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18 September 2014
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All Change at the Palace of Westminster

By Jacqueline Riding
A palace for Parliament

Image of Henry VIII flanked by bishops in the House of Peers
Henry VIII on the throne in the House of Peers  ©
Throughout the 15th century, it is probable that the palace buildings continued to be developed and adapted although there is no documentation to indicate exactly how these changes would have appeared.

Henry VII’s greatest single patronage at Westminster was the building of the Lady Chapel at the east end of Westminster Abbey - originally intended for the burial of another royal saint, Henry VI. In the event, it was where Henry VII himself was interred. The design and iconography of this chapel, above all else, was to greatly influence the new Palace of Westminster.

'Henry VIII was to be the last monarch to reside at the Palace of Westminster.'

In 1512, just after Henry VIII came to the throne, a fire gutted the royal residential (or 'privy') area of the palace and in 1529 Henry VIII abandoned Westminster completely, having appropriated the more commodious York Palace (the residence of the Archbishops of York). This palace is better known as Whitehall.

The ruins of the Privy Palace were demolished and removed - thus ending almost 500 years of royal residence. The palace was now devoted to administration and law, and Henry VIII was to be the last monarch to reside at the Palace of Westminster.

'Henry had increased his power and wealth but in addition ... had also increased the power of parliament itself. '

Despite Henry’s absence, the Westminster Parliament’s influence increased, and an extraordinary programme of legislation was carried out, following ‘the break with Rome’. Some acts, like the various acts of succession, dealt not only with Henry’s marital situation but the line of the succession itself. Others were seemingly religious in intent - the Dissolution of Monasteries and Chantries acts - but were in essence economic and political.

Henry had increased his power and wealth but in addition, through the necessity of parliament as the vehicle for this legislation, he had also increased the power of parliament itself. Perhaps we can perceive the transfer of the Palace of Westminster from royal to parliamentary home, as symbolic of the shift of government itself, from monarch to parliament.

And as if to confirm this transition, in 1548 Edward VI gave the royal Chapel of St Stephen, whose college had been suppressed, to the House of Commons as their permanent home.

[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.]

About the author

Jacqueline Riding was formerly Assistant Curator of the Palace of Westminster and is now Director of the Handel House Museum, London. Her publications include Art in Parliament: The Permanent Collection of the House of Commons, Jarrold 1996, Houses of Parliament: History, Art, Architecture, Merrell 2000, and The Handel House Museum Companion, 2001.


Published: 2005-02-02

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