Sunday, July 15, 2012

Some kings, some queens and some ghosts: Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace, home to Henry VIII, and later, William and Mary.  Full of history, stories and so much more.  This is something I've been dying to see for a very long time, so I was naturally extremely excited to finally go today.

First, as always, a little background.  Hampton Court was first purchased by Cardinal Wolsey in 1514 from the Order of St. John in Jerusalem.  He immediately began work on it to turn it into a palace.  When things went south for Wolsey (he would have gone to the block if he hadn't died of natural causes), Henry took control of Hampton Court and continued with the renovation process.  After Henry's death, Hampton Court wasn't used as much until William and Mary came to the throne in the Glorious Revolution, a bloodless revolution where Mary took the throne from her Catholic father, James II.  The new King and Queen of England planned to demolish Henry's palace and build a completely new and "modern" one.  Thankfully they didn't, instead they completely renovated a third of it.  Work on the palace stopped in 1694.  Since it was built by two monarchs reigning in two very different time periods each with a unique artistic style, Hampton Court Palace boasts both Tudor style and Baroque style, which is evident in the architecture, artwork, furniture, etc.

The first stop was the Tudor kitchens.  There, you got a sense of what exactly it took to feed the royal court day after day.  Court was a lavish place, and the food had to reflect the wealth of Henry.  I mean, if the court didn't eat expensive, fancy food, how could Henry afford anything else in his kingdom?  Besides, Henry was known to like the finer things in life, especially food (I mean, look at his size later in life!).

Now, in Tudor times, water wasn't safe to drink.  Instead, at court they drank wine, lots and lots of wine.  This is the wine cellar where the wine was stored in large barrels.  It would be poured into ceramic pitchers and taken up to the dining hall to be served.  Beer was served as well, but wine was the favorite at court.  Wine then was dark, strong and bitter, not like the wine we have today.

Above is a video from a very interesting television show I saw about a year ago on Henry VIII's body, health, etc.  In it, they show you exactly how much Henry ate in a week.  It's definitely worth watching.  Even if you think you know how much he ate (just look at him!), it'll still shock you.

On to more of Henry's beautiful palace.  This is the Great Hall.  This is where court would have spent time eating, dancing, etc.  It's a gorgeous room with subtle hints at the past wives of the monarch.  Hidden up in a corner are Henry and Anne Boleyn's initials entwined together.  After Anne's downfall and subsequent execution, these were removed, except they forgot one, which you can still see today.  The beautiful tapestries are Belgium I believe, and they cover the entire walls.  At the far end is where Henry and his wife (whichever one it may be) would sit and eat.  There are high, vaulted ceilings with gorgeous stain glass windows on either side to let in the light.

Next room down is the Great Watching Chamber.  This is where Kathryn Howard's household was told of her arrest and downfall after Henry found out she was having an affair in 1541.  The household was promptly dismissed (fired).  Kathryn's downfall was swift, but she wasn't going to go down without a fight.

One day, Kathryn slipped past her guards when she knew her beloved Henry would be in the halls on the way to Mass.  She ran screaming down this hall to the Chapel Royal and proceeded to bang on the door, begging desperately for mercy until she was finally caught and returned to captivity in her apartments.  She was to never see her husband again.

The story goes, Kathryn's ghost now runs down the hallway to the end where she wrings her hands in despair and disappears.  Her hand is also known to appear, and sometimes she grabs women's throats as they stop to look around.  The above picture has what could be an orb, or it could be a glare.  There were no windows across from the painting, and no overhead lights.  I'm not going to say definitively either way that it is or is not a ghost.  I'd like to think it is, but I'm just not sure.  It looks like a glare, but the location is right next to Henry's painting.  I will tell you, I took a few pictures from this location, and none of them had this glare.

While all this was going on with Kathryn, Henry was here, at Chapel Royal, hearing Mass.  Now this isn't one of my photos, they don't allow photos in the chapel.  It was renovated about 300 or so years ago, but it still looks similar to what Henry would have seen.  It's a lot smaller than I thought it would be.  You can still see where Henry and his sixth wife, Katherine Parr, knelt while at Mass, and that's up in the balcony.

The King's Council Chamber.  This is where Henry sat with his council to talk about important business, such as the decline in his marriages (that happened a lot), new marriages, politics, war, France, his children, etc.  There was a lot for the King of England to do back then.  Remember, England was a monarchy then, a complete monarchy, so Henry ran the entire country, which included Ireland, Scotland, Wales and part of France (they thought he should rule all of France, but we're not going to go there).  In this room, they had video monitors with recordings of actors talking about pressing issues.  It reminded me of the new Star Wars trilogy where the Jedi council have holograms of the Jedi Masters who can't be there for whatever reason.

Now, remember, part of Hampton Court Palace was used by William III and Mary II.  Here's a little bit of background about them.  Mary's father was James II of England, and he was *shudders* a Catholic!  Now, this may not seem like a big deal to you, but at the time, it was a VERY big deal in England.  In fact, after James II, a constitution was written and it says that the monarch cannot be Catholic, no matter what.  So, James was Catholic, and in the almost hundred years since the break with Rome, the English found that they rather enjoyed the freedom of being their own unique hybrid between Catholicism and Protestantism.  James II really wasn't working out for them.  He preached religious tolerance.  Who does he think he is?  I mean, what does he expect, for Catholics and Protestants to actually get along?  Next thing you know France and England will be friends.  I mean, come on, let's get serious, this man was a nutcase with his "religious tolerance" policy.

Thankfully, James had a daughter, Mary, and, to make things better, she was Protestant.  Finally, a light at the end of the tunnel!  So, Parliament reached out to Mary and her Dutch husband, William of Orange.  They had to act quick though, because James' wife just gave birth to a son, and he was now the heir, and he might be Catholic like his father.  William sailed to England with a fleet of ships, prepared for a violent coup.  There were only 2 minor skirmishes though, and some anti-Catholic riots in some villages, but that was about it.  James didn't really seem to care what happened, and he gave up the throne to his daughter and son-in-law in a relatively bloodless and peaceful regime change, which ended the reign of Catholicism over England permanently.

So, back to Hampton Court Palace.  William and Mary used it as a summer palace.  Pictured above is the Guards Chamber.  Williams guards would all sleep in here when he and his wife were in residence at the palace.  The walls are decorated in elaborate designs with guns of all sizes and swords.  All of the weapons were completely functional and could easily be taken down at any point should the palace need protecting.

Above is William's Privy Chamber.  This is where he sat with his most trusted and closest members of his council to talk about important matters at hand in the kingdom.  By this point, the monarchy was a constitutional monarchy, so it had fairly limited power, but there were still important matters for William and his council to take care of.

We also have the king's private dining room.  He couldn't eat with the rest of the court every day, that sometimes all you want in life is a little bit of privacy and some peace and quiet, which the court definitely doesn't provide.

Much to my surprise (and delight), there were a few actors walking around Hampton Court Palace, just doing their thing and talking to each other.  Above we have the man of the hour, Henry VIII, with Thomas Seymour, brother to wife number three, Jane Seymour.  This is all supposed to take place as Henry is falling out of love with Anne Boleyn and in love with the chaste and pure Jane Seymour.  Anne was loud, in your face and demanding, everything a wife shouldn't be at the time.  On the other hand, Jane was quiet and easy going.  This is even reflected in Jane's motto she'd adopt after marrying Henry: "bound to serve and obey."  She'd do whatever she was told to do, while Anne liked to be the one calling the shots.  The two women were really polar opposites, and the Seymour family managed to stay in favor with the King until his death (probably something to do with the fact that Jane gave Henry that son he always wanted).

 In addition to a beautiful palace, Hampton Court Palace also hosts some absolutely gorgeous gardens.  This is where the King and/or Queen would have gone for a walk (maybe together), gone on picnics, etc.  There were gorgeous trees and flowers everywhere, not to mention a stunning view of the back of the palace.

If you go to Hampton Court Palace, make sure to set aside some time to walk around the gardens a little bit and explore them as well.  Even if the weather's a little damp, you'll still enjoy them.  Besides, British weather's so temperamental that it'll change again soon in a few minutes.

The Palace was a dream come true.  I got to see where some of my favorite people in history walked, and some still walk there as ghosts, and literally be thrust right into history.  It was all so absolutely amazing.  The Palace is so much bigger than you'd think.  I tried to find an aerial shot, but I couldn't.  There's no real way for you to understand just how massive this Palace is until you go there for yourself and walk its halls.

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