Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fit for Kings

Today I accomplished another goal on this trip...I went to Hampton Court Palace, a place of great history. Check that palace off of the Anglophile's To Do List.

Begun in 1515, Cardinal Wolsey, Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII, transition Hampton Court from a medieval manor into a palace for himself. After visiting in 1514 with his first Queen, Katherine of Aragon visited for the first time. Henry liked it so much that he claimed it for himself. After Wolsey lost his fortune, power, and prestige, he gave up Hampton Court to Henry. Henry made vast improvements to the Palace, building the Great Hall with its richly ornamented ceiling and the Chapel Royal with a fan-vaulted wooden ceiling. The 16th century kitchens provide a glimpse into what it would have been like to prepare food for hundreds of people on a regular basis.

Hampton Court is also the location for many of the joyous and tragic moments in Henry's life. Jane Seymour gave birth to Prince Edward in 1537, who was baptized in the Chapel Royal. Jane then died shortly after the birth. Henry's 5th wife, the silly Catherine Howard, was interrogated and kept under house arrest at the palace in 1541 after Henry learned of her supposed dalliances and possible adulterous behaviors. And Henry married his final wife Katheryn Parr in the Chapel Royal in 1543.

The Palace found a new life under William III and Mary II, who transformed large portions of the buildings into what its present form. In 1689, Sir Christopher Wren demolished large parts of the Tudor palaces and built new Grand Halls and a series of State Rooms. These apartments today are filled with porcelain, furniture, paintings, and tapestries. These privy rooms weren't actually used as private bedchambers, but were as viewing rooms for visiting with the royals. These series of State Rooms would slowly decrease the crowd of courtiers from who wanted to see the king and queen down to who actually was able to meet and converse with the king and queen.  For William III,  he kept a series of private apartments on the ground floor below his State Rooms.

And behind the scenes were true people who helped and served the royals with the very private of private activities. Exhibits also were devoted to the servants and people who served the royalty, such as the Pages of the Bedchamber, the Laundress of the Body, and the Seamstress and Starcher.

Hampton Court also has a lovely series of gardens. The 59-acres of gardens are made up of Tudor and Knot Gardens, rose gardens, a Maze (a Wren-work), and fountains, and Orangery and Exotics Garden.

I enjoyed tea and cake after walking through all of the gardens and palace, and my favorite aspect was being in the place that hosted so much history that I have learned about. Walking through the hallways with the rounded domed ceilings by the kitchens, I couldn't help imagine what it would have been like to be in those very cold and cavernous hallways when unprecedented events were happening above in Henry's Great Hall. It was truly awe-inspiring to be on site.

Photos from the day can be found here.

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