St James Palace
St James Palace
There are few places in London so replete with history as St James Palace. The palace began as a hospital run by the Augustinian order of monks. It was later transformed into a leper hospital for women, dedicated to St James the Less.

Henry VIII purchased the property and built a hunting lodge here in 1532. It is hard to imagine the location, now so much a part of the elegant St James district, as a hunting lodge, but in the 16th century the area was far from the bustle of central London.

Henry enclosed 300 acres of land to act as his hunting preserve. The enclosure has survived as St James Park.

The best-preserved part of Henry VIII's palace is the grand red-brick four-storey gatehouse, flanked by a pair of octagonal towers. The palace is built around four courts, named Ambassadors' Court, Engine Court, Friary Court and Colour Court. At the heart of the palace complex is the Chapel Royal, built by Henry for his short-lived marriage with Anne of Cleves in 1540. Mary I's heart is buried in the Chapel.

After Whitehall Palace burned down in 1698, St James became the primary London residence of the monarch until that role was taken over by Buckingham Palace. Queen Anne was born at the Palace, and both George I and George II held court there.

The Prince Regent, later to become George IV, married Caroline of Brunswick here, and did Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in the Chapel Royal.

St James Palace remains the official London royal palace; foreign officials are still accredited to 'the Court of St James'. The palace is not regularly open to visitors, but the public can attend Sunday services at the Chapel Royal and the Queen's Chapel, built by Inigo Jones for the marriage of Charles I and Henrietta Maria.