Banqueting House – Museum review

Where was Charles I executed? 

It’s not really a question I’d pondered much before. But it was here, just outside the Banqueting House on Whitehall in London, the only part of Whitehall Palace that remains today.

So there was lots of banqueting then, when Kings weren’t being executed?

Yes and no. The main events that happened here were state receptions and Masques. Masques were a mix of pageant, opera and theatre that was popular during the 16th and early 17th centuries with themes based on the importance of the monarchy and their civilising influence on the world, which became more and more elaborate with costumes and displays to impress.

Who else is associated with the building? 

Rubens ceiling at Banqueting House depicting James I

Rubens painted ceiling showing King James I ascending to heaven

Well, it was designed by the celebrated British architect Inigo Jones and features columns and pilasters influenced by his Italian studies. He began the design process in 1619 and the hall was completed in 1621. You have to imagine this in the context of the timber and red brick buildings of the Elizabethan period that still dominated London at this time, so a classical building of this type probably caused quite a stir.

And then, you look up – large panels of paintings by the Flemish artist Rubens stare back at you. Rubens painted these scenes in Antwerp in 1634 for King Charles I, glorifying his father James I and in the central image you see James I being welcomed into the heavens by angels. These paintings (the largest of which is 6mx9m) were rolled up, shipped in crates to London, put on oak panels and installed using extensive wooden scaffolding.

Rubens was paid the handsome sum of £3000 for this and it must have been worth every penny as they have remained intact for nearly 400 years bearing witness to the dramatic events that took place below them.

So what else happened here?

Glittering royal spectacles hosted by Charles II, about which diarist John Evelyn said “a greater show in my whole life I had never seen’. And it was also here that William of Orange and Mary were invited to become King and Queen in 1689.

And the verdict? 

I knew nothing about the history of the Banqueting House and it is for this reason I’m glad I went. Now when I travel down Whitehall I’ll think of beheadings, Masques, revolutionary architecture and luxuriously dressed ambassadors arriving en-masse for a reception with the King under a Rubens adorned ceiling. It will definitely make the bus journey a lot more fun.

Open everyday 10am – 5pm
Entry: £5
Opposite Horse guards Parade
Whitehall London SW1A 2ER



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