Hampton Court is a magnificent sprawling Palace, located in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, which retains a special place in the history of the British Monarchy. Founded by The Knights Hospitallers of St John Jerusalem, who acquired the manor of Hampton in 1236 and used the site as a grange where produce was stored and accounts kept, the Palace is best known as the favoured residence of King Henry VIII (r. 1509-1547), he of the many wives and scourge of the Catholic Church. But in fact, it was a the King’s close friend Thomas Wolsey, the Archbishop of York who would later become a Cardinal and Lord Chancellor, who acquired the lease in 1514 and transformed the grand private house into a palace fit for a King.
Following on from Wolsey’s initial building work, Henry VIII spent more than £62,000 (£18 million in today’s money) in just 10 years, rebuilding and extending Hampton Court. By the time Henry had finished his building works at Hampton Court Palace in about 1540, the palace was one of the most modern, sophisticated and magnificent in England.
There were tennis courts, bowling alleys and pleasure gardens for recreation, a hunting park of more than 1,100 acres, kitchens covering 36,000 square feet, a fine chapel, a vast communal dining room (the Great Hall) and was a venue that hosted important European delegations, who were treated to ostentatious displays of wealth and conspicuous consumption to assist in the closing of trade deals and signing treaties that would help improve England’s position in Europe.
A fantastic place to glimpse the former opulence and majesty of Royalty during the middle-ages onwards and also home to the annual Hampton Court Flower Show, here are 5 features of the Palace that will leave you in awe and amazement…
Henry VIII Kitchens
The Tudor kitchens at Hampton Court Palace are a living monument to 230 years of royal cooking and entertainment. Built to feed the Court of Henry VIII these kitchens (the largest of Tudor England) were designed to feed at least 600 people twice a day. Between their construction in 1530 and the royal family’s last visit to the palace in 1737, the kitchens were a central part of palace life. The kitchens had a number of Master Cook’s, each with a team of Yeomen and Sergeants working for them in what was a vast operation, larger than any modern hotel, and one that had to cope without modern conveniences.
The Privy Garden
The Privy Garden as it appears today is one of the most accurately reconstructed gardens because so much was recorded about the original 1702 garden. Using incredibly detailed accounts the garden has been restored to how it would have looked for William III (r. 1689–1702). The Tijou Screen, an elaborate gate consisting of twelve panels whose central motifs symbolize parts of the United Kingdom in wrought iron, is an outstanding feature of the Privy Garden.
Hampton Court Maze
The most famous maze in the history of the world can be found in “The Wilderness” section of the Hampton Court Palace Gardens. Commissioned by William III around 1700, the maze at Hampton Court was designed by George London and Henry Wise and was originally planted using hornbeam and later replanted using yew. The maze covers a third of an acre, is trapezoid in shape and is the UKs oldest surviving hedge maze. Known as a multi-cursal or puzzle maze it is renowned for confusing and intriguing visitors with its many twists, turns and dead ends.
The Great Hall
Englands last and greatest medieval hall, this splendid chamber (108 feet long by 40 feet wide and 60 feet high) was used for banquets, receptions, masques and balls, and other functions. The room is spanned by a large and sumptuously decorated hammer-beam roof and its walls are hung with Henry VIII’s most splendid tapestries, The Story of Abraham. It is also one of Britain’s oldest theatres and played host to William Shakespeare’s company – the ‘King’s Men’ – who performed for King James I over Christmas and New Year in 1603/4.
Andrea Mantegna’s Triumphs of Caesar
Art lovers should head straight for Royal Collection at the Palace to see a set of paintings revered as one of the most famous in the whole history of European art. The Triumphs of Caesar are a series of nine large paintings created by Italian renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna that were purchased by King Charles I and brought to England in 1630. They show an imaginary procession depicting Julius Caesar on a triumphal chariot returning from his successful campaigns, in a procession of Roman soldiers, standard-bearers, musicians and the spoils of war including an assortment of booty (including arms, intricate sculpture and gold vases), exotic animals and captives.
Hampton Court Palace, Hampton Court Palace, Surrey KT8 9AU; Opening Hours, Mon to Sun 10am-6pm, Tel: 0844 482 7777 (from the UK), +44 (0)20 3166 6000 (from outside the UK)