A royal jaunt to Hampton Court Palace
On a day trip from London to Hampton Court Palace, the weather rewarded us with a gorgeous, sunny, hot summer’s day. Or at least, as warm as you can get here in England. One must be thankful for small favours. It’s only a short 30 minute ride from Waterloo to Hampton Court via National Rail. Hampton Court Palace is one of the 50 palaces built by King Henry VIII, he of the many wives. In his day, before he reached middle age and was immortalised as the gout-ridden, paunchy and temperamental king that has somehow filtered through to the national consciousness, Henry was one of the most eligible royals of his time. He was young, handsome, a fit sportsman, artistic (he was a poet, an author, a musician), virile, educated (he spoke all three Romance languages) and most of all… a very, very powerful king.
Not all of the Hampton Court Palace that Henry built has survived – the buildings surrounding the Fountain Court are a Sir Christopher Wren work, and Edwardian monarchs have added on to the original Tudor designs. But the Great Halls, the Great Kitchens and the Royal Chapel are all exactly as they were in his reign.
We join a court tour, and we start by choosing one of two rival ladies of the court, who are currying favour from Queen Anne Boleyn. As our costumed guide talks about court life in the present tense, we are fully immersed in the period, and all the details of Tudor life are coloured in. There are tapestries and beautiful furniture dating from the 15th century, the gilt and glamour of the Royal Chapel where Church and State come together – the chapel is not as ostentatious as most Roman Catholic ones are; but it is still decorated in all the insignia of royalty; fleur-de-lis and royal blue ceilings, gold gilt altars and beautifully carved wooden pews.
The life and times of the Tudors
More entertaining than all the art and artefacts, though, are the stories – the intrigues and backstabbing, the ghostly hauntings, the hustle and bustle of the Great Kitchens, the life of the Tudors and the interesting times they lived in.
During the visit, I keep trying to remember Henry’s many wives. In succession – Catherine of Aragon, the Spanish Queen who bore him Mary I; Anne Boleyn, whom he pursued relentlessly and wedded in the course of breaking from the Roman church. She gave him (and the rest of the world) Queen Elizabeth the First, that great monarch who shaped so much of the world today. She was also eventually executed, for her failure to give Henry a male heir. He then married Jane Seymour, a lady-in-waiting in the former queen’s entourage. She would die in childbirth, finally offering a male heir to the English throne, Edward VI. His next queen was another Anne, from Cleves, the one he called a “Flanders Mare” and had agreed to wed after merely seeing a portrait of her. He annulled the marriage not long after and fell head over heels in love with Catherine Howard, first cousin of Anne Boleyn. She, however, had two affairs, both of which were discovered and was beheaded, at age 18, for adultery. Henry’s last wife, Catharine Parr, managed to reconcile the king with his two daughters. She survived him, after his death at Whitehall.
Visiting Hampton Court Palace
|Getting there:||The easiest way to get to Hampton Court Palace is by rail|
|Cost:||Tickets cost GBP17.60 (GBP8.80 for under 16s) and are available on site, by telephone booking, or online|
|Tours:||1, 2 or 3 hour itineraries are available, or you can join a guided tour (highly recommended). For even more pageantry, try to time your visit to Hampton Court when there is a planned event, such as a special exhibition, Tudor joust or banquet.|
|Opening times:||Summer: Mon-Sun 10:00-17:00. Winter: Mon-Sun 10:00-15:30. Closed 24-26 December|