Hampton Court Palace: One of King Henry VIII’s finest palaces

By Andreas Tille – CC BY-SA 4.0

Hampton Court Palace is a magnificent royal palace, situated southwest of London on the banks of the River Thames. The palace itself wasn’t originally intended to be a royal residence. Lord Chancellor of England and soon-to-be Cardinal, Thomas Wolsey, loyal advisor to the second Tudor monarch Henry VIII, built the red-brick palace as a private residence for himself.

From the religious order of the Knights Hospitallers of St John Jerusalem, he obtained a private house that already stood on the property and, in 1514, began transforming it into a grand palace fit for a king. Cardinal Wolsey aspired to impress whole Europe with his luxurious palace.

However, the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey followed, as he didn’t succeed in obtaining the annulment of the marriage between  King Henry VIII and Queen Catherine of Aragon. In 1528 he lost the palace, and as Henry VIII liked Hampton Court so much he took it for himself. The King and his soon-to-be wife, Anne Boleyn, looked forward to extending and improving the palace. In today’s money, Henry VIII spent £18 million on bowling alleys, tennis courts, a huge kitchen, a lavatory system, pleasure gardens, a hunting park, a dining room known as the Great Hall, and many other additions.

The Great Gate at Hampton Court Palace. Author: Luke Nicolaides. CC BY-SA 2.0

But before the quarters of Queen Anne were completed, she was found guilty of treason and adultery and executed at the Tower of London. The first Queen to use them was the third wife of Henry VIII, Jane Seymour. On 12th October 1537, the king’s long-desired son and heir to the throne Edward was born in the Palace. Unfortunately, at Hampton Court, Jane Seymour died of postpartum complications shortly after Edward’s birth.

Anne Boleyn’s Gate. The Tudor gatehouse and astronomical clock made for Henry VIII in 1540

Each of the following monarchs left some kind of mark on the Palace. However, it experienced the greatest transformation during the joint reign of William III and Mary II. They commissioned the famous architect Sir Christopher Wren to remodel Hampton Court in Baroque style, to rival the French Palace of Versailles. During the reign of George III, Hampton Court gradually fell out of favor.

Christopher Wren’s south front built for William and Mary viewed from the Privy Garden. Author: Andreas Tille. CC BY-SA 4.0

The entrance to the Palace is through a gatehouse built by Cardinal Wolsey in 1521 that leads to the Base Court. Characteristic elements of the Palace are Tudor chimneys of different designs. There are more than 240 chimneys, although they are not the original but Victorian copies based on Tudor designs.

Decorative Tudor brick chimneys at Hampton Court Palace. Author: Billbeee. CC BY 3.0

Another Tudor gateway known as Anne Boleyn’s Gatehouse stands at the Base Court and leads to the Clock Court. A decorated gilded astronomical clock built around 1540 by Nicholas Oursian was placed there by the wishes of Henry VIII. The remarkable clock shows the time and date, the phase of the moon, the day of the year, and the sign of the Zodiac.

A passage under Anne Boleyn’s Gatehouse leads to Henry VIII’s Great Hall with its marvelous hammer-beam roof. The hall leads to the Chapel Royal, which was built by Wolsey but remodeled by Henry VIII. The chapel is probably the most beautifully decorated room in Hampton Court.

The ceiling of the Great Hall of Hampton Court Palace. Author: Diliff. CC BY 3.0

Another elegant part of the palace is the apartments built for Mary II and William III. The King’s Staircase, which includes exceptional murals in classical style by Antonio Verrio, leads to the Guard Chamber, where a collection of 17th and 18th-century weapons are displayed.

The quarters meant for Anne Boleyn are where the Queen’s apartments are located. Sir John Vanbrugh, a famous English architect, was responsible for Mary II’s rooms. The apartments created for George II contain works by Caravaggio and Sir Peter Lely, as well as other collections of art on display.

Queen Mary II’s Bedchamber

Hampton Court also has beautiful gardens. The Fountain Garden was designed in 1689 by Daniel Marot. The garden, once Henry VIII’s hunting park, includes 13 fountains and avenues of lime trees. The Privy Garden was created as a private area for the ruler.

Hampton Court Palace. Author: brian gillman. CC BY 3.0

At the end of the Privy Garden is a sunken garden designed for Mary II. The maze was planted around the year 1700 and is the oldest known and most famous hedge maze in the world. Half a millennium after Hampton Court’s initial construction, it remains one of the finest royal palaces in Europe.