Originally known as Buckingham House, the building at the core of today’s palace was a large townhouse built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703 on a site that had been in private ownership for at least 150 years.
Buckingham Palace became the London residence of the British monarch on the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837.
These transfers brought the site of Buckingham Palace back into royal hands for the first time since William the Conqueror had given it away almost 500 years earlier.
At one stage, William considered converting the palace into the new Houses of Parliament, after the destruction of the Palace of Westminster by fire in 1834.
Buckingham Palace finally became the principal royal residence in 1837, on the accession of Queen Victoria, who was the first monarch to reside there; her predecessor William IV had died before its completion.
Before Prince Albert’s death, the palace was frequently the scene of musical entertainments, and the greatest contemporary musicians entertained at Buckingham Palace.
Widowed in 1861, the grief-stricken Queen withdrew from public life and left Buckingham Palace to live at Windsor Castle, Balmoral Castle and Osborne House.
Court functions were still held at Windsor Castle, presided over by the sombre Queen habitually dressed in mourning black, while Buckingham Palace remained shuttered for most of the year.
The floor area is smaller than the Royal Palace of Madrid, the Papal Palace in Rome, the Louvre in Paris, the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, or the Forbidden City.
When paying a state visit to Britain, foreign heads of state are usually entertained by the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
On these occasions, for up to 170 guests in formal “White tie and decorations”, including tiaras, the dining table is laid with the Grand Service, a collection of silver-gilt plate made in 1811 for the Prince of Wales, later George IV. The largest and most formal reception at Buckingham Palace takes place every November when the Queen entertains members of the diplomatic corps.
During World War II, the palace was bombed nine times, the most serious and publicised of which resulted in the destruction of the palace chapel in 1940.
Many of the contents from Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Kensington Palace, and St James’s Palace are part of the Royal Collection, held in trust by the Sovereign; they can, on occasion, be viewed by the public at the Queen’s Gallery, near the Royal Mews.
The tradition persists of foreign ambassadors being formally accredited to “The Court of St James’s”, even though it is at Buckingham Palace that they present their credentials and staff to the Queen upon their appointment.