An 18th century palace fit for a 21st century city
The Neoclassical palace that stands today between the bustle of The Strand and the sweep of the river occupies the same site as the original Somerset House, an imposing mansion built in 1547 by Edward Seymour, 'Protector Somerset' to the Tudor King Edward VI.
Following his downfall, Seymour's monument to his wealth and power became royal property, serving as a residence to the Queens of England from Elizabeth I to Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II.
The palace became associated with the lavish entertainments of the royal court, interrupted only by the Civil War, when it served as the austere setting for Oliver Cromwell's lying-in-state. In spite of additions to the building by Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren, by 1776 its increasing state of disrepair led George III to move the queen's court to Buckingham Palace. Sir William Chambers, one of the country's leading architects, was commissioned to design the present day masterpiece in the Palladian style.
Housing the Navy Board, the Royal Academy and Royal Society, and a huge variety of 'publick offices', ranging from The Surveyor General to Births, Marriages, and Deaths, over the next 200 years Somerset House became the nerve centre of the nation's naval power and a focal point for its administration.
The end of the 20th century saw a major refurbishment to the complex of buildings, with the new Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court at its heart. Home to the world-renowned permanent collections and special exhibitions of The Courtauld Gallery, and from April 2008, the new Embankment Galleries, Somerset House is now a major cultural hub - an 18th century palace fit for a 21st century city.