The Palace History
The majestic Hampton Court Palace is most closely associated with Henry VIII and the tales of his 6 wives. It was the backdrop of many historical events, including the 16th century Reformation of England– when Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church and declared England a Protestant nation, and himself the final authority on all matters (as opposed to the Pope). Hampton Court Palace was acquired by Henry through Cardinal Wolsey, who at one time was Henry’s right hand man, but fell from grace when he could not get the Pope to agree to Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. This resulted in Henry separating from the Roman Catholic Church so that he could freely remarry with the object of his affection, Anne Boleyn. When Wolsey had first acquired Hampton Court, it was a humble manor that dated back to the 1200’s. Under Wolsey’s ownership, the manor had been lavishly redeveloped into a palace fit for a king. As Cardinal Wolsey was falling from favor, he gifted Henry the magnificent palace, in hopes that it may save him. Unfortunately for the Cardinal, it did not. Henry went on to enlarge and glorify Hampton Court, adding many wings and apartments, and filling the palace with expensive tapestries and artwork. While Henry’s wives seemed to come and go at an alarmingly high rate (Two of which he fated to be beheaded. Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived), Hampton Court was a constant throughout his reign. Beyond the years of the Tudors, the palace remained a royal haven and again was enlarged, this time by King William III and Queen Mary II, in the trendy Baroque fashion which mimicked the grandiose style of the French palace Versailles. The massive estate sits just outside of London in the town of Hampton, along the banks of the River Thames. As Hampton Court stands today, it is not just a fascinating fusion between Tudor and Baroque architecture, but a monumental reminder to us of the English Monarchy’s vast and opulent past.
The Heart of the Palace
For any Tudor fanatic, spending time at Hampton Court is a dream come true. So much happened within these walls nearly 500 years ago– things that would change the course of history forever. The single most intimate and involved sanctuary in the lives of the Tudors, was the Chapel Royal. While gazing upwards at the strikingly blue and gilded starry ceiling of the Chapel, it’s overwhelming to realize that it is the same ceiling which oversaw so many historic events. It is here where Henry and his first Queen, Catherine of Aragon worshipped devoutly. It is here where Henry decided to cut ties from the Catholic Church, and declare himself the head of the Church of England. Here is where Anne Boleyn took her place beside Henry as his second wife. It is the same ceiling under which Henry’s only legitimate son, Edward, was baptized. It is the ceiling under which Jane Seymour’s body lay for 3 weeks as Henry mourned the loss of his 3rd and loyal wife, and it is the ceiling that handsomely presides over the alter under which Jane’s heart is buried. The Chapel Royal is where Queen Catherine Howard’s fate was sealed, as Henry received a letter indicating the accusations of her infidelity. It was also where Henry married his 6th and final wife, Katherine Parr, in an intimate ceremony. The Chapel Royal is a jewel and truly the heart of Hampton Court Palace, and not to be missed!
Other Bits and Pieces
The Chapel was probably my favorite bit of the palace, but there were dozens of other wonderful things to see around the palace grounds. It was just after New Years when we spent our day at Hampton Court, so the palace was still decorated for Christmas. This meant that true to the Tudor era, the palace was decorated with greenery, dried oranges, candles, cloves and berries. As it was January, it was quite cold and the building itself was a bit drafty. So soon after arriving, we stopped at the Privy Kitchen for something hot to drink. The tea was fine, but what was remarkable was that after gazing around the room at the huge chandeliers that hung above us, we noticed some script on the stone wall stating that this had in fact been Elizabeth I’s privy kitchen. It’s a fascinating sensation to know that you are living a moment of your life, having a cup of tea, in the same room where meals had been prepared nearly 500 years earlier for the Queen of the Golden Age.
Just outside, the 300+ year old maze, commissioned by William III, is England’s oldest surviving hedge maze and is not to be missed on a trip to HCP. Another highlight of our day included the spectacular art of Italian Baroque artist Antonio Verrio, who adorned William III’s apartments with incredible murals across the walls and ceilings of the 17th century rooms.
Unfortunately after arriving at the palace, we were told that Henry’s personal apartments were temporarily closed (due to repairs I believe). So although we did get to see a great deal of Hampton Court, we missed out on some of it’s best features. We were unable to visit Henry’s Great Hall (where the King would hold feasts and lavish parties), and the ‘Haunted Gallery’, which is said to be where Queen Catherine Howard still makes an appearance every so often. After finding out about her infidelities, King Henry barred her in her heavily guarded apartments, before ultimately deciding to sentence her to death at the Tower of London. Before she was sent away to meet her fate, she made a last attempt to save her life, by running through the gallery towards the Chapel Royal, where she knew Henry would be praying. She was however caught and dragged back to her rooms, without ever getting a final word with Henry. It is said that the Queen’s shrieks and last pleas to Henry still echo throughout that hallway.
This alone means that we are due for another trip to Hampton Court sometime in the near future. So much more to see! My boyfriends mother had been so kind to give me a beautiful book on Hampton Court, so that I could see photos and read stories of the rooms that we were unable to see during the visit. The book is gorgeous–full of interesting facts and lovely imagery.
Henry Viii & Anne Boleyn: A Love Story?
I cannot mention the Tudors without going into a bit more detail of an intense love that went horribly wrong. Especially since Anne was my favorite English Queen. Anne Boleyn was the love of Henry’s life. They had a fascinating yet tumultuous romance, though unfortunately (due to Henry’s desperation for a male heir, and false accusations of infidelity) it ended rather harshly when Henry beheaded his Queen. In the early days of their relationship, Henry was besotted by Anne’s alluring personality, intelligence, worldly knowledge, and Protestant views. I’ve once read a compilation of Henry’s love letters to Anne–they were beautiful. Ever since then, I’ve been drawn to learning everything there is to know about Anne Boleyn and the relationship she had with Henry.
“..my heart and I surrender our-
selves into your hands, beseeching
you to hold us commended to your
favour, and that by absence your affection to us may not be lessened:
for it were a great pity to increase
our pain, of which absence produces
enough and more than I could ever
have thought could be felt, remind-
ing us of a point in astronomy which
is this: the longer the days are, the
more distant is the sun, and nevertheless the hotter; so is it with our
love…” -Henry Tudor
Henry waited 7 years or so to be with Anne, while he tried to obtain an annulment from his marriage with Queen Catherine, that would end up tearing the country apart. The love that Henry felt towards Anne was one of the single most influential events to change the course of British history. Though the marriage itself did not last long, it did produce one of the greatest monarchs of all time, Queen Elizabeth I who reigned for nearly 50 years. Her rule would come to be known as England’s Golden Age.
While wandering about the palace, it was saddening to know that the halls were once wandered by Anne, and that the vast gardens we walked through were the very same gardens (although revamped under William III’s reign) where Henry spent time courting Anne. I believe I’m not alone when I say that to have seen the small but forgotten love knot carving of H&A on the ceiling of the Anne Boleyn Gateway, gave me a comforting feeling. Although Henry tried to thoroughly erase the memory of his former queen from the palace (by ordering the H&A emblems to be changed to H&J for Jane Seymour), he did not completely succeed. Knowing that Anne was not utterly eradicated from the physical history of Hampton Court, gave me a strange sense of peace. As the sun began to set, we ended our step back in time at Hampton Court. Walking back through the gates which we came, we rejoined the present day.