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BANQUETING HOUSE

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The first known Banqueting House at Whitehall was a temporary structure of wood and canvas, built in 1572 for the visit of a French delegation. In 1581 Elizabeth I erected a more permanent building on the same site, for the entertainment of the envoys who had come to negotiate a marriage between the Queen and the Duke of Alencon. Made from wood and canvas, James I considered it to be old and rotten and in 1606 it was pulled down. Its replacement was set out as a theatre and it opened in January 1608 with a performance of Ben Johnson's 'The Masque of Beauty'. This building was destroyed by fire in 1619. The new Banqueting House, designed by Inigo Jones, was begun in 1619 and opened in 1622 with a performance of Johnson's 'Masque of Angers'. However, after the installation of the Rubens ceiling in 1635, masques were held in a new wooden building nearby, in case the lamp smoke should damage the paintings. On 30 January 1649 King Charles I walked for the last time across the Banqueting House, and out through a window on to the scaffold for his execution. The fire of 1698 marked the end of the ceremonial significance of the Banqueting House. In 1699 it was converted by Wren into the Chapel Royal, as the old chapel had been fire damaged and in 1799 James Wyatt added the set back north bay and staircase. In 1809 it became the Chapel of the Horse Guards and it remained their chapel until 1829 when it was restored by Soane and again used as the Chapel Royal until 1890. In 1890 it was granted as a museum to the Royal United Services Institute and in 1893 an extension was added to the south end by Aston Webb and Ingress Bell to connect it with the adjacent premises of the Institute. In 1963 it was redecorated in its original colours and opened to the public. The present Portland stone exterior dates from 1829. Originally the basement was of Oxfordshire stone, the upper walls of Northamptonshire stone and the main architectural detail of Portland stone.

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