Saturday, 3 November 2012

Hampton Court

Hampton Court the former country Palace of Cardinal Wolsey, the all powerful advisor, handy fixer and top diplomat of King Henry VIII is a beautiful place to visit. When the Cardinal died in Leicester knowing that he was going to be arrested and tried for treason, his palaces, Whitehall and Hampton Court were confiscated by the King who transformed Hampton Court, enlarging it and making it the centre of his Court and Royal power. It will remain a Royal Palace to this day, though since 1838 no member of the Royal family has lived in it. The Chapel is still a functioning Royal Chapel and has Officers of the Court appointed by HM the Queen to oversee it and the Palace.

In the18th century William of Orange and his wife Queen Mary transformed the Palace and gardens into a Baroque fantasy. Of the Hampton Palace of the time of Henry VIII about 50% remains and can be fully appreciated including the garden and the famous maze.

We often associate Hampton Court with movies about Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn. However she was only one part of his life, they knew of each other for about 12 years and the story is far more complicated. As you go through the Palace you start to appreciate the story of the Tudors. His father was Henry VII who defeated Richard III of York, despite this military victory at Bosworth he was insecure about his power. The first wife of Henry VIII was Catherine of Aragon whose parents were Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand who funded the trip of Christopher Columbus to the New World. He was married to her for 20 years and they had 6 children, all of them died at birth or as small infants except one, Mary who would become years later a fanatical Catholic and called Bloody Mary for her reign of terror and religious warfare between Catholics and Protestants. Henry VIII also had a son Edward VI who will become King at the age of 9 only to die at the age of 16. The one child of Henry VIII who will mark the world in the age of Shakespeare is Elizabeth I. She came to the throne having lived in fear most of her life because she was seen as a threat by her Catholic sister Mary who kept her under house arrest for many years. When Mary died and the Lords came to see Elizabeth to tell her she was now the Queen, she was convinced she was going to die.

The Palace is a living museum, the day we visited we were greeted by the Earl of Hertford and his wife, waiting for the Ambassador of the King Francis I of France, the year is 1545.  We are one year away from the death of Henry VIII. The visitors are asked to play along and it is a lot of fun, you are given lessons in Court Protocol. The King appeared with his last wife Katherine Parr and we, the public, are part of the Court. Trumpeters announce the arrival of the King and the game is on.

The baroque part of the Palace under William III and Mary II (1689-1702) as married co-rulers is also fascinating, lots of porcelain that Queen Mary loved to collect, its everywhere. Beautiful furniture and gardens, a very different age, the age of Princes. It is maybe easier to appreciate because it is closer to us in terms of timeline.

Hampton Court Palace, former home of Cardinal Wolsey and later home of Henry VIII. The red brick middle portion was 2 floors higher at the time of Henry VIII it will be lowered to the current proportions about 100 years later in a re-modeling scheme.

  Trumpeter announces the arrival of important State guests and the King.

Great stain glass window installed at the time of Queen Victoria to the glory of Henry VIII, considered to be to this day as one of the greatest of English Kings.

The King's table set for a feast in the great hall.

The King enters all kneel and men take their hats off.

How to behave at Court

The King speaks with the Ambassador of the King of France.

The clock installed by Elizabeth I still works today

The son and heir Edward VI at age 10. Will not live to be very old, he was a sickly boy.

The French diplomats in the gardens of Henry VIII. In summertime they would be full of flowers.

William III and his wife Mary II will transform Hampton Court. Though William did not speak English and never learned the language, he also did not like the English nor the country and will spend much time back in Holland leaving Mary to rule alone.

The palace built at the back of Hampton Court is connected to the old building by a courtyard and a colonnade. Here the gardens in French style of 18th century.

The gates on the Thames river at the back of the Palace were people arrived by boat from London.

The palace of William and Mary, the old section of Hampton Court is behind it

 Sculpted trees form part of the gardens.

The dining room of William and Mary, the section at the back is a cold room where wines and ice cream was kept before serving to the King and Queen.
The great State Bedroom of William III, he did not sleep in this bed this was used for the ceremony of the evening when the Court came to say goodnight to His Majesty. He would sleep next door in a much more comfortable and cosy bedroom.

William III Royal Toilet, an attendant was on duty to come retrieve the box and empty and clean it. It is located in a small room just off the office of the King.

William III Office, small and functional. The king had his back to the fireplace in order to stay warm.

William and Mary's gardener the famous Lancelot '' Capability '' Brown

Old painting of Hampton Court at the time of Henry VIII seen from the Thames river.


  1. Hmmm, "Emptier of the Royal Chamberpot" -- oh, these cushy government jobs!