St. James’s Park

St. James’s Park is a 23 hectare park within central London, and a convenient place for tourists to take a break from sightseeing and enjoy. The park enjoys the status of being convenient for many tourist attractions, thus guaranteeing it a steady flow of visitors; Buckingham Palace is to the left, The Mall and St. James’s Palace are to the north, Birdcage Walk is to the south and the Horse Guards are to the East. Much of St. James’s Park sits in the shadow of Buckingham Palace, providing fantastic views of the official residence of the British monarch.

This association with royal buildings is no coincidence. The area now known as St. James’s Park was purchased in 1532 by King Henry VIII of England. Henry, keen on grandeur, had recently acquired the nearby York Palace from Cardinal Wolsey and had set about transforming it from the grand home of a nobleman (though many argued that Wolsey, as a mere son of a butcher, had overreached himself by building York Palace so grand and this was the reason for Henry’s desire for the area). The area was purchased from Eton College and was nothing more than swampy marshland, which Henry quickly had made into hunting grounds.

St James ParkThe development of St. James’s Park was continued when King James I took the British crown in 1603, succeeding Henry’s daughter Elizabeth I after she died childless, leaving the crown to James, her cousin. James I ordered that the park be drained fully and landscaped – Henry had left much of it wild, enjoying the thrill of wilder hunting – and turned the area into what would now be considered a zoo. Many animals, including crocodiles, camels and even an elephant, were brought to the area for James’s enjoyment.

Years later, another king and another royal was to have their influence on the park. Charles II had spent much of his life in exile in France following the execution of his father, Charles I, after Charles attempted to create an absolute monarchy and was subsequently tried for treason by parliament. Although England was a republic for a time, the change did not last and soon the exiled son of the former monarch – the man who became Charles II – was offered the crown. Upon his return from France, Charles II proved that his time in France had not been wasted and set about updating St. James’s Park in a French style. Charles also made the generous decision to open the park to the public.

The park began to get a reputation for degenerate behavior happening within its boundaries, helped little by the fact that Charles II himself entertained some of his many mistresses within its walls.

With another monarch came another redevelopment, and in 1826 the Prince Regent who would become George IV ordered the creation of winding, romantic walks to be built within St. James’s Park. His was to be the last royal influence on the park, which is now owned by the Royal Parks of London and is rarely changed.