During the weekend following our orientation week at UCL, the History FSP along with some members of the Government FSP took a train out to Hampton Court Palace. We were all tired after a week of getting lost trying to navigate London, but the trip was completely worth it.
Henry VII, the first Tudor King of England and father of Henry VIII. Defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field, ending the Wars of the Roses. A politically astute man, Henry VII would be turning in his grave if he knew about some of the decisions his son would go on to make while living at Hampton Court.
Originally a site of no great importance, in 1514 Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of England under Henry VIII, began building the extravagant and lavish Hampton Court Palace. It was meant to impress upon foreign dignitaries and the English nobility the power of the Lord Chancellor and the relatively young Tudor dynasty. Wolsey told King Henry VIII that the palace was being built in his name and honor, so as not to trigger the young Tudor king’s famous jealousy and temper. When Wolsey failed to get Henry a Papal annulment for his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, he fell out of favor with the larger than life king and Hampton Court was seized by the Crown. Various English and British monarchs have lived in and rebuilt Hampton Court to suit their needs. From William III of Orange to George I, it was clear as we walked through Hampton Court that various projects, courtly traditions, and personal tastes have left their mark on the palace.
Walking through the front gate to Hampton Court there is a long pathway leading to the main entrance. The length of and views from the pathway immediately convey the sheer size and grandeur of the palace without even having to enter. The palace is not meant to be defended against attack, indicative of the centralization, stability, and security of England’s renaissance monarchy. Upon passing under the main arch, decorated with Tudor roses on the interior ceiling, there is a large courtyard with various entrances. Our group walked through the one leading to the Great Hall, in which Henry VIII would feast with his courtiers. Lavishly decorated with stained glass and the heads of game, the Great Hall was furnished with tables, tapestries, informational guides on dining and courtly entertainment in the 1500s, and an ornate dining table and chairs for the King and his companion of choice
Throughout the palace, I tried my best to get lost, but no matter where I went there were various videos playing explaining the history of the Tudor dynasty and its significance in bringing England to the world stage, Henry VIII’s six wives, his children Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth, and the monarchs that came after the Tudors. An area of the palace that I particularly enjoyed was the huge kitchens with real roasting spits and model bread ovens, ale storage, herbs, spices, and 16th century cookware. I also spent a lot of time in several courtyards with fountains and a garden with a variety of roses, the symbol of the Tudor dynasty.
The entire FSP stopped at a cozy café within the palace itself for coffee and tea in a rustic dining area. Nearby, there were various gift shops selling everything from foodstuffs modeled after what was cooked, eaten, or drunk by Henry VIII to teas and chocolate that became popular at court after Britain established its empire.
Arthur, Prince of Wales at age 15. Henry VIII’s elder brother and Henry VII’s eldest son and heir, betrothed to Catherine of Aragon and groomed to be King. Passed away at age 15. How different would the world be if England had a King Arthur instead of Henry VIII?
Outdoors, we saw acres upon acres of gardens, fountains, outdoor walkways, a maze to get lost in, and horse carriages giving tours of the beautifully maintained landscape. An indoor tennis court could also be accessed from the outside, in which people were playing the form of tennis played in Henry VIII’s day, “real tennis.” Before he became fat and unsightly, Henry VIII was an attractive and athletic prince, called Prince Harry by those who loved him and standing at a towering 6’2’’. He loved his sport and being watched by his courtiers. From hunting to tennis, Hampton court allowed Henry to have fun and entertain his court.
Henry VIII at age 15, shortly after becoming King of England.
Throughout the entire palace, there are various galleries of art, gift shops, gardens, and mock displays meant to convey the realities of court life under the various monarchs who called Hampton Court a home. For all Tudor buffs or anyone who has watched or read Wolf Hall or watched Showtime’s The Tudors, Hampton Court is a must visit and a place to get lost in for a day while you’re in London.