Old and New London: Volume 3. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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WHITEHALL.—THE BUILDINGS DESCRIBED.
Description of the Old Palace—Additions made by Henry VIII.—The Holbein Gateway—Westminster Gate—Knights of the Tilt-yard—Inigo Jones' Design for a New Palace—Residence of the Ladies and Gentlemen of the Court—An Ingenious Design for Rebuilding Whitehall—Description of the Banqueting House—The Chapel Royal—Rubens' Painted Ceiling—"Maunday" Thursday—The Statue of James II.
Although the present remains of Whitehall are comparatively modern, not reaching farther back than the time of the Tudors, yet we know from history that there was a palace standing on this spot as early as the reign of Henry III., when the Chief Justice of England, Hubert de Burgh, Earl of Kent, resided in it. At his death he left it to the "Black" Friars of Holborn, who sold it to the Archbishop of York; and his successors in that metropolitan see made it their town residence for nearly three centuries. The last of the archbishops who tenanted it was Cardinal Wolsey, under whom it became one of the most sumptuous palaces in England.
The ancient palace of Whitehall, if we include its precincts, was of great extent, stretching from close to where now stands Westminster Bridge nearly up to Scotland Yard. It comprised a hall, chapel, banqueting-house, and other apartments, as "Henry VIII.'s Gallery," the "Boarded Gallery," the "Matted Gallery," the "Shield Gallery," the "Stone Gallery," the "Adam and Eve Gallery" (so named from the picture by Mabuse), and the "Vane Room." Some idea of the extent of the palace early in the sixteenth century may be formed from the following description of it which occurs in the Act of Parliament by which it was given to the royal tyrant. Here it is styled "one great mansionplace and house, being a parcel of the possessions of the Archbishopric of York, situate in the town of Westminster, not much distant from the same ancient palace." And speaking of Cardinal Wolsey, it adds that "he had lately, upon the soil of the said mansion-place and house, and upon ground thereunto belonging, most sumptuously and curiously built and edified many and distinct beautiful, costly, and pleasant lodgings, buildings, and mansions for his grace's singular pleasure, comfort, and commodity, to the honour of his highness and the realm; and thereunto adjoining had made a park, walled and environed with brick and stone; and then devised and ordained many and singular commodious things, pleasures, and other necessaries, apt and convenient to appertain to so noble a prince for his pastime and pleasure." And it must be owned that if the prints of the period are to be trusted, this description is not overdrawn. By the same Act of Parliament it was directed to be called "The King's Palace at Westminster" for ever. Its limits were defined on the one side by the "street leading from Charing Cross unto the Sanctuary Gate at Westminster," and on the other by "the water of the Thames." At this time it consisted of "a mansion with two gardens and three acres of land." Henry VIII., as we have shown in a preceding chapter, added very considerably to the buildings; and he likewise ordered a tenniscourt, a cock-pit, and bowling-greens to be formed, "with other conveniences for various kinds of diversion." Here Holbein painted the portraits of Henry VII. and Henry VIII., with their queens, and also the "Dance of Death." Here, too—or, rather, across the roadway in front, leading from Charing Cross to Westminster—he built his famous gateway.
Holbein had been induced to come over to England through the reputation of the taste and generosity of Henry VIII. He was introduced to the king by the instrumentality of Sir Thomas More, at his house at Chelsea, where a number of the painter's works had been recently ranged round the walls. Taken immediately into the king's service, Holbein had apartments assigned to him in the old palace at Whitehall, for which he designed, at the king's request, in 1546, the gateway above alluded to. It stood in front of the palace, opposite the Tilt-yard, and was flanked on either side by a low brick building of a single storey in height. Its position was a little nearer to Westminster Abbey than the north-west corner of York House. The edifice was constructed of small square stones and flint boulders, of two distinct colours, "glazed and disposed in a tessellated manner." On each front there were four busts or medallions, "naturally coloured and gilt," which are stated to have resisted all influences of the weather. They were of terra-cotta, as large as life, or even a little larger, and represented some of the chief characters of the age. Among them were Henry VII., Henry VIII., and Bishop Fisher. These busts were believed by some persons to have been the work of an Italian artist named Torregiano; but Mr. Cunningham, in an article on the subject in the Gentleman's Magazine for June, 1866, inclines to the opinion that they were executed by John de Maiano, the sculptor of the medallions on Hampton Court Gateway. On either side of the archway were lofty embattled octagonal turrets, the faces of which, between the windows, were likewise ornamented with busts, &c. The rooms above the archway were long used as the State Paper Office.
The Holbein Gateway, as it was generally called, was removed in 1749–50, in order to widen the street and approaches to Westminster. After its demolition most of the glazed bricks and stone dressings of this historical building, rich in two centuries of associations with our kings, from Henry VIII. to William III., "were sold to repair the high roads."
Mr. J. T. Smith, in his "Antiquities of Westminster," in alluding to this gateway, says: "It is scarcely to be supposed that, in the time of Hubert de Burgh's residence here, there was anything like that noble space which the width of the street opposite Whitehall now (1807) affords. On the contrary, the probability seems to be that there was not, and it is far more likely that it did not at that time exceed the breadth of the present King Street. Passing by Whitehall the street was continued along a street of this same width, which originally had on its eastern side the wall of part of the garden, or orchard, or other ground, if we may trust honest John Stow, belonging to Whitehall, as may be seen in the plan made in 1680, by John Fisher, a surveyor at that time, and which was afterwards engraved by Vertue. On the western side this street had the wall of that enclosure since converted into St. James's Park; but when Henry VIII. had acquired possession of Whitehall in 1531, by exchanging with the abbot and convent of Westminster, he procured to himself this enclosure, part of which he converted into the before-mentioned park, and on the rest he erected a tennis-court, a cock-pit, a bowling-alley, a long stone gallery—which was for some time occupied by the late Duke of Dorset, and subsequently by Lord Whitworth—and other buildings, many of which are wholly, or in part, still (1807) remaining."
This building, it appears, the king connected with the palace on the opposite side by two gateways across the street; one of them at about the middle of King Street, which was demolished in 1723; the other, nearer to Charing Cross, adjoining the north-east corner of the gallery abovementioned, was the gateway designed by Hans Holbein. This latter gate, it is stated in the "New View of London" (1708), was termed "Cock-pit Gate," and it is said to have been "an extraordinarily beautiful gate." The writer thus describes it: "It is built of square stone, with small squares of flint boulder, very neatly set. It has also battlements, and four lofty towers; and the whole is enriched with busts, roses, portcullises, and queen's arms, both on the north and south sides. There are no gates hung at present, but the hinges show there have been. This is an aperture from the Cock-pit into the broad part of Charing Cross, before Whitehall Gate." We have given views of both these gates, copied from old prints published while they were standing. The Holbein Gateway is shown on page 354, and the King Street Gateway on page 360.
On the taking down of this latter gate it was begged and obtained by William, Duke of Cumberland, son of George II., and then Ranger of Windsor Park and Forest, with the view of reerecting it at the end of the Long Walk, in the Great Park at Windsor. The stones were accordingly removed, but the re-building of it at Windsor appears to have been abandoned. Some of the material, however, we are told, was, by the Duke's direction, worked up in several different buildings erected by the Duke in the Great Park. "A medallion from it," adds Mr. J. T. Smith, "is in one of the fronts of a keeper's lodge, near Virginia Water. A similar medallion, part of it also, is in another cottage, built about the year 1790, in the Great Park, and accessible from the road from Peascod Street, by the barracks. Other stones form the basement as high as the dado or moulding, and also the cornice, of the inside of a chapel at the Great Lodge, which chapel was begun in the Duke's lifetime, but was unfinished at his death." The busts were, in number, four on each side; they had ornamented mouldings round them, and were of baked clay, in proper colours, and glazed in the manner of Delft ware, which had preserved them entire. Mr. Smith, in the "Antiquities of Westminster," says that after the gate was taken down three of the busts fell into the hands of a man who kept an old iron shop in Belton Street, St. Giles's, to whom, it is supposed, they had been sold after having been stolen when the gate was taken down. This man had them in his possession some three or four years, when they were bought, about the year 1765, by a Mr. Wright, who employed Flaxman, the sculptor, then a boy, to repair them. They were in terra cotta, coloured and gilt. The dress of one of the busts was painted dark red, and the ornaments gilt, among which were alternately the Rose and H, and the Crown and R, in gold. Mr. Wright resided at Hatfield Priory, near Witham, in Essex, and the above-mentioned busts are in the possession of his great-grandson, Mr. John Wright, the owner of that estate, who, in a letter to "Sylvanus Urban," says, "I remember some years ago (after reading an account of the busts in the 'Antiquities of Westminster'), scraping off some of the paint, and I found them glazed and coloured. I suppose the reason they were painted over was, that a good deal of the enamel had worn off, or was damaged in some way, so Flaxman thought it better to paint them."
Maitland, in his "History of London" (1739), speaks of Holbein's gateway as still standing. He calls it "the present stately gate, opposite the Banqueting House." He adds, that soon after becoming possessed of Whitehall, "Henry, for other diversions, erected, contiguous to the aforesaid gate, a tennis-court, cock-pit, and places to bowl in; the former of which only," he adds, "are now remaining, the rest being converted into dwellinghouses, and offices for the Privy Council, Treasury, and Secretaries of State."
The other gateway is described in the work above referred to as "an ancient piece of building, opening out of the Cock-pit into King Street, in the north part of Westminster," and is often styled "Westminster Gate;" the writer adds that "the structure is old, with the remains of several figures, the queen's arms, roses, &c., whereby it was enriched. It hath four towers, and the south side is adorned with pilasters and entablature of the Ionic order." It was lower than the Holbein Gateway, and not anything like so handsome; its towers were semi-circular projections, pierced with semi-circular lights, and on the top of the towers were semi-circular domelets. Altogether, if we may judge from the prints of the gate published by Kip, and also in the "Vetusta Monumenta" by the Society of Antiquaries, it was one of the ugliest structures in the metropolis. This was removed in 1723, as it blocked up the road which was then the sole access to the Houses of Parliament and the Courts of Law.
In this gateway were the lodgings of the beautiful and intriguing Countess of Buckingham, the mother of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. She died here in 1632, and her body was conveyed hence along King Street to the Abbey to be laid beside that of her murdered son. King's Gate was converted by Henry into a passage connecting Whitehall with the park, the tennis-court, bowlinggreen, and tilting-yard.
The Tilt-yard stood a little to the south of "the Horse Guard Yard," adjoining the north gate of King Street; having a gate into the park, close to which was an old staircase, used, no doubt, by Elizabeth and her courtiers on State occasions, and leading to the Royal gallery. In Sydney's "State Papers" there is to be found an amusing account of the diversions of Queen Bess, which shows that even when not far short of her seventieth year, she could pursue the pleasures of out-door sports among her courtiers with the energy of youth or of middle age. "Her Majesty says she is very well. This day she appoints a Frenchman to do feats upon a rope in the conduit court: to-morrow she hath commanded the bears, the bull, and the ape to be baited in the Tilt-yard. Upon Wednesday she will have 'solemne dauncing.'"
The chief heroes of the Tilt-yard were Sir
Henry Lee, of Ditchley, Knight of the Garter, and
"the faithful and devoted knight of this romantic
Princess," and George, Earl of Cumberland. The
former had made a vow to present himself at the
Tilt-yard annually on the 27th of November, till
disabled by age, and so gave rise to a school of
knights of the Tilt-yard, embracing about twentyfive of the most celebrated members of the Court,
including Sir Christopher Hatton, and Robert, Earl
of Leicester. In due course of time Sir Henry
resigned his post in favour of the Earl of Cumberland. In 1590, it is on record that "with much
form and in the true spirit of chivalry and romance,
in the presence of the Queen and of the whole
Court, he armed the new champion with his own
hands, and mounted him on his horse. He then
offered his own armour at the foot of a crowned
pillar near her Majesty's feet; after which he
clothed himself in a coat of black velvet pointed
under the arm, and instead of a helmet, covered
his head with a buttoned cap of the country
fashion," as Walpole tells us in his "Miscellaneous
Antiquities." Sir Henry died at the age of eighty,
and was buried at Quarendon, near Aylesbury,
where the inscription on his tomb recorded the
"In courtly jousts his sovereign's knight he was; Six princes did he serve."
In the reign of James I., the old Palace of Whitehall had become so ruinous, the greater part having been destroyed by fire in 1619, that it was determined to rebuild it. Dr. Mackay, in his "Thames and its Tributaries," says that the King "entrusted the design to Inigo Jones, who built the edifice now known as the Banqueting House, … which was intended as a part, and a very small one, of a more magnificent conception. The palace was to have consisted of four fronts, each with an entrance between two towers. Within these were to have been one large central court and five smaller ones, and between two of the latter a handsome circus, with an arcade below, supported by pillars in the form of caryatides. The whole length of the palace was to have been 1,152 feet, and its depth 872 feet; but the times which succeeded those of James were not favourable for such designs and expenses as these, and so the palace was never completed." The original drawings, bold in their conception, are preserved at Worcester College, Oxford; and the building, as designed by Inigo Jones, has been frequently engraved. The building was actually commenced, but in consequence of the civil wars, the Banqueting House was the only portion of the design completed. This splendid fragment, which exists before our eyes, has often excited lamentations that the design of Inigo Jones was never completed; yet Horace Walpole, an incomparable critic on all writings, characters, and buildings but his own, throws strong doubts on its probable excellence. "Several plates of the intended new Palace of Whitehall," he writes, "have been given, but, I believe, from no finished design of Inigo Jones. … The strange kind of cherubims on the towers at the end are preposterous ornaments; and, whether of Inigo's design or not, bear no relation to the rest. The great towers in the front are too near, and evidently borrowed from what he had seen in Gothic, than in Roman, buildings. The circular court is a picturesque thought, but without meaning or utility." It is true that he equally doubts the published design to be the final one; for he continues:—"The four great sheets are evidently made up from general hints; nor could such a source of invention and taste as the mind of Inigo Jones ever produce such sameness." On this passage Dr. Croly remarks in a note on Pope's "Windsor Forest:"—"Whether the design were regal or not, the situation showed a regal sense. The position on the Thames was fit for the seaking; its command of the rising country in front gave it the brightness and the beauty of the English landscape, before that fine space was overrun with graceless buildings. The sovereign of England has now a new palace near the Thames, but without communication with it; and near the country, but without a prospect. Yet the architecture has been needlessly criticised; with some striking errors, it has many beauties. Blackened by smoke and buried in fog, what architecture can struggle against its location? A happier site would discover in it details of elegance, novelty, and grandeur."
"At the time of the execution of King Charles," says Pennant, "contiguous to the Banqueting House was a large building with a long roof and a small cupola rising out of the middle, which is shown in Hollar's etching. Under this cupola there was an entrance and an unsightly gateway."
Directly behind the Banqueting House, very near the river, was a chapel belonging to the Palace, but no engravings of it are known to exist; and all trace of its site has disappeared. It must have stood as nearly as possible on the site of Fife House. The screen of the Queen's Chapel here, we are told, was removed by Sir William Chambers to his residence at Whitton, near Hounslow, where he set it up as a summer-house in his garden.
The Stone Gallery ran along the east, between the Privy Garden and the river, following as nearly as possible the line of the terrace which now forms "Privy Gardens." The "lodgings belonging to his Majesty" faced the river, close to the "Privy Stairs." Those of the Duke of York adjoined them on the south, commanding also a view of the river. Those of Prince Rupert, the Duke of Monmouth, the ladies of the Court, of the maids of honour, the "Countess of Castlemaine," and the "Countess of Suffolk" were situated between the river-side and the Stone Gallery. Nell Gwynne, not having the honour of belonging to the establishment of Catherine of Braganza, was obliged to keep to her apartments in Pall Mall.
"The intended Palace at Whitehall," says Horace Walpole, if it had been carried out, would have been the most truly magnificent and beautiful fabric of any of the kind in Europe. His Majesty did not send to Italy and Flanders for architects as he did for Albano and Vandyck; he had Inigo Jones. A higher compliment to both English royalty and English art could not well be paid." As it is, we can only regret that the same chance of leaving behind him a memorial worthy of his genius was not given to Inigo Jones that was given to Sir Christopher Wren.
It is not generally known that in the early part of the last century an ingenious speculator proposed to improve Westminster by carrying out the design of Inigo Jones for rebuilding Whitehall. The expense he estimated at little over half a million, and he proposed, as a means of raising that sum, that the city of Westminster should be incorporated, to consist of a mayor, recorder, and twenty-four aldermen; that the profits arising to the said corporation, after defraying its own necessary expenses, should, for seven years, be appropriated to carry on the intended new palace; that duties should be laid upon new improved rents within the city of Westminster; that all officers who held two or more offices above the annual value of £300, should pay a certain poundage, as should likewise all such as had any right or title to any house, office, or lodging within the said new projected Palace; and, lastly, that all improvements of any part of the ground of Whitehall, and the benefit arising to Her Majesty from all new inventions or forfeitures should for a term of years be appropriated to the same purpose. This plan, which might ultimately have much benefited the locality, it is superfluous to add, was never carried into effect.
The Banqueting House, so called from having been placed on the side of the apartments so called erected by Elizabeth, was begun in 1619, and finished in two years. It is divided into three storeys, of which the lowest or basement storey consists of a rustic wall, with small square windows. Above this springs a range of columns and pilasters of the Ionic order; between the columns are seven windows, with alternate arched and triangular pediments; over these is placed the proper entablature, on which is raised a second series of the Corinthian order, consisting also of columns and pilasters, their capitals being connected with festoons of flowers, with masks and other ornaments in the centre. From the entablature of this series rises a balustrade, with attic pedestals in their places crowning the whole. The building consists chiefly of one room, of an oblong form, a double cube of 55 feet. The stone for building it was drawn from the quarries at Portland, under authority of the sign-manual of James I.
Charles I. commissioned Rubens to paint the ceiling, and by the agency of this great artist the King was enabled to secure the noble cartoons of Raffaelle, which are preserved at the South Kensington Museum. Charles also collected a considerable number of paintings by the best masters, but these were seized by order of Parliament, who sold many of the paintings and statues, and ordered the "superstitious pictures" to be burnt. After Sir P. Lely's death, his noble collection of drawings and pictures was exhibited in the Royal Banqueting House, and in consequence realised, when subsequently put up for auction, the very large sum of £26,000. Rubens's painted ceiling is divided by a rich framework of gilded mouldings into nine compartments, the subjects being what are called allegorical, the centre one representing the apotheosis of James I., or his supposed translation into the celestial regions. The king, supported by an eagle, is borne upwards, attended by figures as the representatives of Religion, Justice, &c. His Majesty appears seated on his throne, and turning with horror from War and other such-like deities, and resigning himself to Peace and her natural attendants, Commerce and the Fine Arts—a curious commentary on the Puritan age which followed so soon after the execution of the ceiling. On either side of this central compartment are oblong panels, on which the painter has endeavoured to express the peace and plenty, the harmony and happiness, which he presumed to have signalised the reign of James I. In other compartments Rubens' patron and employer, Charles, is introduced, in scenes intended to represent his birth, and as being crowned King of Scotland; while the oval compartments at the corners are intended, by allegorical figures, to show the triumph of the Virtues, such as Temperance, &c., over the Vices. Vandyke was to have painted the sides of the apartment with the history of the Order of the Garter. The execution of particular parts is to be admired for its boldness and success. These paintings have been more than once re-touched, on one occasion by no less an artist than Cipriani; and though there is an immense distance between this artist and Rubens, there is no apparent injury done to the work. The Banqueting House cost £17,000. Rubens received for his paintings upon the ceiling—about four hundred yards of work—the sum of four thousand pounds, or nearly ten pounds a yard; while Sir James Thornhill, three quarters of a century later, was paid only three pounds a yard for his decorations on the ceiling of Greenwich Hospital. Cipriani had two thousand pounds for his re-touching. This noble building was turned into a chapel by George I., and in it divine service is performed every Sunday morning and afternoon. The clerical establishment of the Chapel Royal (for such is its correct designation) consists of a Dean and Sub-Dean, a morning reader and two permanent preachers and readers, or chaplains; there are also two Select Preachers, chosen by the Bishop of London from the two chief Universities alternately. In 1812 five eagles and four other standards, captured from the French in the Peninsula, were publicly deposited in this chapel; and in January, 1816, the same ceremony was repeated in respect of the standards taken at the battle of Waterloo, on the 18th of June preceding; but on the opening of the new military chapel in Birdcage Walk these trophies were removed thither. The front of the Banqueting House was largely repaired and beautified in 1829. The basement comprises a series of vaulted chambers, which are partly used for Government stores. The royal closet is described in the reports as being within a few feet of the spot on which Charles I. was executed. This is hardly correct, for according to a memorandum of Vertue, on a print in the library of the Society of Antiquaries, "through a window belonging to a small building abutting from the north side of the present Banqueting House the king stepped upon the scaffold, which was equal to the landing-place of the hall within side." The Banqueting House, although converted into a chapel in the reign of George I., has never been consecrated, which fact was mentioned in the House of Commons several years ago, when it was proposed to use the hall as a picture-gallery. Here Prince George of Denmark was married on the 28th of July, 1683, to the Princess Anne.
Evelyn in his "Diary" frequently mentions the service here, and on one occasion (at Easter, 1684), when the King received the communion, he adds, "Note, there was parfume burnt before the office began."
We must not omit to mention here an interesting ceremony which has been performed in the Chapel Royal, Whitehall, from a remote period, namely, the distribution of the "Maundy," or royal alms, to the poor.
The custom of distributing the royal alms on "Maunday" Thursday—as the day before Good Friday is styled—has come down from the old Roman Catholic ages. Some such ceremony was performed by personages of the highest rank, both temporal and spiritual, from the Pope down to nobles and lords in their castles, in commemoration of our Redeemer, who "washed his disciples' feet" when He gave them that "new commandment," or "mandate," whence the day has its name. Queen Elizabeth performed this ceremony at her palace at Greenwich; and the last of our sovereigns who went through it in person was James II. After him, under the Hanoverian line, it was performed by the Royal Almoner. The following cotemporary account of the ceremony in the reign of George II. may possibly raise a smile:—"On the 5th of April, 1731, it being Maunday Thursday, the King being then in his forty-eighth year, there was distributed, at the Banqueting House, Whitehall, to forty-eight poor men, and forty-eight poor women, boiled beef and shoulders of mutton, and small bowls of ale, which is called dinner; after that, large wooden platters of fish and loaves, viz., undressed, one large ling and one large dried cod; twelve red herrings and twelve white herrings, and four half-quartern loaves. Each person had one platter of this provision; after which was distributed to them shoes, stockings, linen and woollen cloth, and leathern bags, with one penny, twopenny, threepenny, and fourpenny pieces of silver, and shillings, to each about four pounds in value. His Grace the Lord Archbishop of York, Lord High Almoner, also performed the annual ceremony of washing the feet of the poor in the Royal Chapel, Whitehall, as was formerly done by the kings themselves."
Gradual changes, however, have taken place in the manner of performing this ceremony. The ceremony is thus described towards the close of the reign of George III., namely, in 1814:—"In the morning the Sub-Almoner, the Secretary of the Lord High Almoner, and others belonging to the Lord Chamberlain's Office, attended by a party of the Yeomen of the Guard, distributed to seventyfive poor women and seventy-five poor men, being as many as the King was years old, a quantity of salt fish, consisting of salmon, cod, and herrings, pieces of very fine beef, five loaves of bread, and some ale to drink the King's health. … A procession entered of those engaged in the ceremony, consisting of a party of the Yeomen of the Guard, one of them carrying on his head a large gold dish, containing one hundred and fifty bags, with seventyfive silver pennies in each, for the poor people, which was placed in the royal closet. They were followed by the Sub-Almoner, in his robes, with a sash of fine linen over his shoulder and crossing his waist. He was followed by two boys, two girls, the secretary, and other gentlemen, all carrying nosegays. The Church Evening Service was then performed, at the conclusion of which the silver pennies were distributed, and woollen cloth, linen, shoes and stockings, to the men and women, and a cup of wine to drink the King's health."
The royal alms now are dispensed in money and clothing, the payment in kind of fish and flesh having been practically commuted. A few years ago it was thought that the ceremony would have been allowed to die out; but such has not been the case, and the gifts are distributed by the Lord High Almoner to so many men, and the like number of women, as may correspond with the number of years in the age of Her Majesty.
Although the mandate, or Maunday, is now little
more than an empty ceremony, yet it is one which
enshrines a lesson of true Christian charity. So
far from censuring or despising such acts of condescension on the part of the royal and noble
towards their poorer brethren and sisters, we ought
rather to regret that so few opportunities occur in
a year for bringing into contact and contrast the
squalid poverty of "St. Giles's" with the wealth and
luxury of "St. James's," and so leading the inmates
of the latter region, in the words of the poet—
"To learn the luxury of doing good."
We may, perhaps, be pardoned for reminding our readers here that the "Beef-eaters"—as the Yeomen of the Royal Guard who do duty on these occasions are called—are really buffetiers, that is, personal attendants of the sovereign, who, on high festivals, and on other state occasions, were ranged near the royal sideboard, or buffet.
In the open space in the rear, between the chapel and the houses in Whitehall Gardens, stands the celebrated statue of James II., which was set up in 1686, just two years before his abdication. It is of bronze, and represents the king as dressed in a Roman toga, and its elegant proportions have often been admired. It is the work of Grinling Gibbons. Indeed, it has been said to be nearly the only statue in the metropolis that will bear a rigid inspection as a work of art. It suffers, however, from the want of an open space around it sufficiently large to set it off to advantage.
As to the author of this statue, it is only fair to add that great doubts have prevailed. They would appear, however, to be negatived by the following passage in the "Autobiography of Sir John Bramston," published under the auspices of the Camden Society. "On New Year's Day, 1686," writes Sir John, "a statue in brass was to be seen, placed the day before in the yard at Whitehall, made by Gibbons at the charge of Toby Runstick, of the present king, James II." Horace Walpole, therefore, was correct in his surmise on the subject. "I am the rather inclined to attribute the statue at Whitehall to Gibbons, because I know of no other artist of that time capable of it." It is strange that so little should have been known for certain as to its author, considering that when it was first set up it was made the subject of numerous sets of verses and jeux d'esprit. "The figure, looking as it does towards the river," writes John Timbs, "was said to prognosticate the king's flight. This, however, is not more probable than that he is pointing to the spot where his father was executed, which is a vulgar error. It may be taken as a sign of the moderation of the Revolution of 1688 that after the accession of William III. the statue was still left standing." Possibly, however, this fact, so unlike what would have happened in Paris under like circumstances, may be ascribed to the new king being the son-in-law of James.