King Henry VIII was one of the more famous kings, having had six wives, becoming the father of three of England’s most well-known monarchs, and greatly improving England’s Navy. What most people don’t know, however, is that he was also one of the first to take notice of what is today London’s Hyde Park.
Henry VIII, as the surviving son and heir of Elizabeth of York and Henry Tudor, was one of the first members of the Royal Family to increase the interest in Hyde Park, as well as one of the first Tudor rulers to take the throne after the War of the Roses.
Taking the crown on June 24, 1509 almost exactly 18 years after his birth on June 26th, 1491, Henry VIII would acquire Hyde Park for his personal hunting some 27 years later.
During the period between Henry’s coronation and his death, he would marry not only Catherine of Aragon to maintain a treaty with Spain, but would also change the religious standards in England, converting from Catholicism to Protestantism in order to marry again and gain an heir.
When Henry felt he needed a relief from the stress of being king, Hyde Park would come into play in 1536. Henry, having a need for privacy, would order the Park to be outlined in fence, keeping it a private place where he could go to hunt deer whenever he chose. Though King Henry would die at age 55 more than ten years after taking over Hyde Park, the park itself wouldn’t be open to the public until the late 1600’s. Later, Hyde Park would still be kept private on certain occasions until 1949.
Before Hyde Park was taken as Henry VIII’s private hunting grounds, however, it had an interesting history in and of its own. Originally one of the three sections of the Manor of Eia, a Saxon plot of land at the intersection of two roads, Hyde would stay with its sister manor, Neyte, and begin life as Westminster Abbey (known then as the Abbey of Westminster). Henry VIII would take control of the lands and Abbey from the abbot, William Boston in June of 1536.
Once a perceived sanctuary from the Great Plague of 1637, Hyde Park has been the illustrious site of grand celebrations including a fireworks display in 1814 to celebrate the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Great Exhibition of 1851 and The Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. Another famous place contained in Hyde Park is Speakers’ Corner: a part of the park established for the right to free speech after many speeches were given and a violent demonstration broke out on July 23th, 1866, quickly showing the need for freedom of expression by words.
The 350 acres of Hyde Park (620 acres when Henry first claimed it) are placed between the districts of Mayfair, Knightsbridge and Bayswater, with the Serpentine Lake (first called the Westbourne Stream in the Domesday Book) commissioned by Queen Caroline bisecting the land. As well as attracting human visitors to its monuments, the Park is also home to many animals and plants. Robins, waterfowl and black swans have all been spotted, while wildflowers, large trees and miles of grass cover the land.
With its beginnings in hunting and pursuits of pleasure, Hyde Park has become a location of choice for cycling, boating, and picnics, even allowing in dogs on a leash during its nineteen hours of access per day. It also offers horseback riding, tennis and football areas, and fitness aids, whether exercising in a group or privately.
This summer, Barclaycards’ music festival is taking place at Hyde Park, featuring, among others, the bands Arcade Fire, Black Sabbath and Sir Tom Jones in its July presentation from the 3rd to the 13th.
Almost 300 years after its original royal conversion in 1536, a landscape transformation undertaken in Hyde Park during the early 1800’s, created multiple architectural landmarks, including the Wellington Arch, West Carriage Drive, and more, which we see today.
More than 450 years after it first caught the attention of the British Royal Family, the Park continues to pay homage to the Monarchy. Princess Diana, for example, figures prominently into the Park: A Memorial Fountain was set up in 2004 a few days after what would have been her birthday, and a seven-mile walkway goes past nine important sights of English society, including the Spencer House and Kensington Palace.
In honor of the July 7th London bombings, a memorial was set up for the victims and their families.
Today, England’s Hyde Park has namesakes as far as the United States of America: A southwestern part of Pennsylvania has land named Hyde Park, as do neighborhoods in Chicago, Illinois, and Kansas City, Kansas. In New York’s Hyde Park, the Culinary Institute of America rests near the border of the Hudson River.
While Henry VIII could not have envisioned what place he would be creating with his seizure of Hyde Park, the Park has become a most wonderful place to visit whether you’re royal, a young child or just interested in having a good time.
As you prepare to explore Londoners’s eclectic city, may I recommend scheduling a visit to Hyde Park today through the official Hyde Park website. Step into history, and see for yourself where the hunting parties of King Henry took place…