The royal palace at Westminster, which had grown since the reign of King Cnut in the 11th century, was largely destroyed by fire in 1512 and Henry VIII looked for a suitable alternative. In 1530 Cardinal Wolsey was charged with treason and the King was able to seize his palace at York Place, on the Thames between Westminster and Charing Cross. Henry set about creating the vast and magnificent Whitehall Palace that was to remain as the main royal residence in London of the Tudor and Stuart monarchs for the next hundred and seventy years.
The Tudor monarchs also kept a number of other palaces in and around London, of which the most important was Placentia at Greenwich where Henry VIII, Queen Mary and Elizabeth I were all born. In 1528 Cardinal Wolsey offered his palace at Hampton Court as a gift to Henry in an attempt to save his career. The royal family could travel between each of these by boat along the Thames.
The river was the most convenient and pleasurable way to travel for all Londoners and became increasingly busy during the 16th century. Aristocrats and leading clergy built their palaces facing on to the river in order to embark directly on to their boats. The mayor and all the main Livery Companies kept barges for ceremonial occasions. Long-ferries operated down-river to Greenwich and beyond or upriver to Hampton Court. London Bridge was so congested that it was easier to cross the river by wherry to Southwark.
When the royal court moved to Whitehall their chapel of St.Stephen at Westminster was left without a purpose. It was given a new use as the home to the House of Commons, which since its foundation had met at various locations around Westminster, primarily in the Chapter House of the Abbey. The Lords met in the Parliament Chamber at the southern end of the Old Palace. Parliament had evolved as an institution since its beginnings in the reign of Henry III during the 12th century. Although by Tudor times it played an important role it was still far from the governing body of modern times and sat infrequently. Power was still largely in the hands of the monarchs, their Chancellors and – from the latter part of the reign of Henry VIII – the Privy Council who effectively dealt with the detail of governing the country.
The introduction of the process of printing in the late 15th century created a publishing revolution that started to escalate in the 16th century. William Caxton’s assistant, Jan de Wynkyn (more commonly known as Wynkyn de Worde), set up in premises at Fleet Street, starting an association between publishing and printing in that area that lasted until the end of the 20th century. Maps also became popular for those who could afford to buy them to decorate their walls.