The Palace of Westminster is now the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Commonly known as the Houses of Parliament after its occupants, the Palace lies on the Middlesex bank of the River Thames in the City of Westminster, in central London. Its name, which derives from the neighbouring Westminster Abbey, may refer to either of two structures: the Old Palace, a medieval building complex that was destroyed by fire in 1834, and its replacement, the New Palace that stands today. For ceremonial purposes, the palace retains its original style and status as a royal residence and is the property of the Crown.
The first royal palace was built on the site in the eleventh century, and Westminster was the primary residence of the Kings of England until a fire destroyed much of the complex in 1512. After that, it served as the home of the Parliament of England, which had been meeting there since the thirteenth century, and also as the seat of the Royal Courts of Justice, based in and around Westminster Hall. In 1834, an even greater fire ravaged the heavily rebuilt Houses of Parliament, and the only medieval structures of significance to survive were Westminster Hall, the Cloisters of St Stephen's, the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, and the Jewel Tower.
History of the Old Palace
The Palace of Westminster site was strategically important during the Middle Ages, as it was located on the banks of the River Thames. Known in medieval times as Thorney Island, the site may have been first-used for a royal residence by Canute the Great during his reign from 1016 to 1035. St Edward the Confessor, the penultimate Anglo-Saxon monarch of England, built a royal palace on Thorney Island just west of the City of London at about the same time as he built Westminster Abbey (1045–50). Thorney Island and the surrounding area soon became known as "Westminster" (a contraction of the words West Minster). Neither the buildings used by the Anglo-Saxons nor those used by William I survive. The oldest existing part of the Palace (Westminster Hall) dates from the reign of William I's successor, King William II.
The Palace of Westminster was the monarch's principal residence in the late Medieval period. The predecessor of Parliament, the Curia Regis (Royal Council), met in Westminster Hall (although it followed the King when he moved to other palaces). Simon de Montfort's parliament, the first to include representatives of the major towns, met at the Palace in 1265. The "Model Parliament", the first official Parliament of England, met there in 1295, and almost all subsequent Parliaments have met at the Palace.
In 1512, during the early years of the reign of King Henry VIII, fire destroyed the royal residential ("privy") area of the palace. In 1534, Henry VIII acquired York Place, just south of Westminster Abbey and north of Westminster Palace, from Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, a powerful minister who had lost the King's favour. Renaming it the Palace of Whitehall, Henry used it as his principal residence. Although Westminster officially remained a royal palace, it was used by the two Houses of Parliament and by the various royal law courts, and no longer a residence for the country's monarchs.
For more information, see the EN Wikipedia article Palace of Westminster.
The remainder of the Wikipedia article deals with the Houses of Parliament as a building housing a national government.