London’s Versailles – Stafford House

“It is arguable that Stafford House was the only true private palace ever built in London, even if it did not surpass Versailles as Wyatt intended.”

The Great Gallery of Stafford House

The Great Gallery of Stafford House

Commissioned by the Duke of York, construction began on what was known then as York House. Princess Charlotte had died and HRH Frederick Augustus (1763 – 1827) was thinking he ought to have a palace now that he was heir to the throne. He once marched 10,000 men up a hill only to change his mind and order the lot back down. When York House scarcely had its foundation stone laid, the Duke sacked his architect, Robert Smirke, whose snide remark is noted in the the previous post.The Duke was as indecisive a builder as he was a military leader.

Benjamin Dean Wyatt (1775 – 1825) was appointed to finish the job. He had been urged upon his royal patron by the Duchess of Rutland, who was remodelling her own home, Belvoir Castle (hmm, I sense a subject for a future post). BD Wyatt designed the house to be two story, with Palladium attributes such as a rusticated ground floor and a lofty piano nobile beneath a shallow pediment raised high by Grecian columns.

It remained a shell, however, until it was leased to the Marquis of Stafford. He was also the late Duke’s largest creditor. However, Lord Stafford was unable to finish the house, having passed away as the “richest individual who ever died.”

Stafford House central hall

I pause here briefly to note the Marquis had become Duke of Sutherland in 1833, by virtue of his marriage to the Sutherland heiress. Elizabeth Gordon (pictured below) became Countess of Sutherland when a mere baby. Both were notorious figures in a couple of ways.  The couple was briefly imprisoned in France for attempting to aid Marie Antoinette’s escape. They were also responsible for some of the worst of the Highland clearances. The Marquis, appalled at the condition of his wife’s Highland tenants, decided they should be cleared and sent off to become fishermen. It did not go well, like so many well-meaning intentions great powers have for the good of the people.

The 2nd Duke of Sutherland was primarily responsible for the fabulous interior of Stafford House. The state rooms were larger than those at Buckingham Palace. The central hall alone was 80 feet across and the stair rising 120 feet high. White marble Corinthian columns lined the walls.

He added a third story to the house for all the nurseries, schoolrooms, nannies, nurses, tutors, governesses, et al for his eleven (11!) children.

The decorative style has been described as Louis Quatorze — it could easily be termed rococo on steroids. The coffered and coved ceilings were heavily ornamented in the boiseriestyle and painted with lots gilding. Below is one of several ornate ceilings in the house. As if that were not enough, the great Stafford collection of paintings was gathered together in the house, including art brought to England from plundered French aristocrats.

Today, the palace is called Lancaster House. It serves as a government reception site.

Better than being in a dustbin like some other houses we know.

Calgon! Take me away!

The Regent’s House or God’s – Part Two

Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon on her way to the Abbey

It wouldn’t seem right if Kate and William married, for instance, in Buckingham Palace instead of Westminster Abbey.  No processional, limited guest list, private ceremony off-limits to the press.  But prior to George VI’s wedding to the late Queen Mother, royal weddings were held in private chapels.

In 1816, the heiress to the throne, adored by her countrymen, was wed in her father’s house, which did not, like royal palaces, have a chapel.  It might have been a fatal error.

And the reason is one that is hauntingly familiar.

Caroline of Brunswick

Acrimony among royals is a magnet for public fascination, then as now. Princess Charlotte’s parents waged a very public battle over their troubled marriage and the Prince Regent emerged from it little better than an object of derision.  His subjects sided very much with his aggrieved wife, Caroline of Brunswick, and cast all their admiration and sympathy onto her daughter once her mother, the Princess of Wales, agreed to leave the country.

Charlotte’s father perhaps believed that holding the wedding at Carlton House would avoid the frenzy of a public processional to one of the royal palaces.  But to no avail.   Despite the arrangements he made, the people insisted on participating in the wedding of their princess.

The following is a contemporary description from the 1816 issue of the Asiatic Journal of the Princess’ attempt to get to her grandmother’s palace at Buckingham House to dress for the wedding:

“The Princess Charlotte of Wales, at 4 o’ clock, went in a carriage to the Queen’s Palace, and had the windows down to gratify the curiosity of the crowd in Pall-Mall, but they were found to be so extremely numerous, that the coachman could not with safety drive through them, he therefore returned, and went through the Park.”

At the time, the princess was living at Warwick House, a mean, tumble-down residence very near Carlton House on a dead-end lane.  She could either drive down the public thoroughfare known as Pall Mall, or access Queen Charlotte’s palace via the gated St. James Park.  Remember Kate and William in Edward VII’s carriage heading toward Buckingham Palace?  That was the route Charlotte took.  But in her time, St. James Park was off-limits to the public when the princess journeyed almost in secret up to Buckingham House.

Even her husband to be, Prince Leopold, had a scary moment just before when he was returning to the Duke of Clarence’s house, which was just across the way from the Duke of York’s house at the edge of the St. James Palace complex:

“His Serene Highness afterwards returned to Clarence House a little before half past three, when the crowd was so numerous, and the anxiety so great to see him, that the footman, in letting him out of the carriage, had nearly been pushed under it.  A number of women and children were forced into Clarence House against their will, by the extreme pressure (of the crowd).”

However, the prince took matters in hand and asserted his leadership over the crowd soon after:

“In a few minutes after, his Serene Highness walked across to York House (now know as Lancaster House) when the crowd behaved extremely orderly, and at the request of a few attendants, formed a clear passage for him to pass through; they, however, loudly huzzaed him, and he bowed to the populace.”