Before then, it had grown to be the largest palace in Europe with more than 1,500 rooms, overtaking the Vatican and Versailles. The palace gives its name, Whitehall, to the road on many of the current administrative buildings of the UK government are situated. It is about 650 metres from Westminster Abbey, by the 13th century the Palace of Westminster had become the centre of government in England, and had been the main London residence of the king since 1049. The surrounding area became a popular and expensive location, the Archbishop of York Walter de Grey bought a nearby property as his London residence soon after 1240, calling it York Place. King Edward I stayed at York Place on several occasions while work was carried out at Westminster, and enlarged it to accommodate his entourage. York Place was rebuilt during the 15th century and expanded so much by Cardinal Wolsey that it was rivalled by only Lambeth Palace as the greatest house in London, the Kings London palaces included. The name Whitehall or White Hall was first recorded in 1532, Henry VIII hired Flemish artist Anthony van den Wyngaerde to redesign York Place, and he extended it during his lifetime. Inspired by Richmond Palace, he included a centre with a bowling green, indoor tennis court, a pit for cock fighting. It is estimated more than £30,000 were spent during the 1540s. Henry VIII married two of his wives at the palace—Anne Boleyn in 1533 and Jane Seymour in 1536, Henry died at the palace in January 1547. In 1611 the palace hosted the first known performance of William Shakespeares play The Tempest and its decoration was finished in 1634 with the completion of a ceiling by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, commissioned by Charles I. By 1650 Whitehall Palace was the largest complex of buildings in England. Its layout was irregular, and its constituent parts were of different sizes and in several different architectural styles. Like his father, he died at the palace—but from a stroke, james II ordered various changes by Sir Christopher Wren, including a chapel finished in 1687, rebuilding of the queens apartments, and the queens private lodgings. By 1691 the palace had become the largest and most complex in Europe, on 10 April a fire broke out in the much-renovated apartment previously used by the Duchess of Portsmouth that damaged the older palace structures, though apparently not the state apartments. This actually gave a greater cohesiveness to the remaining complex, however a second fire on 4 January 1698 destroyed most of the remaining residential and government buildings, the diarist John Evelyn noted succinctly the next day, Whitehall burnt. Nothing but walls and ruins left, beside the Banqueting House, some buildings survived in Scotland Yard and some facing the park, along with the so-called Holbein Gate, eventually demolished in 1769. Despite some rebuilding, financial constraints prevented large scale reconstruction, in the second half of the 18th century, much of the site was leased for the construction of town houses
Image: The Old Palace of Whitehall by Hendrik Danckerts
Inigo Jones's plan, dated 1638, for a new palace at Whitehall.