Hampton Court Palace is a former Royal residence located 18 km west of London, reachable by train from Waterloo station.
It has a long varied past, with connections to some of the most famous (or infamous) people in English History.
Along with St. James Palace in London, it is only one of two palaces that survive from the many owned by King Henry VIII.
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was a key statesman during the reign of Henry VIII and rose to the rank of Lord Chancellor, the King’s chief adviser.
During the early years of Henry’s reign, he took on much of the responsibility of governing the country.
He fell from favour when he was unable to organise Henry’s divorce from Katharine of Aragon, and died at Leicester, on route to stand trial for treason in London.
Wolsey was responsible for the birth of Hampton Court, he took possession of the land in 1514 from the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.
There was a manor house existing on site and Wolsey spend 7 years rebuilding it, which would form the beginnings of the palace you can see today.
Wolsey’s palace incorporated the first courtyard you enter when visiting the palace (Base Court), the next gatehouse, and his state apartments also remain.
This is where Henry the VIII stayed when he visited in 1525.
Wolsey was inspired by the Italian Renaissance Classical style, and the palace was a
blend of domestic Tudor, and perpendicular Gothic. Giovanni da Maiano was commissioned to build a set of eight relief busts of Roman emperors
Wolsey didn’t get to enjoy his grand palace for long, as in 1528, when he knew his days in the King’s favour were numbered, he gifted it to him, dying two years later.
Henry VIII owned over sixty houses and palaces, and with a court of around a thousand people, Hampton Court had potential to accommodate his large court.
He embarked on a remarkable building project, starting with quadrupling the size of the kitchens in 1529.
In the early to mid 1530’s, Henry added the Great Hall. It is a wonderful building, little changed from Henry’s time with a Hammer-beam roof, and tapestries adorning the walls which while they have faded in colour, are still impressive. They would have been outrageously costly at the time.
It is very easy to drift back to Tudor times in this hall, and imagine Henry holding court here.
The second court’s gatehouse was competed in 1540 and is known as Anne Boleyn’s gate today. Her apartments were still being completed above it when she was executed by Henry in 1536.
There is a wonderful astronomical clock adorning it, and among being able to tell the time, month and year, it also showed when the tide was high at London Bridge.
Henry died in 1547, and both his daughters Mary and Elizabeth spent time at the palace when they were Queen.
Mary spent 5 months at Hampton Court awaiting the birth of a baby that never was.
William and Mary
William of Orange and Mary, the daughter of King James the II came to the throne in 1689
and hired the famous architect Sir Christopher Wren to renovate the palace.
In fact, they planned to demolish the entire Tudor section of the palace, excl the Great Hall and whilst we lost much of it, including Henry VIII’s state rooms and private apartments, I am forever grateful that they were unable to complete their full plan!
Their original plan was to design two courtyards at right angles to each other, and was influenced by the Palace of Versailles.
Fountain Court is a wonderful example of symmetry and the wings surrounding it contained the new state apartments and private rooms.
When Queen Mary II died, William ceased renovations, and later was mortally injured after falling from his horse in the grounds.
Queen Anne completed the decoration of the Queen’s apartments, and these can be viewed today.
Hampton Court lived on after Queen Anne with the Hanoverian monarchs, and it eventually ceased to be a royal residence in 1737.
It is still a place of residence today, with apartments given under Grace and Favour.
Grace and Favour residents are those who were granted rent-free accommodation because they had given great service to the Crown or country.
This was at a height during Victorian times, and this was also when Queen Victoria opened the palace to the public
Hampton Court is a jewel within England, and is a place you can visit many times and not see everything it has to offer.
It is like a dream to wander a building where some of the most notorious people in history strolled the corridors. History whispers from its walls, and the sad stories of Henry’s 6 wives speak to you clearly.