Somerset House

London, United Kingdom | C.1776

Photo Credit: Kintija Ķaune

Along the River Thames sits Somerset House, an expansive 18th century palace considered to be the masterwork of William Chambers, a prolific architect who created buildings all over the UK, Ireland, and Sweden. Yet, the House inherited a history dating back long before Chambers ever laid a stone within its foundation.

Somerset House (as it stands today) was built in 1776, but there was another Somerset House that stood on the same foundation for more than 200 years. In 1547, Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector of England, embarked on building his dream palace along the River Thames.

Edward was the brother of Jane Seymour, the third queen consort of King Henry VIII. A decade before Edward began building his palace, Jane died during labor while giving birth to Henry VIII’s only legitimate male heir – thus, though Jane had passed, the Seymour’s were now in the King’s favor and Edward was able to secure an influential position in Henry’s court.

After Henry’s death, power shifted to Edward’s nine year old nephew and Edward was named to the adolescent monarch’s Council of Regency. But after a series of rebellions, Edward fell from power and was beheaded on London’s Tower Hill — only five years into the construction of his palace.

The Somerset House however remained a centerpiece of the monarchy even after Edward’s death. Over the next two centuries, the House served as a private residence for the future Queen Elizabeth I, hosted treaty signings, and even survived the Great Fire of London. The original structure was eventually demolished, and that’s when Chambers was brought in to breathe new life into its bones — and create a space for future generations of Londoners to experience its grandeur right in the heart of the royal capital.

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