The palace was commissioned by Henry VIII, on the site of a former leper hospital dedicated to Saint James the Less (from whom the Palace and its nearby Park take their names); the hospital was disbanded in 1532. The new palace, secondary in interest to Henry's Whitehall Palace, was constructed in the red-brick Tudor style around four courtyards: its gatehouse survives on the north side, flanked by polygonal turrets. It became the principal residence of the monarch in London from 1698, when Whitehall Palace was destroyed by fire, and became the administrative centre of the monarchy (a role it still retains). Mary I died there, with her heart and bowels being buried in the palace's Chapel Royal. Elizabeth I was said to have spent the night there, whilst waiting for the Spanish Armada to sail up the channel. Charles I slept rather less soundly -- as it was his final bed before his execution. Oliver Cromwell then took it over, and turned it into a barracks during the English Commonwealth period. It was then restored by Charles II (Charles I's son), who also laid out St. James's Park.
The first three Georges used St. James's Palace as their principal London residence even though it was far from grand for the city palace of a major European monarchy; Daniel Defoe called it "low and mean" in 1725. In 1809 a fire destroyed part of the palace, including the monarch's private apartments at the south east corner. These apartments were not replaced, leaving the Queen's Chapel in isolation, and Marlborough Road now runs between the two buildings. George III had purchased Buckingham House – the predecessor to Buckingham Palace – for his wife back in 1762, and St. James's continued to decline in importance in the first half of the 19th century. It increasingly came to be used only for formal occasions such as official receptions, royal marriages, and christenings. Queen Victoria formalised the move in 1837, ending St. James's status as the official residence of the monarch. Some structures and interiors survive by Sir Christopher Wren and William Kent, but most was remodelled in the nineteenth century. William Morris and his firm were commissioned to redecorate the Armoury and the Tapestry Room, 1866-67.