Banqueting House is part of the Historic Royal Palaces Group and the sole survivor of the Palace of Whitehall which burnt down in 1698. Architect Inigo Jones created the building for James I in 1622 and it played host to sensational masques and balls under the roof of the amazing ceiling painted by Rubens.
I wasn’t sure quite what to expect, despite having checked out the website beforehand. After sorting tickets (pretty cheap at £5.50 if you book in advance) and being presented with an audio guide I was directed into the next room for an informative video about the history of the building.
This area was also notable for the display on different types of masques that would have been performed at the Banqueting House and the techniques used to make them as impressive as possible. Masques had first been performed in the 16th century with the king in disguise often taking part and by the early 18th century they were a display of music, dance, costumes and engineered scenery such as that below.
From here I headed upstairs and got the first glimpse of the impressive ceiling.
From here it’s a case of sitting down on the plentiful seats provided and listening as the audio guide leads you through the history of the building and the significance of the paintings. Completed in 1634 by Rubens in Antwerp they weren’t brought to London and installed until 1636.
It was at this point that masques stopped being performed here, to protect the ceiling from smoke and other damage. Instead it was used for receptions and receiving important guests such as ambassadors. The main purpose of the painting was to promote the idea of kings as gods. The central panel shows James I and his peaceful reign, with figures of Peace and Plenty fighting down Mars, the god of War,
while other panels show James I being carried on the wings of an eagle to the seat of God,
and the joining of England and Scotland which of course took place under his reign.
The Banqueting House is also notable because it was here on 30 January 1649 that Charles I was executed. The son of James I he dissolved Parliament many times before deciding he would rule without it altogether. This led to the English Civil War (1642-49) [at one point Charles I raised his standard and gathered troops at Nottingham Castle] which ended with Charles I being put on trial for treason and sentenced to death.
Interestingly a ceremony still takes place on 30 January at the Banqueting House to commemorate the execution.
The ceiling really is amazing – the only Rubens artwork still in its original place – and the audio guide was well done and very interesting. You can find more of my photos here.