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The History of Hampton Court Palace – Visitor Guide

Discover the History of Hampton Court Palace

Since being small I have loved the scandal and intrigue of the Tudors. Living in the UK, I’m lucky that the locations of Tudor history are never far from my doorstep. However, Hampton Court Palace is one of the best Tudor attractions in the UK as so much of their history happened here.

Cardinal Wolsey designed and commissioned Hampton Court and presented the Palace to King Henry VIII in 1525. From this date onwards, Hampton Court Palace became the backdrop for much of Tudor history. The palace was home to all six of Henry’s wives plus his children. In other words, this is a must for any Tudor fans.

The historic Hampton Court viewed from the west entrance

Arriving at Hampton Court Palace

The Kings beasts will welcome you to the history of Hampton Court Palace. These ten heraldic statues originally guarded a moat surrounding the palace. The statues symbolise the Tudor dynasty and the ancestry of the Seymour family (Jane Seymour was Henry’s third wife). Some of these beasts were designed by Elizabeth II, although most of the statues are Tudor in designs.

Enter the Palace – Base Court

Through the West Gate you will enter the Base Court.

The Base Court

Inside the Base Court you will find a replica of a fountain from the events at the Fields of the Cloth of Gold in 1520. Sources suggest that the fountain poured a continuous stream of wine. Little diplomatic progress was made at this event although its grandeur was unrivaled.

At good starting place from the Base Court is the Young Henry VIII section which can be accessed from here. This section details Tudor history before Henry’s arrival at Hampton Court Palace in 1525.

From the Base Court, look upwards at the ornate chimney stacks. During Tudor times, elaborate chimney designs were highly fashionable amongst the upper classes. The chimneys here are amongst some of the finest surviving examples of this.

Tudor style chimneys of Hampton Court Palace were once the height of fashion.

Most of the royal court lived in the buildings surrounding this square. Visitors to the royal family would pass through this court to the Anne Boleyn gatehouse. From here the entrance to the Royal Apartments awaits.

The Astronomical Clock

Before heading up the stairs at the Anne Boleyn Gateway, head into the Clock Court to see the Astronomical Clock. The clock measures the time, date, moon visibility and high tide at London Bridge. The clock still functions despite being almost 500 years old.

The astronomical clock

During our visit, we caught an off-duty Catherine Howard. She was having a chinwag with a guardsman, or perhaps a re-enactment of Catherine and her relations with the ill-fated Thomas Culpepper.

An off duty Anne Boleyn

The Great Hall

This splendid dining hall is a jewel in the crown of Hampton Court and this room was host to great feasts and celebrations. This splendor is still evident 500 years later. Huge biblical tapestries line the walls, as they did in Tudor times, complemented by magnificent stained-glass windows. The room also has a gothic wooden ceiling which keeps you staring upwards for a considerable time.

There’s so much detail in this room, much of it easily missed. I’d recommend taking some time in this room. Although you will spend most of this time looking upwards!

A view of the Great Hall
Great Hall - Hampton Court Palace
Evidence of Anne Boleyn at Hampton Court Palace despite Henry VIIIs attempted to erase her from history.

At the head of the Great hall there are two thrones, yet King Henry visited the hall very rarely. The Great Hall was more often a dining room for the palace staff. However on special occasions the hall became the venue for spectacular feasts and entertainment events.

From the Great Hall, walk towards the Great Watching Chamber. This is where the Royal Guards stood and where noble men would wait for the King’s presence. Unfortunately, much of this room has been altered by later residents. However, the ceiling is restoration of the original design.

Tudor ceiling

Processional Route and Haunted Gallery

This was one of my favorite rooms at Hampton Court Palace. Probably because of the infamous events that allegedly happened here.

Traditionally the King’s guards would be heavily present here and the walkway was exclusively for the use of the King’s closest advisors. This helps to maintain a safe distance between the monarch and their subjects. Tudor fans commonly associate this room with the events ending Henry’s marriage to Catherine Howard.

In 1541, Catherine Howard became aware of Henry’s desire to terminate Catherine’s life. Sources claim that Catherine dramatically charged along this corridor, begging forgiveness for her adultery.

The King’s guards stopped Catherine from reaching Henry and it is unknown whether he was aware of these events. From here Catherine travelled to the Tower of London and eventually executed. Some believe that Catherine Howard still haunts this passageway and many have experienced unexplainable phenomena in the room.

Today the gallery is home to portraits of the Tudor royal family including a magnificent, almost life-sized portrait of Henry himself.

The processional gallery - the site of many historical events at Hampton Court Palace
Portrait of Henry VIII

The Royal Chapel

The Royal Chapel is the final section with Henry VIII’s Royal Apartments and visitors view this from a first-floor balcony. This balcony was the Royal Pew and is where the Kings and Queens would worship privately. This therefore allowed the King and Queen a safe distance from other worshipers. The three rooms in the Royal Pew were previously two separate rooms. One was for the King, the other for the Queen.

It was within the Royal Pew, that Henry VIII first discovered Catherine Howard’s adultery via an anonymous note. This ultimately led to Catherine’s execution.

Photography is not permitted inside the Royal Chapel.

Henry VIII’s Kitchen

Henry VIII’s Kitchens are well worth a visit. These provide a glimpse of Tudor life which tends to receive less attention.

Deliveries of food to the palace arrived the Seymour gate, on the west side of the palace. This gate leads into a separate court leading into the palace kitchens. Inside this section you will find food storage rooms as well as the kitchen areas filled with fresh ingredients.

Tudor Kitchen at Hampton Court Palace

Frescoes

Hampton Court wasn’t just home to the Tudors. The Stuarts and the Georgians also inhabited the palace whilst restoring and renovating sections of the palace. The Georgian sections of the palace are particularly beautiful with frescoes and murals lining the walls and ceilings.

Stuart Frescoes at Hampton Court Palace
Stuart Frescoes at Hampton Court Palace
Frescoes at Hampton Court Palace

Fountain Court

The Fountain Court at Hampton Court Palace, Designed by Sir Christopher Wren.

Here the original Tudor design intersects with the designs of Sir Christopher Wren. The design of this section was commissioned by William III and Mary II. As a consequence, this wing looks very different from the Tudor sections.

The Gardens

No trip to Hampton Court would be complete without a visit to the gardens. There are many garden areas open to visitors. Largest of the gardens are the Great Fountain Garden and the Privy Garden. These gardens complement Sir Christopher Wren’s extension of the palace.

Lamppost in Gardens at Hampton Court Palace
A view of andscaped gardens from the east of Hampton Court Palace
Statue in Gardens at Hamptom Court Palace

Smaller but still worth a visit are the Pond Gardens, the Tiltyard, Kitchen Garden and the Magic Garden. The Wilderness Garden includes the Maze, which is small but still takes some time to crack. Make sure you keep hold of your palace ticket as this will cover your entrance into the Maze also.

Summary

We had a fantastic day discovering the history of Hampton Court Palace, spending 3-4 hours in the palace. Also make time to explore the gardens which can take 1-2 hours (depending how long you spend lost in the maze of course).

The palace is very heavy on the history of Henry VIII which comes at the expense of other Tudor Monarchs. I’m love the story of Mary I, who lived here and experienced a number of phantom pregnancies in the palace. Jane Seymore gave birth to Edward VI here, dying in the palace soon after. Therefore, I would have liked to have known more about these events and where these took place. Elizabeth I is also conspicuous in her absence (excluding her privy kitchen which now hosts a café).

That being said, this didn’t detract from our enjoyment of the palace.

Tickets and Opening Times

Entry into the palace costs £22.70 at the gate. However you can get a discount of £3 if you book your tickets online.

The palace is open from 10am – 6pm each day.

Find out more about the Tudors

Hands up,….I love Tudor history. It’s fair to say that I’ve read a few books and watched a few films about the Tudors in my time. If you are reading this thinking you’d like to find out more I’d recommend the following.

The Tudors – TV Series

What the series lacks in historical accuracy, it makes up for in drama and intrigue. The series is a delicious romp through the reign of King Henry VIII including all six wives. Gripping from start to finish.

Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey

his historical account of Henry’s wives is relatively easy to read despite the length of the book. The book focuses mostly on Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. That’s because these Queens were around for the longest.

The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo

I love this book. Susan Bordo is a feminist and looks at how our modern perceptions have marred the reputation of a fascinating and powerful woman.

Katherine Howard: The Tragic Story of Henry VIII’s Fifth Queen by Josephine Wilkinson

Katherine Howard doesn’t receive as much attention as some of the other queens. However her story is a fascinating one and her downfall casts light upon Henry’s character at the later stages of his life. Many of these events took place at Hampton Court Palace.

Mary I: Daughter of Time by Allen Lane

Mary I is a fascinating character from the Tudor times with a compelling story. Many of these events of Mary’s life took place at Hampton Court. This book is part of the Penguin Monarchs series which I love for their quirky and compact style.

Six – The Musical

The six wives of Henry VIII join forces to create a glittering girl band in this new West End Musical. An alternative slant on the historic events and bringing Tudor history to a new generation.

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