Hampton Court Palace is located in the royal borough of Richmond upon Thames. The palace is mostly associated with the English king Henry VIII, and it became one of his favourite palaces, but it was Henry’s Lord Chancellor and Catholic cardinal, Thomas Wolsey who after gaining possession of the site in 1514, developed it into a grand residence, that today has become one of the best known tourist attractions in the country.
Hampton Court Palace
When Wolsey first took possession he immediately started to develop the site, and over the following seven years he developed it into one of the grandest homes in the country, but in 1529 Wolsey’s relationship with Henry VIII became strained when it was starting to become obvious that the Cardinal’s attempts to secure a papal annulment for Henry’s first marriage to his then queen, Catherine of Aragon was heading for failure. Henry had much admired Hampton Court, so in an attempt to appease him, Wolsey presented Hampton Court to the king as a gift. Unfortunately for Wolsey, this only postponed the inevitable, in the November of 1530 he was imprisoned on a charge of treason, and later the same month, on his way to trial, Thomas Wolsey died. Within six months of acquiring Hampton Court, Henry commenced his own renovations for the property, which would last for the next ten years. The kitchens were expanded to cope with hosting the royal court which could exceed 1000 or so individuals. Other additions included a Great Hall, tennis courts, and a tiltyard for jousting. Despite all the extensive renovations and additions, only the Great Hall and kitchens have survived.
Visitors to Hampton Court Palace can explore the Great Hall and tour both Henry’s state apartments, and the apartments of William & Mary, as well as ay a visit to the huge Tudor kitchens. Costumed guides bring the history of the palace to life, furthermore there are permanent exhibitions, special events, and seasonal festivals. An item not on the official list of things to see are the ghosts of Hampton Court, probably the most famous is said to be that of Henry VIII’s fifth wife Catherine Howard. It is claimed that on occasions she can be seen screaming as she is being dragged back to her rooms, an incident that is said to have happened while she was under house arrest at the palace after being accused of committing adultery. Catherine was executed at The Tower of London on 13th February 1542 and was interred at the tower in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. Another ghost that it is claimed can be seen is that of The Grey Lady, who is believed to be Dame Sybil Penn who was a servant to four Tudor monarchs. Sightings go back as far as 1829 when her tomb that was sighted in the church in the village of Hampton was moved during the churches refurbishment. Another mystery is that of a ghost that has become known as the Skeletor, who was spotted in October 2003 by a palace CCTV camera.
Superb gardens surround the palace with many features such as the Tudor Knot Garden, the Wilderness Garden, Rose Garden, and the Laburnum Walk. A famous feature is the Hedge Maze which covers an area of a third of an acre, and having been created in 1690 is the oldest hedge maze in the world.
With the 17th century and the arrival of the house of Stewart to the throne of England, Hampton Court Palace appeared old fashioned when compared to the flamboyant French Court, so the building fell out of favour, and remained so until 1689 when William III and Mary II ascended to the throne. Further major renovations were undertaken. In 1694 work on the palace was stopped, leaving the building with a mix of the original Tudor styling and the then more fashionable Baroque style. And it is mostly this building we can see today.