Part of the medieval Palace of Westminster, the Painted Chamber took its name from a series of large paintings which decorated the walls.
The long and narrow chamber, which stood parallel to St Stephen’s Chapel, was constructed in the 13th century during the reign of King Henry III and was apparently initially intended as a private apartment for the king as well as a reception room.
It featured a state bed at one end positioned under a painting of King Edward the Confessor and also had a “squint” – a small opening at eye level – through which the monarch could view religious services in a chapel located next door.
The chamber was apparently originally known as the King’s Chamber but came to be known as the Painted Chamber when the walls were decorated with paintings depicting vices and virtues and Biblical figures.
These paintings, which were completed over an almost 60 year period from 1226 and which were repaired a couple of times during that period, were added to with commissions by successive monarchs.
The painted chamber was the location for the State Opening of Parliament in the Middle Ages and was where Oliver Cromwell and the others signed King Charles I death warrant in 1649. The body of King Charles II rested here overnight before he was interred in Westminster Abbey.
Later neglected, the walls of the chamber were whitewashed and hung with tapestries and in the early 19th century restoration work was done to reveal the paintings again with artist and antiquarian Charles Stothard commissioned by the Society of Antiquarians in 1819 to make watercolour copies (further copies were also made by the clerk of works at Westminster, Thomas Crofton Croker).
By 1820, the chamber was being used for the Court of Requests, a civil claims court.
The Painted Chamber was gutted when fire devastated much of the Palace of Westminster on the night of 16th October, 1834. It was reroofed and refurnished and used by the House of Lords until 1847 – as well as for the State Opening of Parliament in February, 1835. It was finally demolished in 1851.
Two ceiling paintings which were removed in 1816 during repairs are now at the British Museum (pictured right).