Buckingham Palace – the official London residence of the British monarch

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace is the official London residence and administrative headquarters of the monarch of the United Kingdom. It is located in the City of Westminster and is recognized as one of the world’s most famous palaces.

The palace has 775 rooms, including 19 state rooms, 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices, and 78 bathrooms. The floor space of Buckingham Palace measures over 77,000 square meters (828,821.1 sq ft).

The Royal Ballroom of the palace is the venue for these ceremonies, including the notable event where distinguished British individuals are conferred with knighthoods.

The palace is also used for important events and ceremonies, including the Changing of the Guard and the Trooping the Colour.

Site of the Buckingham Palace

The site where the Palace sits was first used by King James I (reign: 1603-1625) as a mulberry garden. Before James, it was said that the site was home to a small village that was owned by Edward the Confessor. For a time, the village was lost as result of the Norman Conquest only for it to be reclaimed by King Henry VIII in 1531.

Acquisition by George III

John Sheffield (1648 – 1721), the 1st Duke of Buckingham and Normanby, was the original owner. Sheffield is said to have acquired the lease in 1698, and the Buckingham House, designed by English architect William (c. 1645-1722), was built in 1703. About half a century later, the building was sold by Buckingham’s illegitimate son, Sir Charles Sheffield, to then-British monarch George III for a little bit more than £20,000. That figure translates to about 3 million in today’s pounds.

George III acquired the building to be used as the private residence for his wife, Queen Charlotte. Between 1762 and 1776, the building came to be known as The Queen’s House and underwent extensive remodeling and modernizing. It came at a cost of around £73,000 to the British taxpayers.

During the reign of George VI

During the reign of King George VI (reign: 1820-1830), famous English architect John Nash was tasked by the English monarch to remodel Buckingham House into Buckingham Palace.

Originally budgeting a total cost of around 253,000, the cost of the remodeling ballooned to close to half a million pounds in 1829. To make matters worse the remodeling was still not complete at the time. This and many other notorious extravagance of George VI came to light following the death of the English king in 1830.

As a result, Nash was removed from the project by then-Prime Minister Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, because of his over-spending. The English architect would not receive any more official commissions.

William IV era

After fire gutted the Houses of Parliament in 1834, then-English monarch William IV  proposed the Buckingham Palace be used as the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The legislators turned downed the offer, citing the Palace as unsuitable to serve as their meeting place.

The Victorian Era

The palace became the official London residence of the British monarch in 1837, when Queen Victoria ascended to the throne, and it has remained so ever since.

Prior to Victoria, the official royal residence for the English monarch was St James’s Palace, a magnificent palace also located in the City of Westminster.

During Victoria’s reign (1837-1901), extensive renovations were carried out at Buckingham Palace, including the addition of a fourth wing, the Marble Arch entrance, and the famous balcony. Those renovations were carried out by a new architect, Edward Blore, who completed the remodeling work began by Nash. For example, the East Front of the Buckingham Palace was constructed between 1847 and 1850.

In the same year that Queen Victoria ascended to the throne, a thief by the name Edward Jones managed to break into the Buckingham Palace and steal a number of items, including the Queen’s underwear. Jones was apprehended by the guards. It was later revealed that Jones had on numerous occasions broke into the British monarch’s residence. As punishment for his crimes, he was shipped off to an overseas colony to serve.

Did you know…?

It was bombed 9 times during World War II. The British royal family were advised by the government to vacate the palace for their safety. However, a resilient King George VI (i.e. the father of Queen Elizabeth II) and his family refused to do so, preferring to stay in the residence throughout the war.

Two of Queen Elizabeth II’s children – Charles (Charles III) and Prince Andrew – were born in the Palace.

Christenings of a number of royal family members have taken place at the Palace, including three of Queen Elizabeth II’s children – Charles, the Duke of York, and the Princess Royal.

Whenever the Union Jack flies above the Buckingham Palace it is an indication that the British Monarch is away from the palace.

It’s become a tradition for notice of royal births and deaths to be placed on the front railings of the entrance to the Buckingham Palace.

In 1982, an intruder by the name Michael Fagan managed to break into the Palace.

United States presidential visits to the Buckingham Palace

The first sitting US President to visit the Buckingham Palace was Woodrow Wilson. The visit came on December 26–28, 1918. Wilson and his wife, First Lady Edith Wilson, were honored with a state banquet by then-British monarch George V.

About sixty years later, US President Jimmy Carter broke a bit of protocol when he planted a kiss on the lips of the Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth (i.e. the mother of Queen Elizabeth II).

Since then a number of White House chiefs have paid visits to the palace, including President Barack Obama, who was honored with a state banquet in the Ballroom in 2011.

Ballroom of the Buckingham Palace

Undoubtedly the Ballroom is the largest room in the Buckingham Palace. Built in 1854, the Ballroom measures at 120 feet long and 60 feet wide. It stands at 45 feet (or 13.4 meters) high. The room often serves as the place where official state dinners and banquets take place. It’s also been used as place where the English monarch confers knighthood on people that have distinguished themselves in their professions.

The Belgian Suites

When foreign heads of state visit the English monarch, they are placed in the luxurious suite called the Belgian Suites. Located on the ground floor, the name of the suites was derived from the Belgian monarch King Leopold I, who was the uncle of Queen Victoria.

The First Balcony Appearance

First recorded balcony appearance happened in 1851, when Queen Victoria appeared for the opening of the Great Exhibition.

Also known as the Crystal Palace Exhibition, the Great Exhibition was held in Hyde Park, London, and showcased various industrial and cultural advancements from around the world. It was a grand event that aimed to celebrate British innovation and industry.

Queen Victoria played a pivotal role in the exhibition by officially opening it and demonstrating her support for the progress and achievements of the time. Her presence at the event added prestige and significance to the exhibition, attracting widespread attention and ensuring its success. The Queen’s appearance symbolized the close relationship between the Crown and the industrial progress of the era.

The Buckingham Palace

The Buckingham Palace is the administrative HQ of the sovereign of UK. As of 2023, the Palace has 19 State rooms, 52 Royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices, and 78 bathrooms.

Other interesting facts about the Buckingham Palace

  • The palace is not owned by English monarch; instead, it, along with many other properties, is held in trust by the Crown Estate.
  • It’s become tradition for the Changing of the Guard ceremony to occur just outside the palace at 10:45 each day. The ceremony can last up to 45 minutes
  • The only English monarch to be born and die at the Buckingham Palace is Edward VII. The monarch was born in 1841 and died in 1910.
  • There is actually no dress code when it comes to tourists that want to visit the Buckingham Palace.
  • After the end of the World War II, in 1945, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, together with Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill and Princesses Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) and Margaret, appeared on the Buckingham Palace balcony before a crowd who were very jubilant that the Allies had won and WWII had come to an end.
  • It’s been estimated that more than 50,000 people visit the Palace each year as guest to State banquets, dinners, receptions and Garden Parties.
  • The Palace also serves as place where the British monarch receives newly-appointed foreign ambassadors to the UK.

When is the Buckingham Palace opened to visitors?

It’s been estimated that the Buckingham Palace attracts over a half a million tourists every year.

The palace is open to the public during the summer months. There are limited number of tours in the winter and at Easter each year.