This year we got a joint Historic Royal Palaces Membership where you get free and unlimited entry to six royal palaces in the UK and we set ourselves the aim to visit five of them (one is in Ireland). Our first visit was to the Banqueting House in Whitehall many moons ago. Really easy to get to, this was a relatively short visit, but turned out longer than expected as the free audio guide was very detailed.
The lost Palace of Whitehall was once the largest royal residence in Europe, Henry VIII obtained it and Elizabeth I enlarged it. The Banqueting House was then built by James I who held ceremonies and masques there. In fact, you can hire the place for such events these days too, but I imagine it would cost a pretty penny. Now the Banqueting House is all that remains of the Palace of Whitehall after a fire destroyed most of it, supposedly started from ignited oiled paper and other combustibles used in the entertainment in masques.
James I was succeeded by his son Charles I, who commissioned Sir Peter Paul Rubens to design and paint the ceiling. The subject was the glorification of his father, where canvases depict James I uniting England and Scotland, or rising up to heaven. The beautiful ceilings were probably one of the last things Charles I saw before his death: he stepped out of the first floor window onto a scaffold erected in front of the Banqueting House for his execution.
An exquisite building with beautiful painted ceilings, the ground floor has a video and small exhibition of Charles II. On the first floor, the height of the ceiling makes the room seem even more magnificent. At one end there is a throne, naturally, and seats scattered around with benches on the perimeter allowing plenty of people to sit or lie down to look up at the ceiling. Mirrors are also dotted around to allow you to have a better look without craning your neck.
The staff members were absolutely lovely, and advised us to look outside the windows to see the changing of the guards across the road. A lovely afternoon was had here, worth a visit if you have a couple of hours free and want to get inside somewhere for some culture.