My intent is to allow the reader to walk down the lanes of old London (before it burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1666) and feel as if you are actually there. You can smell and touch the nuances of London. You'll know what it's like to work your way through the City and its the conflicting laws where religion played in important part of everyday life. So sit back and enjoy the ride.

Oh, and then there's my French Revolution novel.

Monday, September 23, 2013

17th Century Whitehall

This blog is in celebration of the release of Castles, Customs, and Kings, True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors. It’s actually bits and bobs from the Historical Fiction Authors Blog, that sparked the interest of authors as they did research for their novels. This book includes a few of my tidbits. CC&K has a plethora of articles that you can read in one sitting. It will enlighten you, and enhance your day.

To get you going on how exciting the Castles, Customs, and Kings will be, I’ll give you some history on Whitehall Palace, which is no longer in existence. Nothing remains but the Banqueting House.

Whitehall Part I, A quick history:
In the 13th century, Whitehall was called York Place. It was not a palace, but a mansion built by an archbishop between the cities of Westminster and London. It wasn’t too large then, but over the centuries, its owners added to it which accommodated kings, queens, and their entourages when they visited York Place. 

Old Whitehall

By the 16th century, in the reign of King Henry VIII, Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York, lived in it. He had expanded it to such a degree that it rivaled most of the king’s palaces. Besides the fact Wolsey was Catholic, and Henry now rebuked Catholics, to have a minion with a larger house than he did not sit well. King Henry stripped Wolsey of all power, then moved into York Place and renamed it Whitehall.

King Henry made his own changes. He updated it until it encompassed 23 acres and was the largest palace in Europe. He erected merriment buildings that included a cockpit (turned into a theatre during King Charles II), tennis court, and a tiltyard. There was the King Street Gate and Holbein Gate that allowed the Court to traverse from Whitehall to St James’ Park without ever crossing a public road.

Each king or queen after Henry VIII added to Whitehall until in 1660 when King Charles II took residence there, it had become a rambling jumble of chambers, passageways, and staircases connected by uneven floors that amounted to more than 1,500 rooms. It was also a montage of architectural designs.
A view of Whitehall from the Heavens

During Queen Elizabeth I’s time, the first of the Banqueting Houses came into being. Elizabeth I had a large chamber built of timber and canvas to house entertainments. It occupied the site of the current Banqueting House, until James I commissioned Inigo Jones to build a solid structure, which replaced the aging, and dilapidated building. This new one was completed by the end of his reign. It was large with windows on all four sides, balconies, and an undercroft that took up the entire base of the building.

King Charles I commissioned Rubens to paint the Banqueting House ceiling. He was given £3,000 and a gold chain for the effort. Rubens painted the canvases and sent them to England for installation on the ceiling, which finished in 1635.

Rubens’ work effectively put the Banqueting House out of business. It was feared smoke from torches and candles would damage the splendor, so a new reception room was built. Erected beside the Banqueting House, from this moment on most ceremonial functions took place here.

Charles I was executed on a platform outside the Banqueting House. After this, Whitehall Palace emptied out during the Civil Wars, but once Cromwell became the new sovereign, Whitehall filled up, again. After Cromwell’s death, what remained of the Rump Parliament tried to sell the ramshackle palace.

Then, with the Restoration of King Charles II, Whitehall became alive. As with his father and grandfather, Charles II wanted to make changes to the already sprawling palace. He hired Sir Christopher Wren to make it more like Versailles, but the planning never came to fruition. 
After Charles II died, King James II made changes in the forms of bettering his wife’s apartments, and adding a new chapel. By the time William III & Mary II took up residence in Whitehall, its importance was on the decline. King William suffered from asthma. The palace sat on the banks of the Thames; it was drafty and damp. He preferred Kensington Palace. By Queen Mary’s death in 1694, Whitehall was rarely used, and the Banqueting House had tuned into a storage facility.

In 1698, the great rambling palace of Whitehall burned to the ground. The only structures that remained were the Banqueting House, the Holbein and Whitehall gates. Today, only the Banqueting House still stands.
King Charles II Whitehall

Whitehall Part II, Other stuff which includes fire:  

Castles had a tendency to be drafty, and it was no different with the Palace of Whitehall. Due to the compilation of various buildings crammed together, the palace was more drafty than others. During storms, winds whistled down chimneys and spread ash across the chambers. Fires sparked then smoldered.

London and its suburbs used sea coal and brown coal to heat their homes. It was inferior and smoked. London also seemed to have existed under a pall of constant air inversion. Most days, smoke and pollution hung stagnant over the city and its environs.

Coal was used to brew ale or beer. Dyers used coal to heat water. Soap boilers manufactured their product with ash. They cooked their product over coal fires. Glass houses, founders and most industries used coal for their fires and their products. As a result, smoke settled heavy on everything with a gritty dust. It filled the air and it was hard to breathe.

John Evelyn (1620-1706) loved London. He observed everything within and without the great city. In 1661, he wrote Fumifugium: or, The Inconvenience of the AER, and SMOAKE of London Dissipate, a diatribe of the damages smoke can do to a person, city, and anything alive. In this pamphlet, he also proposed remedies to right the wrongs of this damage. Once done, he gave the pamphlet to King Charles II in the year of his coronation.

A visit to Whitehall provoked Evelyn to write the booklet. While he strolled through the palace, looking for a glimpse of His Royal Majesty, Evelyn said, “a presumptuous smoke issuing from one or two tunnels near Northumberland House, and not far from Scotland Yard, did so invade the Court that all the rooms, galleries, and places about it were filled and infested with it, and that to such a degree, as men could hardly discern one another for the cloud, and none could support, without manifest inconveniency. It was not this which did first suggest to me what I had long since conceived against this pernicious accident, upon frequent observation, but it was this alone, and the trouble that it must needs procure to Your Sacred Majesty, as well as hazard to your health…” 

I cannot imagine smoke filling a house to such an extent you can see only a shape of a person in front of you.

In 1662 a strong windstorm hit London, and Whitehall was not spared. A few fires started in that great complex but fortunately, they were doused without any real damage. After this, regulations were implemented to have at each hearth a leather bucket filled with water.

By 1691, Whitehall was a maze of complexity, and the largest in Europe. On April 10th of this year, a fire broke out that damaged a great deal of the structure, but not the State Apartments. It did not affect William III and Mary II, who now lived most of the time in Kensington Palace.

Then, in 1698, what remained of Whitehall was completely destroyed, along with many treasures garnered over the ages. Of them, it is thought Michelangelo’s Cupid, the Portrait of Henry VIII, and Bernini’s marble bust of King Charles I burned to ash.

John Evelyn wrote: “Whitehall burnt! Nothing but walls and ruins left.”

So it goes, we have another interesting blog that could very well be inserted in another book of stories by English Historical Fiction Authors.

This is the great new book
Now available at amazon
Giveaway pdf or mobi:

If 1660's London interests you, my latest release is titled Of Carrion Feathers, a novel of espionage during the reign of Charles II. There are some thrilling moments where my heroine and hero run amok through Whitehall Palace. 

Please leave a comment what excites you about English history, and I’ll throw your name in a hat for a drawing. Please leave an email address where I can contact you.

For more interesting blog hop English History, and giveaways:


You can find my other novels in London during the 1660’s, please see:

I wish to thank the following sources:
Adrian Tinniswood. By Permission of Heaven, The true Story of the Great Fire of London. Riverhead Books, NY, 2003

John Evelyn. Fumifugium: Or, The Inconvenience of the AER, and SMOAKE of London Dissipated. Together With some Remedies humbly proposed by J.E. Esq; To His Sacred MAJESTIE, and To the Parliament now Assemble. Published by His Majesties Command. London 1661


  1. Hi Katherine,

    Lovely post! I will be reading over it better when I have more time. Whitehall is an important piece of history. Thanks for participating in this hop!

  2. I love stories set in the Regency-Victorian era! As I read them, I became fascinated by England's history, stories of Queens and the fascinating castles. Whitehall has appeared in many historical romances! thank you

  3. The history of castles in England and Ireland have a lot of stories to tell...I have loved castles and reading historical fiction for as long as I can remember. Thank you!!

  4. So interesting - lived in London for most of my life (until recently moving to Devon) yet know so little of its history!

  5. So interesting - lived in London for most of my life (until recently moving to Devon) yet know so little of its history!

  6. I am English born and have always been interested in the long history of the country (lived in London for many years ) and studied the subject at school and university

    meikleblog at gmail dot com

  7. I love learning about royalty throughout English history, including where they lived. Your post about Whitehall was wonderful, so many monarchs lived there and each left his or her own mark, so sad that most of the castle is gone.

  8. Have you any idea why the name 'Whitehall' ?
    I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Banqueting House and the ceiling is wonderful. The clever people of the Historic Royal Palaces have put in a mirrored table so you can study it without getting a crick in your neck.
    G x

    1. They say the name 'White Hall', then morphed into Whitehall, derived from its structure that was made of white stone. That's funny about the table and a crick in your neck. They should do that at the Vatican where you can see Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.

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  10. So sad about the artwork that was lost and all these magnificent castles destroyed, either through deliberate acts of warfare or accidents such as fire. What's exciting about English history is that so many places still remain, that you can visit and envisage the lives of all past occupants.

  11. So sad about the artwork that was lost and all these magnificent castles destroyed, either through deliberate acts of warfare or accidents such as fire. What's exciting about English history is that so many places still remain, that you can visit and envisage the lives of all past occupants.

  12. So sad about the artwork that was lost and all these magnificent castles destroyed, either through deliberate acts of warfare or accidents such as fire. What's exciting about English history is that so many places still remain, that you can visit and envisage the lives of all past occupants.

  13. I LOVE this site. I just signed up. I visited London a few years back (hope to go again) and saw the Banquet Hall. The history of this old palace is fascinating. I am very interested in this book.