Hampton Court Palace: 500 Years of History

Erin Fetterly

When approaching Hampton Court Palace, one cannot help but be in awe

When approaching Hampton Court Palace, one cannot help but be in awe at the sight of the Great Gatehouse that faces you and the palace that stretches beyond. With its deep orange and almost mahogany coloured bricks, it oozes with Tudor architecture and instantly transports you back to the 16th century. This magnificent palace on the bank of the Thames entered Tudor history when Cardinal Thomas Wolsey bought Hampton Manor around 1514 from the Knights Hospitallers, a military order that dates back to the Crusades. Before the order owned it, it belonged to a man named Walter de St Valéry, whose family retained it until the Knights bought it in 1218. Wolsey soon began work to build himself an incredible palace that would be grand enough to entertain the king as well as dignitaries from around Europe. He succeeded and the palace soon caught the attention of King Henry VIII. When Wolsey fell from favour in 1529 he relinquished Hampton Court to Henry with the hope of gaining back some of his influence. This gesture did not work out for Wolsey, but Henry gained a beautiful palace that he soon set out to expand. He enlarged the kitchen which became the largest kitchen in England and could serve up to 1600 meals a day. He had numerous apartments built, constructed the Great Hall between 1532 and 1535 and had Wolsey’s Chapel Royal redecorated between 1535 and 1536. It was a breathtaking and glorious palace used to show off Henry’s wealth and power. Henry had built a grand pleasure palace equipped with beautiful gardens, a tennis court built in 1529, a theatre, and beer that was brewed on the premises. The palace held vast collections of art and tapestries and hosted plays, pageants and banquets throughout the Tudor period. The king also had a wine cellar with wines imported from all over Europe, which you can still take a walk around today. Gardens were, and are still a very important part of the palace, many of which were created or updated during Henry's reign. Both the Privy and the Pond Gardens to the south had specific uses for Henry and his court. The Privy Garden for private strolls and relaxation and the Pond Gardens for keeping freshwater fish to feed everyone. The Home Park to the far east was used by Henry VIII for hunting and today is used to host the Hampton Court Flower Show. In the Tiltyard to the northwest, the king and his court would watch jousting matches from the 5 towers that stood there; one of them remains today and has been transformed into a café.
<strong>Hampton Court Palace: 500 Years of History</strong>
Hampton Court

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<strong>Hampton Court Palace: 500 Years of History</strong>
Hampton Court

Henry brought each of his six wives to the palace

Henry brought each of his six wives to the palace, and all except for Katherine of Aragon had their honeymoon there, illustrating how favoured this palace was to Henry. Anne Boleyn’s apartments were constructed over what is now called Anne Boleyn’s Gateway and if you look closely you can still see a tile on the roof with an intertwined H&A that fortunately survived Henry’s purge of Anne-related designs after her downfall in 1536. Henry VIII’s son Edward was also born at the palace in 1537. Unfortunately, the palace was also the scene of some traumatic events during Henry’s reign including the death of Jane Seymour, his third wife and the arrest of Catherine Howard, his fifth wife before she was taken to the Tower of London. It is rumoured that Hampton Court may also be home to Catherine Howard’s ghost along with some others that have been mysteriously witnessed over the years. Catherine Howard’s ghost has often been seen in the most haunted part of the palace, The Haunted Gallery. Palace residents, cleaners and visitors have all witnessed who they believe is Catherine in a white dress with long hair. Catherine supposedly ran down this hallway to try and convince Henry not to have her arrested, but she was stopped by guards and brought to the Tower. Other sightings of ghosts throughout the palace include Jane Seymour near the Silver Stick Staircase, a phantom dog on the King’s Staircase, a man in red at the Great Gatehouse in Base Court, The Lady in Grey who may be Mrs Sybil Penn, young Edward VI’s nurse in the southwest corner of Base Court and many others. Inside the Great Gatehouse is the Base Court surrounded by dozens of lavish apartments that Wolsey set aside for his most important guests. At the other side of Base Court is Anne Boleyn’s Gateway which then leads into Clock Court. Clock Court is so named because of the beautiful astronomical clock sitting over the inside, west entrance, which was crafted by French horologist Nicholas Oursian in 1540. As Henry’s children grew up, they used Hampton Court as well. Mary I had her honeymoon with Philip II of Spain there and it was one of Elizabeth I’s favourite palaces. She loved to rest there, and is said to have been relaxing in the gardens when she received word of the defeat of the Spanish Armada. She enjoyed the entertainments of the palace as well, supposedly watching Shakespeare and his company perform the drama of the fall of Wolsey in the grand Great Hall. After Elizabeth I’s death, the throne, alongside Hampton Court, passed to King James I and VI and the Stuart dynasty. James enjoyed leisure time at the palace just as his predecessors did. In one instance he watched the first performances of Hamlet and Macbeth by Shakespeare and his ‘King’s Men’ in the Great Hall in 1603. He also organised the 1604 Hampton Court Conference which resulted in the publication of the King James Bible in 1611. After James I, his son Charles I used Hampton Court as a place to hold and display his vast art collection and used the palace’s Privy Garden to evade Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarians when he was held prisoner there in 1647. Once Cromwell defeated Charles I and the Commonwealth began, Cromwell saved Hampton Court from damage by deciding to live in it, as he greatly enjoyed the art and tapestries. When the Stuarts reclaimed the throne, Charles II used Hampton Court for his honeymoon and later as a place for his mistress and their children to live.
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Some of the biggest changes to Hampton Court took place when William III and Mary II came to the throne

Some of the biggest changes to Hampton Court took place when William III and Mary II came to the throne in 1689. They commissioned Sir Christopher Wren, the architect responsible for St. Paul’s Cathedral, to add a new section onto the Tudor palace. He designed a stunning Baroque addition on the east side of the palace which included dozens of new apartments and the beautiful Fountain Court. One of the most fascinating pieces of 17th century history at the palace is William III’s close stool, which is another name for his toilet. It is a bright red box with an open lid. At the top is the seat which is covered in crimson velvet, no doubt fit for the king. The toilet is still on display today in William’s State Apartments. Under William and Mary, many of the beautiful gardens we see today were designed and produced. Two of these were the Great Fountain Garden to the east which originally held 13 fountains, and the New Privy Garden to the south, which was a remodelled version of the Privy Garden designed for Henry VIII. Queen Anne had the ornate yew trees that decorate the Great Fountain Garden planted during her reign. William also decided that the Tiltyard was better suited to gardens and built the grandest kitchen gardens in Europe which produced all the fruits and vegetables for the palace for 150 years. Mary II had a passion for plants as well and collected exotic specimens from around the world, building the Orangery to display them. The unique maze at the north of the palace grounds was also supposedly planted during the late 17th century using hornbeam; today the 6 foot tall maze is made up of mostly yew and privet. The Great Vine that you can find on the southwest side of the palace was planted later in 1768 and still produces grapes you can purchase. When George I became king, he built dozens of new, striking apartments for his son, the eventual George II and his wife Princess Caroline near William III’s apartments. He also decided to spruce the palace up to compete with George and Caroline’s extravagant parties, and renovated the Tudor tennis court as a grand assembly room in 1718, as well as converted the Great Hall into a theatre; both of which have since returned to their original purposes. The last monarch to call Hampton Court home was George II. George and Caroline finished the work on their apartments and began new additions for the younger members of the royal family. Caroline also hired the famous Georgian architect and designer William Kent to decorate the Queen’s stairs. After Queen Caroline’s unfortunate death in 1737, the palace ceased to be used as a royal residence and instead became home to ‘grace and favour’ residents, many of whom were aristocratic widows provided with a place to live in recognition of their husband’s service. Hampton Court housed these residents until the 1960s when the custom ended, but even so, there are still a few elderly residents that live at the palace today! In 1838 Queen Victoria decided to open up Hampton Court to the public, starting the modern practice, and in 1851 she officially gave the palace to the British government. It was listed as a Grade 1 royal palace in 1952. Today the magical half Tudor, half Baroque palace is visited by millions of awestruck visitors each year, eager to explore the over 500 years of history of Henry VIII’s magnificent palace.
<strong>Hampton Court Palace: 500 Years of History</strong>
Hampton Court
<strong>Hampton Court Palace: 500 Years of History</strong>

Erin Fetterly

Hi everyone! I am a historian, researcher and writer with an MA in British history from Birkbeck, University of London. I am Canadian with a passion for London and history. My interest lies in Early Modern British history, especially Tudor, Georgian and Victorian, but I enjoy learning about anything since 1066. I love writing for The Historian’s Magazine because I can share amazing history stories with everyone and hopefully inspire others to take an interest in history. I would love to work in the history/media sector one day where I can produce and host shows about history and share history filled stories, treasures and sites with everyone! If you want to learn more about history and London with beautiful pictures and fun videos check out my Instagram account
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