First built between 1532 and 1540, on the site of the former St James's hospital for leper women, the hunting lodge-cum-palace and Royal Deer Park were commissioned by Henry VIII for recreation, being within easy reach of his main official residence of Whitehall Palace. Little survives of the Tudor building, except for a fine 16th Century gatehouse and the Chapel Royal. This Chapel has witnessed several important occasions, including the receiving of the Holy Sacrament by Charles I prior to his execution at Whitehall Palace in 1649, the marriage of Queen Victoria in 1840, and Princess Beatrice's Christening in 1988.
The nearby Queens Chapel is the early 17th Century work of Inigo Jones, but most of the surviving structure seen today is the work of Sir Christopher Wren. In the first half of the 19th Century, John Nash built the adjoining Clarence House under directions from the Duke of Clarence (later King William IV). Until her death, it was still used by The Queen Mother as her formal residence. It was also from this house that Princess Diana left for St Paul's Cathedral on her wedding day.
Queen Anne first brought the royal court to St James's Palace in 1702, following the disastrous fire that destroyed Whitehall Palace in 1698. For over 300 years it has remained as the official residence of the reigning monarch although, since the accession of Queen Victoria, the Sovereign has lived at Buckingham Palace. Today 'the court of St James' still remains the official title to which foreign ambassadors and commissioners are accredited.
Many notable events have occurred at St James's Palace throughout its history. The signing of the surrender treaty of Calais by Queen Mary I, and her eventual death occurred here. Queen Elizabeth I held court at St James's Palace during her troubles with the Spanish Armada, and she set out from the palace to make her famous address to the troops at Tilbury Camp. King Charles I was held prisoner here prior to his execution. Both George III and George IV were married at St James's Palace, and Elizabeth II made her first speech as Queen here in 1952. During the reign of George IV it was decided to extend Buckingham House, the king's former childhood home, and it became the principal London residence of the monarch. The staterooms at St James's Palace were then considered no longer grand enough.
Today St James's Palace is the main residence of Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, and Princess Alexandra and Sir Angus Ogilvy, as well as the headquarters of many royal associations. Because of this St James's Palace is not open to the public.