(TVC’s visit: 2 June 2013)
Finding ourselves at a motel near Heathrow with a few hours to kill before take-off, we thought, ‘why not have a look at Hampton Court?’
So we sensibly took a shuttle to terminal 4 of the airport to look for the tube. This chewed up about half an hour with nil result. Then we meandered to Henry VIII’s place on 3 buses, wondering at the complexities of our little visit and the varied responses of the bus drivers, their advice ranging from cheery and correct, to non-committal, to the outright hostile.
Got there in the end. Lovely midsummer’s day. A manor maintained by the Knights Hospitallers of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, circa 13C, Cardinal Wolsey bought it, levelled it and started re-building about 1515. Building a palace to rival those of the King was born of well-placed confidence: by Christmas that year, he had become Lord Chancellor.
Completed in 1525, it had about a thousand rooms. In June of that year, Wolsey “gave” it to Henry. He was under some pressure to do so, methinks.
By 1529, Wolsey was off Henry’s Christmas list – he was stripped of the Seal of England and banished. His coats of arms were replaced with the King’s. His Majesty then went to town on improvements, encouraged by Anne Boleyn.
Today, you can see the different architectural styles cheek by jowl and the rather chaotic additions. Henry was paranoid about coming into contact with the people, relishing his privacy and fearing contagion. Therefore, he arranged the construction of covered walkways and enclosed gardens. No doubt he also wanted to facilitate the consummation of discreet trysts with Anne Boleyn, whom he didn’t marry till 1532/1533.
First he had to discard Katherine of Aragon like so much draff. Annoyingly for him, this took much bureaucratic wrangling.
They would later pray for Queen Katherine Howard in the Royal Chapel (above) but God wasn’t listening…
In 1534, he added Royal Tennis Courts, though the one existing (and still used) dates from 17C.
Henry added a tiltyard, although obesity (and doubtless, developing syphilis) caused his interest in jousting to wane…
Henry VIII was reportedly a good singer and fair composer, although it is unlikely he wrote Greensleeves. If it was written in his time, he may have appropriated it from a headless person, which was his preferred compositional style.
The King added a new hall to impress Anne, with gilded vaulting.
Anne in return got on with needlework (she was handy in more ways than one) but none of the tapestries at Hampton Court today are hers.
Henry wed Katherine Parr at Hampton Court in 1543. At least she kept her head.
After touring the King’s apartments, those of some of the Queens, and the gardens, we dined on Roast Beef & Yorkshire Pudding, washed down with ‘Badger Beer’ and Pinot Gris.
Then came a mad scramble to flag a cab (we didn’t want on the buses again) to Heathrow for a late afternoon flight to another hemisphere. Getting to Hampton Court had been an effort but the effort was richly rewarded.