Hampton Court Palace – the favourite residence of Henry VIII

Although this monumental russet building is vastly associated with Henry VIII initially it was not meant for him but for his ambitious chief minister Thomas Wolsey. By 1514 on the site of Hampton Court Palace was situated an unprepossessing manor that had been occupied by the Order of St John Jerusalem since the 12th century.

hampton palace court

Hampton Court Palace by Patrick Gruban

Having had acquired the 99-year old lease for this property and grounds, Wolsey, without dawdling away his time, knocked down the plain abode and started his grandiose project on erecting a sumptuous palace, which aimed to embody not only the features of Italian Renaissance but also to symbolise the cardinal’s might and wealth. It is worth noting that from an architectural point of view the palatial appearance of Hampton Court Palace became a sort of novelty at that time, when all the residences and estates used to have the protective attributes of castles, such as drawbridges or watchtowers. With the amount of 280 rooms to accommodate the distinguished people of that world and the staff of approximately 500 servants the Wolsey’s creation did not only give up to any of royal properties but probably even outshone it. However the influential statesman didn’t enjoy his opulent life at Hampton Court Palace for long. By 1528 he might had felt that his power and the king’s favour started to slip away from him, so he tried to sweeten Henry VIII with Hampton Court that did not help him to elude the downfall a year later anyway.

hampton palace court
Hampton Court Palace by Peter Tarleton

The “Bluff King Hal”, who had been hankering after his former adviser’s house for long time, rapidly pitched in for enlarging and amending Hampton Court to his own taste, such as the building of the impressive Great Hall or enlarging the kitchen to the size of 50 rooms, so they would be able to provide a quite substantial king’s court of roughly 1000 courtiers with about 1,600 meals a day. Having been a keen tapestries-collector Henry VIII commissioned an incalculable amount of the embroidered pieces of art for the palace, and Anne Boleyn, whose talent was not only that of seduction but also of needlework, was said to take part in creating some of the tapestries.

Henry VIII definitely succeeded in erasing Thomas Wolsey’s signs and putting his own marks on it - by today’s money Henry VIII spent a pretty considerable sum of £20 million for his grand design project.
hampton court garden
The Privy Garden at Hampton Court by Gill Hicks

But all King Henry VIII’s efforts were nearly wasted about 150 years afterwards, when William and Mary of Orange came to the power. The co-ruling monarchs found the Tudor splendour of Hampton Court of having been obsolete, therefore decided to raze it to the ground (except for the Great Hall) and erect on its site the English version of Versailles. They did not happen to see their challenging task through owing to the sudden death of 32-year old Mary II, but still managed to make a great impact on Hampton Court that was turned by Sir Christopher Wren into peculiar but strangely harmonious symbiosis of Medieval and Baroque styles.

After George II the British monarchs seemed to lose interest in the once popular royal residence. George III, who reportedly would be slapped in the face by his crowned grandfather in the chambers of the palace while having been kid, associated Hampton Court with his childhood mortification and even said: “I should not be sorry if it had burnt down”. Under his reign the place was turned into the rent-free privileged accommodation for lodgers who distinguished themselves by any great services to the sovereign and kingdom. By quirk of fate Capability Brown, the master of informal landscape gardening, was among these “grace and favour” residents. For about 20 years he had been living at Hampton Court Palace as the royal gardener, but luckily he did not put his skill into practice there and left the formality of its gardens inviolable.

In 1838 the young queen Victoria made the access to the palace with its 750 acres of parkland available for general public. Its proximity to London (although it’s more precise to say that it flew together with the capital nowadays) with inexhaustible interest to the personality of English “Bluebeard” and his 6 wives made Hampton Court one of the most visited attractions in England. Apart from sumptuous interiors of the Tudors, Stuarts and even Georgians, and 750 acres of landscape highlighted by renowned Hampton Court Maze and formal geometric Dutch Garden, the place is also featured by such lovely seasonal events like the RHS flower show every July and Hampton Court ice skating during the festive time of Christmas.

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