety of uses, including housing the newly formed Royal Academy of Painters. 

Under George III Somerset House passed from the Crown to the Government, and was demolished in 1776 to be replaced by the building to William Chambers' design which still stands today.

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