Originally posted on Blogger on 14 May 2015
On 10 April, I headed from RUL to London Waterloo via the Tube to catch a train to Hampton Court around 10:30. I’d been looking forward to this for awhile. The week before had been Easter and since the Chapel Royal is still used for services, I put the trip off for a week to avoid the people who would undoubtedly swarm the place on one of the holiest days of the year. I was also excited because Hampton Court is one of two surviving palaces from the reign of Henry VIII, and it was the story of his daughter, Elizabeth I, that gotten me interested in English history. From the beginning of the semester, I was researching when it opened for the summer.
When I arrived, I bought a ticket and started wandering. There was an option to rent an audio guide like there are in many museums around the world, but I know a lot about the people who populated the corridors (especially in the Tudor Era), that I didn’t see a need for it, nor did I want one. I wanted to simply go, pay for my ticket, and wander the same corridors I’d spent late nights reading about.
The Great Hall was one of the centres of Tudor court life. Not only was this where meals were eaten, but during and after meals there was often dancing, music, and other forms of entertainment. The photo below was taken from the main entrance of the room, looking up to where the king and queen would sit. All of Henry VIII’s wives except Katherine of Aragon sat here. The ceiling is a beautiful ornamental wood, while many of the windows were of stained glass. The tapestries on the walls likely depict various moments of success in the reigns of kings both before Henry VIII and Henry VIII himself. The tapestries served both to provide ornament to the walls and added warmth to a room that despite many candles would often be cold due to the mini ice age England was going through at the time.
The next room was a trophy room. The walls are covered in the mounted antlers of deer. Knowing Henry VIII liked hunting, it didn’t surprise me, but it did make me wonder if any of them were from the sixteenth century.
Here’s some stained glass from one of the rooms beyond the Great Hall:
While walking through a corridor on my way to the Chapel Royal, I came across these three paintings of the Tudor dynasty.
One of the legends attached to Hampton Court is about Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard. Catherine was seventeen when she caught Henry’s eye in 1540. It was after the Anne of Cleves debacle which culminated in Thomas Cromwell, a long time servant of Henry’s, to lose his head. Catherine began a liaison with Thomas Culpepper, a man of Henry VIII’s privy chamber. This would prove disastrous to all parties involved: Catherine, Culpepper, and the woman who helped them meet in secret, Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford. Jane had been married to Catherine’s cousin, George Boleyn, who had been beheaded in 1536, accused of similar accusations in his case with his sister, Anne, the Queen of England.
Thomas Culpepper and Francis Dereham, another man who had also had liaisons with Catherine, were beheaded in public at Tyburn and their heads were placed on spikes on London Bridge for all to see. Catherine Howard and Jane Boleyn – as befitted their rank – were beheaded on Tower Green.
The legend says that when Catherine was arrested, she broke free of her guards and tried to get to Henry. At this late point, she still believed the king would save her. The legend also says that her spirit still haunts a corridor of Hampton Court.
Personally, I didn’t seek out Catherine’s ghost, but I thought about the many things that have been ripped away from people in this place.
There is also a section of the palace that was rebuilt by William III in 1689. I have to admit I rushed through that bit. I’ve never been partial to seventeenth century architecture, and I was more interested in the Tudor part and the gardens than looking at a section built by people I don’t know much about, nor do I know much about the time period they lived in. After all, why should I pay attention to that when what I wanted was there as well.
One of the spots I wanted to find was the kitchens. The kitchens are one of the bits that have stayed the same since the reign of Henry VIII. Because of the historical dramas I’ve watched and photos I’ve looked at, I had some idea of what they looked like, but I wanted to see them in person. Unfortunately, for awhile I couldn’t find them.
In the meantime, I went to the gardens and wandered through while eating a cup of mint chocolate chip ice cream. I also found a spot under a tree to read.
Then, after a lot of searching and looking at a map, I found my way to the kitchens.
The serving chamber
The open-air passage to the kitchens
Hampton Court was a great trip. I’m so glad I went. I’ve spent so much of the last ten years of my life reading about the people who populated the rooms in the Tudor era, and being able to retrace some of their steps and to walk through the gardens they would’ve walked through, it was a great day. I’m also certain that the fact I went on a sunny day leant itself to it. It wasn’t one of the days they say are so common in England. It was gorgeous and sunny whenever I was outside, and even inside, the sun shone in through the windows. It’s one of the most beautiful places, and the fact I’m obsessed with the Tudor era and Hampton Court is one of two surviving palaces from the period, makes it more special to me. I’m so happy I got to go to England for a semester, and managed to fit in a place that has so much of the history and time I love embedded in it.