Hampton Court Palace

Recently we visited Hampton Court Palace to see the tulips, which reminded me of when we first visited the palace back in 2019. Back then we were able to go inside and also booked a rooftop tour as we were members of Historic Royal Palaces at the time. I recall the rooftop tour being quite windy, and we had to be careful with our footing, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable and educational experience.

History

The Tudors – Henry VIII story

The first exhibition we went into charted how Henry’s father, Henry VII, took the crown and essentially ended the War of the Roses. Henry VIII’s older brother Arthur was meant to be king, but he fell ill before that could ever happen. Catherine of Aragon was betrothed to Arthur when she was 3! As she was the daughter of a strong and well connected monarch, the English wanted Catherine to marry Henry VIII.

Henry VIII apartments

Henry and Catherine actually remained married for 20 years. The exhibition stated that Catherine was becoming more reclusive as she grew older, but Henry was essentially out on the town every night. We learn a lot about the Tudors in school, but man, I learnt Henry was a savage when it came to women.

His second wife, Anne Boleyn, naturally didn’t want to be just a mistress so Henry married her before he even divorced his first wife, who he stopped from seeing her own daughter. And we all know a male heir was not yet produced and Boleyn was executed, but I didn’t know that Henry’s third wife Jane Seymour was Boleyn’s lady in waiting!

I also didn’t know Anne of Cleves (wife number 4) was more of a political arranged marriage and Henry divorced her within the same year as she was too plain-looking. And then his fifth wife turned out to be his fourth wife’s maid of honour – what a savage! The wives who faired the best were the ones who survived him. Henry didn’t have a wide circle of women to choose from, and I suppose if you went to one wedding there was a chance you’d end up marrying the king at his next wedding!

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We followed through the apartments and I recall actors portraying Henry VIII and three of his wives. As you continue walking, tapestries line the walls from the collection of Thomas Wolsey, Henry VIII’s chief minister. Wolsey originally owned Hampton Court, turning it from a manor house into a palace. At the time, he was the richest man in the country – bar the monarch. Wolsey gifted Hampton Court Palace to Henry VIII, what a good friend!

Here you can also see the upstairs of the chapel royal, which is still used today. A re-creation of Henry VIII’s crown is also stationed here, and we were told not to take photos as it is still currently a place of worship today, with the monarch usually using the private pew. The original crown was melted down by order of Oliver Cromwell.

The Hanoverians – Georgian story

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We saw some beautiful paintings on the ceiling before continuing our journey. King George II and Queen Caroline commissioned architect William Kent to decorate the walls and ceiling which are absolutely stunning.

We walked through many stately rooms, where the courts were held. There was even a public dining room where George I ate in front of his courtiers, which was apparently a show of health. The drawing room was lovely and had splendid paintings on the ceiling:

The Stuarts – William III apartments

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From these apartments you can see out into the privy gardens, which William III had recreated. There were so many rooms leading into one another: a guard chamber holding weapons on the walls, a throne room with a very stereotypical big red throne chair, and an eating room much like George I’s public dining room.

During the rooftop tour, we were told that people still live in Hampton Court Palace today in various apartments. I was fascinated, until we were informed there are no lifts at the palace! Most of these apartments are made of wood, so if there is a fire, it can be a little dangerous.

Gardens and Courts

Rose Garden

We actually visited the Rose Garden and Tiltyard first. When we went the roses were in full bloom and the colours were beautiful. There was also a cafe nearby that served hot food in one end and cold deli food the other end that was pretty good.

Base Court

The formidable Base Court – it felt really regal walking through here into the palace. I can definitely see why Henry VIII wanted to live here!

Fountain Court

Created by Christopher Wren, you can walk around the Fountain Court. From the rooftop tour you can better see the 12 circles lining the buildings around the Fountain Court, charting the 12 missions of Hercules.

Interestingly, and also a bit disgustingly, lion parts adorned the perimeter. Lion because it was deemed Hercules was strong, and there are four paws carved around each circle, a lion’s head at the top, and a lion’s tail tied in a knot at the bottom. An interesting, if somewhat grotesque, titbit by the tour guide.

Clock Court

The Clock Court looked really lovely on the ground. On the roof you can better see the different brickwork, showing the different periods of addition and restoration to the palace.

Privy Gardens 

The Privy Gardens were recreated by William III. When he couldn’t see the Thames River he demanded that the garden be dug up and replanted to enable him to do so. The tallest fountain in England is at the bottom of this garden. We were told on the rooftop tour that the gardens were restored to the original design, as when the gardens were dug up more recently the original layout could be seen and replicated.

The symmetry was beautiful from the rooftop tour. And when we walked through the gardens there is a sense of serenity and exoticness to it. Walking through the tunnel of leaves was also pretty cool. A stunning garden.

The Great Fountain Garden

The main gardens were beautiful from the rooftop tour. The symmetry and the lines were really clean, you could see really far away into the distance. The yew trees were historically pruned, but were later allowed to grow to the height they are today.

On the ground, it was a peaceful walk around these gardens. If you got too close to the fountain you got a little wet, but it was nice to be close to the Thames.

Pond Gardens

This was a cute little serene garden. You couldn’t walk through it, but you could peek through. These gardens were originally fish ponds for Henry VIII, and later Mary II (of William and Mary) transformed these gardens. More recently during our visit during the Tulip Festival, these gardens were magnificent.

The Great Vine

This is the world’s longest grape vine. When we visited ages ago we were able to go inside and see the grapes behind glass windows. Now 250 years old, the grapes are harvested and sold every year in the palace shop.

Conclusion

I absolutely love this palace and the rooftop tour was an added bonus. If you are a member, I would highly recommend going on a rooftop tour when tickets become available. The gardens are stunning to walk around, but seeing them from the rooftop gives a whole new dimension to the visit.

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