By Nathen Amin
Many people today use the term Whitehall to refer to the government of the present day, but not many of those will be aware that the term emanates from the Palace of Whitehall which once stood on the site of modern governmental buildings in Westminster. One man who is more than aware of this is historian and researcher Phil Roberts, who has put together this handy history of the main London residence of the kings and queens of England from 1530 to 1698.
Roberts is an enthusiastic student of his subject, captivated by its history and eager to share his knowledge with the wider public. His book ‘Whitehall Palace in a Nutshell’ is the first step to achieving this aim. Although the book is concise, part of publisher Made Global’s intriguing ‘in a Nutshell’ series, Roberts commendably succeeds in covering all aspects of the Palace’s history, from its requisition by Henry VIII to the reign of James I, also taking into account its place in the English Civil War, the execution of Charles I, and the Cromwellian era. His attention to detail is noted, including trivia such as Henry VIII paying £1,130 in 1531 to buy up the buildings around the palace or that he owned over 2028 pieces of plate and 2000 pieces of tapestry by 1547. The miscellany of events towards the end of the book is particularly a mine of information.
The palace started life as York Place, the London residence of the Archbishops of York, but after Cardinal Wolsey’s fall, was acquired by Henry VIII in 1530. Within two years, it was known as White Hall and became the favoured residence of the king and Anne Boleyn when in the capital. It was a massive complex, growing to contain 2000 rooms and covering 23 acres, eclipsing Versailles, the Vatican and Hampton Court. His account of the fire that finally brought the Palace tumbling down is particularly gripping, highlighting how we lost one of the most splendid Tudor palaces in the country. ‘Whitehall Burnt! Nothing but walls and ruins left’ exclaimed the diarist John Evelyn, reporting the tragedy, as shown in Roberts’ book, robbed us of a wonderful building.
The maps are a helpful guide for the modern visitor to London to place themselves on the spot where kings once rested their heads, although unfortunately there isn’t much remaining. In fact, the wine cellar still survives below street level and whilst is not open to the public, Roberts used personal connections to gain access, a benefit which is noticeable in his work, particularly in photographs of the interior.
All things considered, Whitehall Palace is a short read that is detailed enough to give new information and small enough to be used as a guide book when traipsing through the streets of London. Whitehall Palace in a Nutshell is a valuable addition for any student of both Tudor and Stuart periods, whether academic or amateur. An interesting read that is enough to compel me to pay more attention to my surroundings next time I am down by the Thames in Westminster. I suspect that was the author’s aim.
Philip Roberts, author of Whitehall Palace in a Nutshell, is employed as an ambulance crew member. He is also a Tudor era enthusiast, having been a member of the Mary Rose Trust Information Group Team for well over twenty years, educating people on King Henry VIII’s warship, and on everyday Tudor life. He has also been a reenactor as a Tudor at Kentwell Hall, Suffolk, the world famous Elizabethan mansion, and still re-enacts at the Mary Rose Museum at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.