Following on from The Tower of London in my new ‘Royalists guide to London’ series, we move to another historic and Royally special site: Hampton Court Palace.
This is a palace I have wanted to visit ever since my passion for history was unearthed, learning about Henry VIII when I was younger.
Based further inland in Richmond-upon-Thames, Hampton Court began its life as a residence of Giles Daubeney, later Lord Chamberlain, who modernised and leased the medieval house. The lease was taken by soon-to-be Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII’s closest advisor during the beginning of his reign.
After Henry VIII died in 1547, the palace was used rarely. Oliver Cromwell used it as his residence, and after the Restoration William and Mary took it as their home. Sir Christopher Wren was tasked with modernising Hampton Court Palace for the new King and Queen in 1689, and demolished many parts of the Tudor palace. Funds for the building soon began to run out, and so it became a mixture of Tudor and baroque architecture, mostly as we see it today. Queen Victoria opened the palace for the public to visit and now it is looked after by Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), just like The Tower of London.
Things to do at Hampton Court:
1. Audio Tour As with many HRP ran sites, audio tours are available to guide you around the palace and point out notable items and areas. You can chose which tour to start – the Henry VIII or Georgian story, directing you to the right area of the palace. Curators, authors, experts and even the actor who plays Henry (see number 2) contribute opinions and facts to the tour. Many things may go unnoticed if you were not told they were there, or the background of something is explained: being free, you have no excuse not to get an audio guide!
The Tudor tour was my favourite (naturally) but there are some very interesting objects and rooms to see for the later Royal families that made Hampton Court their home!
When collecting your audio handset, costumes are available to put on for your visit, which is great for the little ones!
2. See costumed actors. Roaming the corridors and courtyards at Hampton Court are actors in period costume to bring the palace to life. Henry VIII and his wives are included in these, and a courtier asks everyone to ‘make way for The King!’ as he passes by… Remember to curtsey or bow!
The gallery in this picture is supposedly where Catherine Howard’s ghost walks, with the majority of fainting incidents that first aiders are called to in the huge grounds of HCP occurring here…
3. The Chapel Royal. Religious or not, services and music in the Chapel are something to behold. This is where Henry VIII and his courtiers would have worshipped, bearing in mind the tumultuous religious era that the King presided over. It is also where Henry found our about Catherine Howard’s infidelity! Three services are held on Sundays and communion is given daily at 8:30 am. Occasionally, there are recitals where the organ is played and choirs sing, but do check the noticeboard for times and dates, as this is not daily.
A remake of Henry’s crown is available to see in the upper gallery of the chapel – this is where Henry worshipped and where Edward VI was baptised. His mother, Jane Seymour, lay in state here after her death, childbed fever being a likely cause, before being buried at St George’s Chapel, Windsor.
3. The Maze. Hampton Court’s maze is world famous. Can you find your way to the centre AND back out again? Great fun for the family.
4.The gardens. Take a stroll through the gardens (which are huge!), where monarchs and their guests have roamed for centuries. It is a great place to take your lunch, or even walk it off if you dine in the cafes (the cakes look SO good!). The Kitchen Gardens were recently reopened by The Countess of Wessex and are worth seeing too; Royal Central has written about The Kitchen Gardens here.
5. Royal Tennis Courts. As a working tennis club, you can see the tennis courts being used during the summer, playing what is known as ‘real tennis’, differing from lawn tennis (the kind played at Wimbledon). Games are held regularly so check for times and dates.
Henry VIII was a big fan of the game in his younger years (when he could still play as an athletic young man). You can even try the game for yourself and become a member if it suits you!
The simplest way to get to Hampton Court is a train (on the Overground) from Waterloo straight to Hampton Court, and takes around 30 minutes. I’m sure you’ll love Hampton Court as much as I did. To know that Henry VIII himself, as well as Anne Boleyn, Katherine of Aragon, the other wives, and numerous other famous Tudor characters walked in the rooms I did – for me, it was magical.
Photos: © Chloe Howard 2014
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