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18 September 2014
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All Change at the Palace of Westminster

By Jacqueline Riding
Image of Alfred rebuilding London in 886
Alfred rebuilds London after its capture from the Danes in 886 ©

Find out how the palace of Westminster came to be at the centre of English political and religious power. Follow the dramatic twists of fate that left their impressions on the buildings themselves, and learn to how to look for the evidence for yourself.

The early history of Westminster

The establishment of a royal palace at Westminster is bound up with the foundation of a great abbey in the eighth century. Its location was west of the former Roman city, Londinium, and was close to the Anglo-Saxon centre on the north bank of the Thames (an area we now call the Strand).

'The royal patronage of the abbey instigated the building of a new Royal Palace nearby.'

The church that preceded the abbey was dedicated to St Peter and founded on Thorney Island, where the Thames meets the Tyburn. It was probably built by the East Saxon King Offa, and was called Westminster to differentiate it from the city minster of St Paul, which lay to the east.

During the time of Alfred the Great (871-899) Westminster’s fortunes declined, as the centre of activity moved back towards the former Roman settlement to the east, probably for defensive reasons. Westminster’s importance was diminished until it was revitalised by St Dunstan, who reformed and reconstituted the church as a Benedictine abbey c.960. Perhaps more significantly it was also adopted as a royal church.

The royal patronage of the abbey instigated the building of a new royal palace nearby. Although the precise date of first construction is subject to debate, it is probable that the palace was founded by Edward the Confessor.

[If you would like to find out any additional information about any of the terms or words used in this article, please refer to the glossary page.]

Published: 2005-02-02

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