Hampton Court Palace

by CameronM Sun, November 30 2003 16:01

Just a short train trip south of Wimbledon lies Hampton Court Palace, the former country palace of Henry VIII and later monarchs. Originally built in 1529 for Cardinal Wolsey the palace passed to King Henry VIII after Wolsey fell out of favour. While early parts of the palace date from the 1500's other sections were added by King William in the 1700's. William's "Kings Apartments" were designed by architect Christopher Wren, who coincidently lived only 5 minutes walk down the road.

Being added to and renovated has meant that while externally the palace looks reasonably consistent, the interior contains sections that are openly medieval and would have no doubt been an embarrassment to any self respecting monarch. The Tudor Kitchen is purported to be one of the best surviving from the period of Henry, however I cannot imagine the chef enjoying it's primitive setup some 200 years later.
Many of the older sections were completely gutted to make apartments for citizens who had performed notable service for king/queen and country, when the monarchs finally abandoned the palace, which means that although still an eye opening display of royal life in the 1500's, leaves with an incomplete picture.

The later additions are as you would expect far grander and well preserved than Henry's palace, with the entire new "King's Apartments" open to the public and containing much of the original furniture and artwork. Unfortunately some archaic traditions still hold, and you're not allowed to take photographs of any kind, no doubt so you'll have to buy the overpriced book at the gift shop. This means that the elegant interior will have to remain a visual mystery, although I can state that it was very nice if you like sparse rooms with heaps of tapestry.
The layout of the rooms was simple, with the public areas towards the entry and Willy's privy rooms flowing back from there. The servants could access these areas via passages leading to the kitchen and other back of house areas. In fact Willy even had a disguised door directly beside his bed in case he needed his servant during the night. One job description that would have been interesting to write is the "Stole Servant", who was charged with assisting the king while he answered the call of nature in the aptly named "Stool Room".

The life of a servant in Henry's day was even harder than this, with some of the kitchen hands, as young as 8, being accommodated in the rafters above the kitchen and sleeping on the bags of produce. It certainly would have been a hard and gruelling life, slaving away while being forced to listen to the king and his merry guests feasting away upstairs.

William's privy gardens have been restored to their former glory and have a certain symmetrical and ordered charm about them. The rest of the grounds were very extensive and including plenty of land for the king to enjoy his favourite pastime - hunting. It was during one such trip that the king fell from his horse and broke his collar bone, a minor injury that having been ignored, became infected and turned fatal. The moral of this story is...don't go hunting?

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