Historical Property

By Kevin Murphy

Banqueting House, Queens House and Inigo Jones

Inigo Jones

“In the 1620s it was Inigo Jones who brought the Italian Renaissance to Britain and, in so doing, created a stylistic revolution…” – Doreen Yarwood: The Architecture of England (1974)


Inigo Jones is widely regarded as Britain’s foremost and most respected architect introducing the Italian Renaissance to England in the 17th century. Born in London in 1573 very little has been documented regarding hie early life. Initially he was well known for his mastery for designing stage settings for masques or dramatic stage performances with its masked actors that was popular with nobility in the 16th and 17th centuries. 


In 1603 as a stage designer Jones with the Earl of Rutland Jones had the opportunity to travel to Europe, mainly Italy, to produce stage designs for ‘lavish’ court masques as he had with playwright Ben Johnson. This journey gave Inigo Jones the introduction to Italian classical and Renaissance architecture which would be the main factors for his future architectural designs. The most influential for Jones for architecture and architectural theories was Italian architect Andrea Palladian. Palladio had published his theories on architecture in his ‘Four Books on Architecture’ with his Palladian style. By 1615 Jones became surveyor for the Crown appointed by James I thus having becoming chief royal architect.

Queen’s House, Greenwich


Jones is regarded as having been England’s first professional architect transforming earlier designs from medieval Gothic and Tudor designs into the Italian Renaissance style. One of the most well known and earliest buildings is the Queen’s House at Greenwich. The building is considered to be the first Classical designed structure in England.


Jones began the project for Queen Anne of Denmark after returning from Italy in 1616. The building was to be used as a summer house with a link to Greenwich Palace (Palace of Placentia) but three years in to the project Queen Anne died and for ten years there was no new work was done to the building. In 1629 the house was passed to Henrietta Maria by Charles I and construction was finished in 1635.


The design of the property was at times challenging as the gardens of the palace were divided from a park by a public road running east and west from Deptford and Woolwich. As a result the design was amended with the plans for a ‘double house’ with one half in the garden area half in the park to be connected by a bridge.


The foundation of the building consists two rectangular buildings connected by a bridge on the first floor level essentially in the shape of an ‘H’. The buildings layout is perhaps modelled on the Medici villa at Poggio a Caiano by Giuliano da Sangallo. The two-story Queen’s House exterior features brick and faced with Portland stone. Facing the river is the north façade with the east and west façades having colonnades connected to other wings to the house.  A rusticated architectural masonry design is present on the first storey with balustrade. 

Queen's House, Greenwich, London

The buildings Doric order colonnades that link the Queen’s House with the two buildings were erected in 1809 to 1811 with each measuring more than 170 feet long.


Facing the river the curving steps to the entrance into the building features a Great Hall or perfectly designed cube with marble floors that match the the circle and square designs on the ceiling.  


One other unique Palladio-design characteristic are The Tulip Stairs under a glass lantern that is made of spiralled wrought iron featuring leaves and tulip flowers on the balustrade and was the first unsupported helical stairs to be built in Britain. The treads are each cantilevered from the wall and support  each stair below.


In 1642 the Civil War began and shortly thereafter Henrietta Maria went into exile, her husband executed and the property then became state owned. By 1660 Henrietta Maria returned and the building was used by the members of the royal family and as a residence for royal servants until 1805 when Queen’s House was given to charity by George III. The building then became used as a school for orphans of seaman and became known as the Royal Naval Asylum in 1805. In the 1820’s a large addition was made including two wings being added to the building. In 1934 the school moved to Suffolk and the building was taken over by the National Maritime Museum.


One of the most notable aspects of the Queen’s House is its history of artwork. Paintings by William Hodges, George Stubbs, William Hogarth, Thomas Gainsborough and a large collection by Dutch maritime artist Van De Veldes who had an art studio beginning in the 1670’s at the Queen’s House for twenty years.

The Banqueting House


Designed by Inigo Jones and built between 1619 and 1622 is the Banqueting House, Whitehall and is often regarded as his masterpiece. The building is the third on the site with the first being a temporary structure made of wood and canvas in 1581 for the purpose of receiving ambassadors from France for a marriage treaty for Queen Elizabeth I. This structure would be replaced in 1606 by a larger more usable building built with stone and wood which was lost by fire in 1619.  Despite a weak economy at the time a decision was made to rebuild on the site in expectation of a marriage between Prince Charles, later to become King Charles I, and the Infanta of Spain. The marriage never occurred but the building was constructed.

Banqueting House, Whitehall, London

The building in Roman classical style was to be used for a variety of functions most notably for hosting state banquets, greeting ambassadors and masques. Twelfth Night, 1622, The Masque of Augurs by Ben Jonson was the first to be presented in the buildings great hall. The style of design for Banqueting House differs from previous ones by Jones. The window-sashes were changed from previous mullion-and-transom casings and the exterior used Northamptonshire stone rather than Portland stone with the basement area using honey-coloured Oxford stone and details in Portland stone. The Northampton stone was later replaced by Portland stone in the 19th century as the Northampton stone was decaying which then presented the buildings exterior with uniformity. 


The rectangular plan of the building is two-storeys high with east and west elevations and two rows of seven windows with superimposed orders of Ionic below and Composite above. Much of the exterior stone work is rusticated except for the columns and pilasters which are unfluted and smooth.

Perhaps the most well known feature for the interior is the large chamber or hall in the double cube design on top of a vaulted Undercroft. Dimensions of the hall were to be 110 feet long, 55 feet wide and 55 feet high with a staircase at the north end of the building with the proportions similar of a Palladian-Vitruvian basilica. The North wall has three stone doorways with the central door being the entrance to the staircase. The south wall has three doors but where the throne is now present there was an apse similar to what would be found in a basilica. This particular apse or niche would be removed in 1625.


The vaulted Undercroft of Banqueting House was originally designed as a type of drinking den for James I and his friends. The grotto portion of the den was decorated with shells. After James I died the Undercroft was used for holding lotteries.

The Undercroft, Banqueting House, Whitehall, London

In 1636 Charles I ordered paintings for the ceiling and employed Peter Paul Rubens to create a memorial to his father James. Whilst Rubens was visiting Britain as an ambassador Charles I took opportunity to commission Rubens for the painting on nine panels with gilded corners. Rubens was paid £3000 for the the work which at the time was considered a lavish commission.


The panels shows James as a great leader for bringing a period of peace and prosperity to the nation. This would however bring to an end the masques and their lavish stage sets as Charles feared the panels could be damaged especially by the candles and the smoke they produced used during the performances. However Charles I was later executed in 1649 in the front of the Banqueting House and accessed the scaffold through a first floor window.


The history and contributions to architecture are not just Queen’s House and Banqueting House by Inigo Jones. His contributions include his work on  the refacing of Old St Paul’s Church which was mostly destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666. What remained was removed to build St Paul’s Cathedral designed by Christopher Wren. For Jones’s design work in London, Covent Garden and Lincoln Inn Fields Square Jones received the title of “Vitruvius Britannicus”. His English Palladian continued to influence the architecture designs by Lord Burlington and Colen Campbell.

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