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Go back in time as Banqueting House transforms into a performance for a king

— July 2013

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A royal command performance, 17th-century style. Image courtesy Historic Royal Palaces

19 July – 1 September 2013

Immerse yourself in a 17th-century court masque at the Banqueting House

This summer the Banqueting House on Whitehall will come to life with the sights and sounds of the masque, recreating the lavish entertainments of the early Stuart Court.

Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity that looks after the Banqueting House, and JB3 Creative have worked together to transform the only surviving part of the Palace of Whitehall into an immersive theatrical experience. Visitors will find out how draughtsman and architect Inigo Jones created his infamous masques for the king, and will be able to try on costumes, learn a masque dance and witness the rehearsals for the performance.

A masque was not in fact a masked ball but a fantastical event that was a specific form of court entertainment; a cross between a ball, an amateur theatrical, a play, and a fancy dress party.

Visitors entering the Banqueting House main hall will discover what was involved in creating these elaborate masques from the ‘backstage’ workmanship to the ‘front of house’ performance. Through a series of specially designed sets, they will meet key characters from the court of King Charles and learn about the masques created for him and his wife Queen Henrietta Maria. 

At the heart of the experience a large stage will play host to a recreated rehearsal for part of the masque Tempe Restored, last performed at Banqueting House in 1632. Visitors will be encouraged to watch, or take part, as Inigo Jones, the masque designer, fills them in on his imagined vision, which will come alive through a series of projections, before the Queen and courtiers perform part of the masque. 

In a workshop area visitors will explore set designs and discover how Inigo Jones brought elements to English theatre that we now take for granted, such as moving scenery, stage wings and the proscenium arch.  There will be the opportunity to become a proficient court dancer through learning the steps to a Renaissance dance by copying the moves on our specially commissioned film. Visitors will also get the chance try on our replica theatrical costumes.  How will you look wearing the head dress of an ass or a wolf, or elaborate hats and bodices? Will you compare to Queen Henrietta Maria in her fabulous star spangled costume? Will you impress King Charles I?

A small ‘chill-out zone’ will encourage visitors to relax on beanbags and admire the famous Ruben’s ceiling whilst listening to modern recordings of music frequently performed at the masques. At weekends there will also be period musicians performing music from the period.

Meanwhile downstairs, beneath the vaulted ceiling of the Undercroft, a temporary café selling cakes, sandwiches and refreshments will be available to quench a courtiers thirst.  Entrance to the café is free.

Entrance is included in the Banqueting House ticket.  Please go to for prices and opening times.

The masque: The purpose of the Stuart masque was not merely entertainment but to demonstrate the Stuart concept of kingship, delivering messages about royal authority, responsibility and privileges.  The masque, as developed by Jones, was one of two parts.  First was the ‘anti-masque performed by professional actors who generally depicted a world of disorder and vice, often combined with comic elements.  The second part involved what we would call audience participation when members of the court rose up and danced, banishing disorder and bringing in harmony and courtly graces symbolic of an ideal world that superseded the pervious imperfect one.

Tempe Restoredwas designed by Inigo Jones to be performed at Whitehall Palace on Shrove Tuesday, 14 February 1632.  It was dedicated to Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, who was intimately involved in the creation of the masque, appearing and dancing in it.  On Saturday 27 July 2013 there will be a one off evening event at Banqueting House based on Tempe Restored where visitors can immerse themselves in the Stuart Court.

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