The Queen’s Chapel, which adjoins the palace, is one of the few areas of the palace which is open to the public at selected times.
Although the Royal Family has chosen to live in Buckingham Palace since Victoria became queen, nearby St. James’ is actually the official royal residence. As a result, all official correspondence, as well as royal envoys, are still accredited to “The Court of St. James’”, giving a stately dignity to this nearly-500-year-old building.
Lepers to Lords
It was commissioned by Henry VIII in 1530, and the majority of construction work was completed over the following six years. It was built on the site of a former leper’s hospital for women which had been dedicated to St. James, and despite this rather unroyal association, it was considered a snub to the sainthood to change the patron of the location. Upon completion, it was one of the country’s grandest buildings, featuring four courtyards, a chapel, a gatehouse, and a set of state apartments that were later greatly expanded by Sir Christopher Wren after a devastating fire in 1809.
The Royal Guard
These days, the palace is often used by the Royal Family for official receptions, but sadly it is closed to the public. It does still make for impressive viewing from the outside, though, and is only a five minute walk from Buckingham Palace. Unlike its more famous counterpart, though, St. James’ receives considerably fewer visitors, and is a lesser known venue of the famous Changing of the Guard ceremony. Here, with much pomp and ceremony, and blistering military precision, you can watch the Queen’s royal guard, elite regular army soldiers all, enacting the traditional handover of responsibility for her protection.
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