Revisiting Hampton Court Palace (March 2011)

Following on from my post about our visit to The Tower, earlier this year my partner and I took a trip to Hampton Court. It was next on my list of Tudoresque buildings to visit after the Tower and I loved its links to the ghost of Katherine Howard. I had known that originally the palace had belonged to Cardinal Wolsey, and passed into the Kings hands later but I had no idea of the scale of the place and just how beautiful it was. Unfortunately, it was raining on the day we went (I have this unfortunate knack of picking the days to visit places that have the worst weather) so I ended up having to shell out on an expensive Hampton Court brolly. It has since become my favourite brolly in the world however!

Anne Boleyn’s gateway, just inside the entrance to the palace. So called because as you walk through the archway there are still the HA insignia carvings from when Henry and Anne were married. These insignias were overlooked after Anne’s execution and as Henry rushed to have all evidence of Anne removed.
Anne Boleyn’s gateway from the other side. This clock is an astronomical clock commissioned by Henry VIII in 1540, which shows the time of day, phases of the moon, the quarter of the year, the date, the sun and star sign and the high water at London bridge!

The day we were there there was a huge display of costumed reenactors. As we arrived we were presented with a what’s on guide which told us the time and place of events that were going in but promptly forgot about it and went on our way through the palace. As we were walking through the Haunted gallery however, my partner was coerced into attending a meeting of the Privy Council by a man who later turned out to be none other than Thomas Seymour! And I, lowly woman that I was, was told to go to the Great Watching Chamber and see Frances Grey, the King’s niece. This was an absolutely fantastic portion of the day, all of the staff members played their roles so well and I had a great talk with the lady playing Frances about how the little Prince Edward was getting on before we went to the Privy Council to inform the King. Later on as we were in the Great Watching chamber having a look, who should turn up but King Henry VIII in time for his petitions! The room got quite full very quickly but we were relatively near the front and sure enough, Frances Grey takes my arm and asks how my “sister is getting on” because she recognised me and remembered the letter I had written her about getting my sister married off. I ended up being taken before the King (it was very VERY scary, I was pretty much lost for words!) to ask him to help out my sister and find her a good marriage. There was a bit of banter between myself and Thomas Seymour after that too. And yes, that is me in the photo above! Great fun, finished with Henry answering lots of questions from the children who were there on a school trip. It made the experience very hands on, and I loved it. A great way to make the history that little more interesting and hands on to those younger generations and those who are only just finding an interest in the period.

Next we took a further sojourn down the Haunted Gallery and saw some of the most famous Tudor portraits:

The top one there is the famous Tudor family portrait showing Henry, Prince Edward and Jane Seymour (although she had long been dead by the time this was painted) and Henry’s two daughters Mary and Elizabeth. In this portrait Elizabeth is wearing a necklace with the letter “A” around her neck, a stark reminder that she is Anne Boleyn’s daughter. The lower photograph is of course little Edward VI, the young king who was used as a stepping stone to power for so many and who unfortunately died before he could reach his majority.

Now this portrait got me a little excited. It’s probably the most famous portrait in the world of Charles II, the man who restored the monarchy of England after the tyrannical rule of Oliver Cromwell. And he was certainly a man who liked to party. I was astounded at the size of this portrait, as we walked into the room where all the Stuart portraits were hung this one dominated the room. I stood there for what seemed like an eternity drinking in this beautiful portrait and it was really very hard to drag myself away. Charles II is one of my favourite historical figures and a man who deserves a lot of respect. And this portrait just exudes power and majesty and dominates the room, as I think the character of Charles would have done in life.
Hampton Court really is an amazing place, so full of so many different periods of history. The majority know it just for its links to the Tudor dynasty but there really is so much more. Yes, Henry VIII spent a lot of time here and yes, Katherine Howard was arrested here after it was found out that she had been “unfaithful” but there are astounding Stuart links here as well as Georgian (although after George II, no monarch ever resided there – George III linked it to a rather embarrassing moment where his father struck him) and it was during the reign of Victoria that it was first opened to the public. I definitely recommend Hampton Court as it is a fantastic day out and really not too expensive! Just make sure you get there early enough to do everything – we arrived rather late (closer to lunch time) and so didn’t have time to do the gardens or the maze, although saying that with the weather as rubbish as it was it was probably best that we stayed inside! It’s definitely somewhere that we will be looking to go back to!
Next on the agenda however is Westminster Abbey and Westminster Hall!

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