Hampton Court Palace, Surrey


Hampton Court Palace, Surrey

A favourite residence of Henry VIII's is an unsurpassed Tudor legacy.

Luxurious Hampton Court Palace retains the kitchens and state apartments dating from the Sixteenth Century. The magnificent appearance is also a testament to later monarchs who coveted and added to the royal palace in grand style for more than 200 years.

The palace is set in 60 acres of parkland on the banks of the River Thames and is now managed by charitable organisation Historic Royal Palaces. Chris Gidlow, Historic Royal Palaces events and interpretation manager, said: "The site was first built on in the Twelfth Century by monks from the Order of St John. They farmed rabbits on the parkland to raise money for the Crusades. Knights took over the land in the Thirteenth Century and in the Sixteenth Century it was leased to raise extra money. Thomas Wolsey, a key player in Henry VIII's government, took up a 99 year lease in 1513."

Wolsey, an ambitious man, continued to prosper in his career and he soon became a cardinal and Lord Chancellor of England. Chris said: "Wolsey's palace was fashioned in Renaissance style according to Italian guidance about architecture fitting for cardinals. It was a unique venture in England for its time but building was cut short when the project was only a third of the way through."


In 1528 Henry VIII wanted to divorce his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, and was unhappy Wolsey did not secure Papal backing for the move. Wolsey was stripped of most of his titles and assets. Henry VIII moved into Hampton Court Palace.

Chris said: "Henry VIII soon started his own building work which carried on for the rest of his life. The jousting court was not completed before his death in 1547 and was first used by his daughter Mary. Henry VIII's Palace was one of the most impressive in Europe. It included expansive state apartments, kitchens covering 36,000 square feet, a great hall and a sophisticated toilet building. The two-storey toilet house, the Great House of Ease, was built in 1534. It was constantly fed by running water from the Thames. There were 13 seats on each floor and it was a definite advantage to be on the upper floor. The building is now the offices of our chief executive."

Henry VIII changing marital circumstances added to the workload for the Palace builders. Chris said: "The redecoration of a wing for Anne Boleyn was underway when Henry moved on to Jane Seymour. The workers laboured through the night to change the decorative insignia to suit the new queen but some slipped through the net. Seymour gave birth to Edward, a future king, at Hampton Court Palace in 1537."

The Palace was popular with later Tudor monarchs. Mary I honeymooned at Hampton Court. In the Elizabethan era, it was a retreat for Elizabeth I during a bout of small pox in 1571.


James I's Hampton Court Conference of 1604 was called to air religious debate and resulted in the production of The Authorized King James Version of the Bible. Chris said: "Oliver Cromwell's liking of the Palace saved many of the early artefacts we still hold. Royal assets were sold and often split up in the English Civil War. Cromwell bought Hampton Court to be his own home and kept the contents in one place. His interest is the main reason the palace is so well preserved in comparison to others of the same age."

The next and final major changes at Hampton Court took place in the reign of William III and Mary II. Chris said: "William and Mary wanted a break from the previous regime and planned to radically redevelop Hampton Court. They commissioned Christopher Wren to design a new building to rival the Versailles Palace. By this time, monarchs needed government approval for such vast expenditure and the grandiose scheme was not approved. In the end only part of Henry VIII's state apartments were demolished to make way for new look for the South-east side of the palace, leaving the image of a Tudor building for those approaching from the West. William was a keen hunter and took an interest in the parkland. He also commissioned the fantastic Yew-tree puzzle maze, which even with plenty of luck it takes at least 45 minutes to navigate."

Royal interest in the Palace waned following the reign of William and Mary. Chris said: "Monarchs in the Eighteenth Century enjoyed the residence, especially for the hunting experience, but it never regained the place it held at the heart of court life. Today the Palace has been restored to its heyday. Visitors can see the stunning architecture and gardens as well as impressive displays, such as the Royal Art Collection spanning 500 years. You really need a whole day to see everything the palace has to reveal from its past."

Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey
Surrey, KT8 9AU
Information line: 0870 752 7777

Pictures from Historic Royal Palaces

Left: South East front
Top: West front
Below: Sunken garden

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