Visiting the Tudor England of Old at Hampton Court
If you have time while in London, make the pilgrimage to Hampton Court to see the grand palace built to house monarchs, their courtiers and an army of servants. The palace is located in zone 6 of the London Travel Pass and can be reached easily by train. Jim and I took the underground to Waterloo Station and caught the train directly to Hampton Court. Super easy!
When we got there, the sprawling palace lay across the river, its opulent red brick facade bedecked with turrets jutting above gatehouses where delicately carved white stone trim highlighted the façade and mythical stone beasts guarded the great wooden doors. A Clock tower with bell peeped up behind the palace walls. We crossed the bridge and were soon greeted by friendly museum staff and provided with audio guides. The guides were really informative, so definitely pick one up before entering the palace rooms.
Work on the original Tudor palace was begun by the powerful Cardinal Wolsey who acquired the property in 1514 and created a structure meant to impress his contemporaries.
Wolsey made many renovations to the existing building and added a great gatehouse and long galleries filled with what would have been considered new innovations for his time. Unfortunately for him, the palace caught the eye of King Henry the VIII and in 1529 the king took Hampton Court as his own royal palace. Cardinal Wolsey had fallen from favor because of his initial opposition to Henry the VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Pressured by the king to work on obtaining the divorce, in the end, Wolsey was powerless to achieve this, preventing the king’s planned marriage to his mistress Anne Boleyn and confirming her as Wolsey’s bitter enemy until his disgraced arrest and death in 1530.
When Henry VIII took over Hampton Court he turned it into a vast pleasure palace and all six of his doomed wives spent time at the palace.
Catherine of Aragon had rooms on the east side of the Clock Court, built by Wolsey, but after she was divorced and sent away, Anne Boleyn as the new wife of the king found these accommodations sub-par.
She requested a grand new suite of apartments be built for her on the north and east sides of what would be the new Cloister Green Court. Three years after her request, she fell from favor since she had not presented the king with a son, was conveniently accused of adultery and beheaded in the Tower of London in 1536.
The king became betrothed to Anne’s lady in waiting Jane Seymour the morning after the execution. With the king’s marriage to Jane, ornamentation throughout Hampton court which portrayed badges and initials of Anne Boleyn were erased and replaced with those of Jane Seymour. Lodgings were rebuilt and expanded for the triumphantly pregnant queen and also lodgings for the expected prince including a “rocking” room for the prince’s cradle as well as his own kitchen. In October of 1537 the future King Edward VI was born at Hampton Court. Two weeks later Jane Seymour died from complications following the birth.
Henry’s fourth wife Anne of Cleves spent little time at Hampton Court since Henry didn’t like her appearance and soon divorced her in July of 1540. Fortunately for her, she was deemed a “sister” to Henry and allowed to escape with her head and live peacefully in the country.
One month later, Henry married Catherine Howard and as the new Queen she sat next to him in the Royal Chapel at Hampton Court. Henry was very much in love with his young wife at that time, but little more than a year later, it was at Hampton Court that Catherine was first accused of adultery and put under house arrest. The king turned on her viciously and accused her of “unchastity” before her marriage, and finally an alleged affair with Thomas Culpepper, the king’s “Gentleman of the Bedchamber” sealed her unhappy fate. She was executed in the Tower of London in 1542. The “Haunted Gallery” at Hampton Court is said to be inhabited by the ghost of Catherine Howard who is suspended in the afterlife running to the chapel to plead with Henry for her life.
It is said that it was after Catherine’s execution that King Henry VIII quickly aged and became increasingly fat. In 1543 he married his last wife, Catherine Parr, who fortunately outlived her husband, probably saving her from the fate of his other wives. Henry left Hampton Court for the last time in 1546, a sick old man and died at Whitehall Palace in 1547.
Keep your eyes open for Tudor inhabitants roaming the halls. We spied someone distinctly resembling Henry the VIII and a courtier striding down the hall from the Royal Chapel decked out in doublet and hose and sporting hats with ostrich feathers! (For those who don’t know…... A doublet is a close-fitting jacket worn by men between the 15th and 17th century)
After walking through the Tudor halls of the Palace, you can wander through the improvements that King William and Queen Mary made during the Baroque period beginning in 1689. The structures were designed by the great architect Christopher Wren. When the interiors of the grand state apartments were to be finished, Wren was underbid by his rival Talman who received the commission and designed them with the great French buildings of the day, such as the Louvre, in mind. The taste and etiquette of the French court was considered the height of fashion, and the rooms reflect this trend.
You can walk through the state rooms just as the courtiers would have done, visiting the Presence Chamber and Privy Chamber with their canopied thrones and the Great Bedchamber used for the ceremony of the “King’s Levey” and then on to the private rooms such as the private dining room where William preferred to eat with his intimates after a hunt and his Little Bedroom where the king would actually go to sleep after the evening ceremony in the Great Bedchamber.
Check out the Photo Montage Below!