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Authors: Suzannah Lipscomb

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ampton Court Palace is arguably the finest remaining Tudor palace; it was certainly one of Henry VIII’s favourites. In the sixteenth century, this Tudor palace was even more magnificent, but William III and Mary II demolished some of the Tudor buildings in the late seventeenth century, replacing them with their baroque palace, meaning that today Hampton Court is a palace of two halves.

The first sight of the Tudor palace is of the Great Gatehouse, built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey — Lord Chancellor of England, papal legate and Henry VIII’s right-hand man — in 1522, and lowered in 1772 from its original five storeys. The Gatehouse bears two terracotta roundels featuring busts of Roman emperors (there are another nine in the palace) that were commissioned by Wolsey from Florentine sculptor Giovanni da Maiano to symbolise Henry’s good rule. Unfortunately, Wolsey unwittingly chose two of Rome’s worst tyrants, Nero and Tiberius, as his exemplars!

Externally, early Tudor houses often give the impression of being fortified and defensible. You will usually see crenulations,
battlements, turrets and gatehouse towers. For the most part, however, these were decorative features, rather than offering any real hope of defence.

Hampton Court is a good example: crenulated like a castle, it is nevertheless utterly indefensible, and was from the very beginning intended to be a palace of pleasure, where Wolsey and Henry VIII could entertain foreign ambassadors, feast, hunt and joust. The first courtyard, Base Court, built by Wolsey, testifies to this role: it is surrounded by forty apartments, which, with their two rooms, private garderobe (or lavatory) and fireplace, would have been the height of luxury for visiting guests. The wine fountain you can see in this courtyard is a recent installation on the site of an original fountain or conduit, and is modelled on the fountain in the Field of Cloth of Gold painting in the permanent ‘Young Henry VIII’ exhibition [see also L
]. Wolsey also built Clock Court, now named after the wonderful astronomical clock made for Henry VIII in 1540 by Nicholas Oursian, Deviser of the King’s Horologies (or ‘clockmaker’), that you can see on Anne Boleyn’s gatehouse. As well as showing the time and date, it displays the phases of the moon and the times of the tides, and features the sun orbiting the earth. (Just three years after it was made, Copernicus would discover that it was, conversely, the earth that orbited the sun.)

Although Wolsey had always referred to Hampton Court as Henry’s palace, and had built suites for both the King and Queen, Henry properly acquired the palace when Wolsey fell from grace in 1529. He spent £60,000 extending it over ten years: roughly equivalent to £19 million today. Among his additions were tennis courts, bowling alleys, a tiltyard (for jousting), the extraordinary Great Kitchens and his magnificent Great Hall with its spectacular hammer-beam ceiling. Of these, only the Great Kitchens and Great Hall survive today (although you can see some remaining towers
from the tiltyard in the grounds, one of them emerging from the eponymously named Tiltyard Café).

The Great Hall was used for feasts, masques and revels, and twice-daily meals when the court was in residence. On the most lavish occasions, it would have been hung with the priceless tapestries that adorn it today. These Abraham Tapestries that Henry had woven in the Brussels workshop of Willem de Kempaneer at vast expense in the early 1540s, signify that, like Abraham, Henry saw himself a patriarch, making a new covenant with God and being granted, in return, a son and heir late in life. If you look closely at the tapestries on the Walls of Hampton Court’s Great Hall, now tarnished by age, you can still see they are woven with threads of real gold and silver and would have glittered dazzlingly in candlelight.

Although the Great Hall was built for Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Anne was not alive to see it when it was finished in 1536. Indeed, the workmen had to quickly knock out the carvings of her heraldic beast, the falcon, and replace them with the panther of Henry’s new Queen, Jane Seymour; but they missed a couple, which can still be seen high in the rafters today.

There are, in fact, visual cues and lingering memories of all Henry’s wives in the palace. Look out for the pomegranate of Katherine of Aragon above the buttery door and the leather mâché badges on the ceiling of the Great Watching Chamber (completed in 1537), some of which feature Jane Seymour’s badge of a crowned phoenix rising from a castle between two rose bushes. Further down the Processional Gallery, Henry VIII’s Council Chamber (possibly one of two) was where a treaty of marriage between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves was signed in 1539, and it was in the Royal Pew, or Holyday Closet, of the Chapel Royal that Henry reportedly found a letter left for him by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, detailing the infidelities of his fifth wife,
Katherine Howard — the day after the kingdom had given thanks in prayer for his happy marriage [see P
]. Since her subsequent beheading, visitors have reported seeing Katherine’s ghost running screaming up and down the ‘Haunted Gallery’, attempting to plead with Henry for her life. There are also happier memories here: Henry married his last wife, Kateryn Parr on 12 July 1543 in the Queen’s Privy Closet at Hampton Court, before a select audience of only nineteen people.

The central story of Hampton Court, as the commissioning of the Abraham Tapestries reveals, is that this was the birthplace of Henry’s only legitimate son and heir, Edward, later King Edward VI. After an excruciating labour of two days and three nights, Jane gave birth to Edward on 12 October 1537. These glad tidings were long awaited, and one letter to Henry VIII expressed the mood of the kingdom when it congratulated him on ‘the most joyful news that has come to England these many years of the birth of a prince’. Prince Edward’s christening in the Chapel at Hampton Court on 15 October was an ostentatious and impressive affair. Under its gorgeous blue and gold-starred ceiling, with its baby-faced gilt cherubs, the great and good of Tudor England assembled for a ceremony that lasted for hours.

The apartments that were built for the new young prince are still standing, and you can see them on the left of Chapel Court. The Royal Collection paintings at Hampton Court also evoke this heritage. In the Processional Gallery, you can see a seventeenth-century copy of the Whitehall Mural by Remigius van Leemput [see T
] that recreates, in miniature, a painting that was almost certainly finished when Jane was pregnant with Edward. A full-length portrait of the boy-king, nearby, mimics his father’s famous stance in the mural. Finally,
The Family of Henry VIII
painting of 1545 outside the Chapel Royal depicts Henry VIII at the proud centre of his family, between the young
Edward, his favourite wife, Jane Seymour, and Princesses Mary and Elizabeth. (The other two figures are almost certainly Henry’s court fool, Will Somer, and a female fool called Jane.)

The only trouble is that this last picture is fictional. Jane Seymour did not live until 1545; in fact, she never left the childbed where she had so victoriously given Henry his much desired son. Just two weeks after Edward’s birth, she died of puerperal sepsis, or childbed fever. Her heart and innards are buried in the chapel, while the procession to her funeral at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle started from Hampton Court. The joys and griefs of Henry VIII echo off the walls of this, his most incredible surviving palace.


Henry VIII’s life was dogged and determined by his hope of having sons. He, and most people of his time, believed that one of his most important tasks as King was to provide at least one adult male heir to succeed him peacefully when he died.

This was not misogyny on Henry’s part; rather, there was no precedent of female rule: England had never had a crowned queen regnant (a ruling queen, as opposed to a queen consort). In the twelfth century, Matilda, the daughter of Henry I, had succeeded to the throne and was immediately challenged by her cousin, Stephen of Blois. Their struggle for the throne led to civil war in England, and Matilda was never crowned. Henry VIII feared that if one of his daughters succeeded him, it would prompt civil war or, worse, she
would marry a foreign prince and bring England under the rule of a foreign power (as indeed did occur when Mary I married Philip II of Spain). For this reason, in sixteenth-century France, under the ‘Salic law’, women were not able to succeed to the throne.

So Henry needed a son. He also needed that son to be at least fifteen years old by the time of his death. Children could not rule alone and, instead, would be governed by a regent or group of councillors. This was never ideal — as the example of Richard III and the ‘Princes in the Tower’ had shown, regents were not always to be trusted, and if there were many councillors, their tussle for power over a young king might also endanger the peace and security of the country.

Henry VIII had grown up aware of his history: he knew that in the thirty years before his father became king, England had been in an on-off state of bloody civil war, fought between the Lancastrians and the Yorkists (the Wars of the Roses). The marriage of his father and mother, he a Lancastrian, she a Yorkist, had brought peace, and the last thing that Henry VIII wanted was to return England to bloodshed. He needed a line of adult princes to prevent it from happening again.

This meant making haste: Henry himself had been only seventeen when his father died at the age of fifty-two. He was worried that if he didn’t have a son by his early thirties, he might die in his fifties without an adult male heir. Sadly, that was exactly what came to pass. His son Edward was only nine when Henry died. Nor was one son enough. Children died easily. Henry’s own brother, Arthur, had died at the age of fifteen. Henry’s own sons — the illegitimate Henry Fitzroy [see
], and his legitimate heir, later King Edward VI — died aged seventeen and fifteen respectively.

So, having sons remained a priority for Henry VIII until the end; the peace and prosperity of England rested on the fruit of his wives’ wombs. Ironically, he could never know that all three of his legitimate children would reign; that his youngest daughter would prove to be one of England’s greatest monarchs; and that his dynasty would, nevertheless, end after his children’s generation.

‘Divine Providence has mingled my joy with the bitterness of the death of her who brought me this happiness.’

t George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle has played a unique role in British history as the burial place for many kings and queens, among them Edward VIII and Queen Alexandra, George V and Queen Mary, and George VI and Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. The stunning perpendicular chapel was the brainchild of Edward IV, and work started in 1475, but Henry VII added the intricate vaulted ceiling and Henry VIII completed the chapel. It is Henry VIII’s magnificent coat of arms that features above the organ loft between the nave and the quire. Above all, it is a place of pilgrimage because it is the burial place of King Henry VIII and his third and favourite wife, Jane Seymour.

There is an extraordinary amount of beautiful detail to spot in the chapel, and you could while away many hours taking it all in. Like Henry VII’s chapel at Westminster Abbey, which features the
Knights of the Bath, the quire at St George’s displays the carved and painted crests of the Knights of the Garter (the more recent female Knights have coronets and no swords, with the exception of Her Majesty the Queen). Henry VIII’s ‘stall plate’ (bronze plaque) marking his own infant elevation to the Garter is here (you can spot it as the highest and one of the largest in the stall, two to the left of the Sovereign’s). The beautiful, wooden oriel window in the quire was built for Katherine of Aragon, and is carved with intertwining roses and pomegranates.

The south quire aisle is a veritable treasure trove. Look out for the panel painting of four kings, including Henry VII, and the recovered stall plate of Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk, created a Knight of the Garter (KG) in 1559, but convicted of treason in 1572, when his plaque was removed. A stained-glass window nearby features Henry VIII, Edward VI, Jane Seymour and Elizabeth I (notably, no Mary I), each with their motto. Elizabeth’s motto ‘
Video taceo
’ means ‘I see and remain silent’ -perhaps advice for tourists browsing the chapel? Of particular note, also, is the Lincoln Chapel with its sixteenth-century alabaster tomb of Edward Fiennes de Clinton, Earl of Lincoln KG, Lord High Admiral and Governor of the Tower of London under Elizabeth I. His third wife, Elizabeth FitzGerald, is buried with him. At her feet there is an unusual burial mascot: a monkey, which alludes to the role one played in rousing her family during a thirteenth-century fire.

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