How useful is a visit to the Tudor parts of Hampton Court to find out how Henry VIII used the palace
Hampton Court Palace was originally owned by Cardinal Wolsey, he brought it in 1514. Not much is known about its uses before Wolsey but it is thought to have been a manor house. Wolsey had been a close friend of Henry VIII; he had been Archbishop of York, Cardinal and Lord Chancellor, he became the most powerful subject in England. When Wolsey obtained the Palace in 1514 he used it to reflect his wealth and status.
Wolsey soon became a man of magnificence and foreigners began to assume he was king in all but name. However, in 1523 Wolsey had fallen from power as the Pope had refused to annul Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Wolesy was seen to have failed. He was forced to give Henry VIII Hampton Court and four other houses. In the time of Henry VIII the uses of a Tudor Palace could be broken down into three main categories; Occasions of state, Court entertainments and daily use.
Before Henry VIII the uses of previous Royal residences were rather different, whereas in the Tudor times Royal Palaces where about image and impression, prior to Henry VIII Royal residences were often large stone castles used for defence; this change had been gradual and had taken hundreds of years. In order to find out how Henry VIII used Hampton Court, as well as making a visit to the Palace itself we can also use written and pictorial sources or we can look at Henry VIII’s other Palaces.
One thing we first need to understand is that in the Tudor times image was everything for a monarch there was no television or newspapers as most people could not read or write and with the printing press still in its infancy it meant that the political significance of Royal Buildings, coats of arms and physical appearance out weighed written material. A monarch’s residence had to be magnificent showing all its visitors the power of the monarch; visitors would include foreign ambassadors and his own mobility.
Henry VIII would use his Palaces for various functions such as entertaining, business, court matters, ceremonies, religious purposes and of course for leisure and private use; when the King was present Hampton Court was the centre of government. Today Hampton Court can tell us about the above uses however; we must keep in mind that subsequent owners have altered parts of the palace, in some places beyond recognition in order to put their own mark on the Palace.
For example, when William and Mary came into possession of Hampton Court they decided to replace the, by then, old fashioned Tudor Palace with a more modern one, the Baroque style designed by Sir Christopher Wren. They had intended to transform the whole of Hampton Court but time and money were short and only the King’s and Queen’s apartments and the south and east sides and only one courtyard were rebuilt.
As mentioned before, by now there was little need for castles due to the relative peace in England; this meant that Henry could now concentrate on making his Palaces reflect his wealth and power. We can see that he did just this with Hampton Court; once in royal possession he set about creating a Palace that was to impress and intrigue all who visited. In 1534 he employed the following: * 49 Masons * 52 Bricklayers * 52 Carpenters * 13 Joiners 9 Plumbers * 12 Sawyers * 4 Plasterers * 141 Labourers In total he employed 332 workers and spent i?? 62,00 (roughly i?? 20 million today) on enlarging and extending Hampton Court in order to accommodate the Royal Court, he then went on to embellish the house with lavish decoration and furniture, dazzling visitors and ensuring that foreign ambassadors were suitably impressed when they visited this most splendid display of wealth and power.
No surface was left undecorated, tapestries hung over linen fold panelling, ceilings were moulded and gilded, canopies of golden cloth hung elegantly and floors were scented with saffron rushes. By the end of Henry VIII’s reign he owned around 60 houses filled with luxurious interiors including over 2000 tapestries, these being one of the main ways of displaying the power and wealth of the king.
Unfortunately there are parts of Hampton Court that have been lost; when William III and Queen Mary (1689-1694) commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to modernise Hampton Court to their taste Henry VIII’s apartments were demolished and so today we can no longer see Henry lived privately, there would also be little information that we could use to find out as Hampton Court worked upon a hierarchy and the Kings apartments where he lived privately were very much reserved only for the entrance of Henry and the highest of the hierarchy, the Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber.
Today we can only rely on what we can see of Hampton Court and deduce that Henry’s private rooms would have been highly decorated, much the same as the rest of the palace would have been. Some other rooms that have either been removed or significantly changed are the Royal Chapel and the Holy Day Closets. The Chapel Royal was first built by Wolesy, but Henry added a new decorated ceiling. The magnificent vaulted ceiling was installed in 1535-6 and replaced and earlier ceiling erected by Wolesy.
The ceiling was painted blue with gold stars and has magnificent gilded pendants carved with angels singing and playing instruments. The Royal motto “Dieu et Mon Droit” can be seen in several places painted in gold letters and had traditional furnishings with crimson velvet and damask. In the Tudor times is was normal for every palace and grand house to have its own Chapel, the King would pray at least once a day here and more often on holy days. It was divided into two parts, the Royal Pew and the Chapel proper; the Royal Pew is part of the State Apartments and was where Henry and his friends would sit.
The Pew was divided into two large rooms, once for the King and one for the Queen; both rooms on looked the Chapel. Today however, it is now just a central room. Christenings and weddings were also held in the chapel. This is how the chapel looks today, parts have changed since Tudor times stained glass windows have been removed and a large wooden carved board has been put up. This is a reconstruction of the East end of the Chapel Royal, as it would have appeared in Henry’s time. Above the Chapel were the Holy Day Closets and it was here the Henry heard mass twice a day in his own private chapel.
They were used by the King and Queen who could follow the service through windows that overlooked the Chapel Royal. It soon became customary to conduct business here, as it was difficult to persuade Henry to concentrate on signing official papers. It was the one time of the day that Henry’s ministers knew he would be in one place for the duration of the service. However; today not all of Hampton Court has been significantly changed, in fact some parts have remained virtually untouched, The Great Hall, The Great Watching Chamber and The Kitchen.
The Great Hall is where the common servants and lesser officials would eat, Court entertainments including masques and dancing were held in The Great Hall and there was a minstrel’s gallery. It was decorated with a most excellent taste, there is a hammer beam roof with ornately carved grotesque heads and coats of arms all beautifully painted and gilded. Carefully sewn tapestries hung upon the walls providing not only insulation but also beautiful decoration. There was also a large fire in the middle of the hall with a louvred vent in the middle of the roof to take out smoke.
Unfortunately the fire and vent have gone – a brass plaque in the middle of the floor marks were it was. This room was the first room most visitors would walk into and certainly would have been a magnificent site, setting the path of excellence and luxury that follows throughout the Palace. The intention of the hall and its extravagant decoration was to give all visitors a sense of Henry’s importance and to reflect his Kingship, the clear message being that Henry was an extremely important man, he had a lot of power and influence and equally as important he had a lot of money.
Inside Hampton Court there was strict rules that meant that everyone was to eat communally in the Great Hall and worshiped in the Chapel, these rules also helped to set out the obvious hierarchy that existed, despite the fact that Henry invited so many to Hampton Court this was because it was so important for the king to demonstrate his superiors power and wealth to his richest subjects and visiting ambassadors, at the same time he had to make sure that the people he ruled appreciated his power and liked him.
Between the Great Hall and the Great Watching Chamber the Horn room lay, originally as a waiting room for servants bringing food up to both rooms, there staircase led up from the kitchens and today the Tudor oak steps still remain. The room acquired its name from the many horns that were placed upon its walls as decoration; the horns there today only date back to the 17th Century. The Great Watching Chamber was originally the first of the King’s state apartments and served two purposes, as a guard room where the yeomen were stationed to control access to the King and as dining room for the senior courtiers.
Tapestries hung upon the walls, depicting the story of Abraham from the Old Testament and were richly interwoven with silver and gilt thread and a geometric ceiling baring the badges of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour are all that remains of the original di?? cor of the room today. The great Tudor fireplace has been removed as well as the heraldic frieze; the stained glass there today has also been changed. From the Watching chamber you could enter the pages chamber curtains cleverly disguised the entrance.
In here pages would wait upon the nobles in the Great Watching Chamber, it also functioned as a waiting room for courtiers, they could be helped into their ceremonial robes by the pages before being presented to the King. The furniture was basic and all of oak, the kind normally found in the smarter servants quarters. It would also have led onto the Presence Chamber where the king would project his full majesty to his court however as it became more crowded the king would retreat to the privy chamber with few courtiers.
Unfortunately the Presence Chamber and Privy chamber no longer exist, all we can depend on are sources in order to find out its uses and how it would have looked. Originally the Presence Chamber would have been entered by a door which still stands there today at the far end of the Great Watching Chamber, through the Presence Chamber the rest of the King’s state apartments including the privy chamber were accessible; however they were demolished. The Kitchens remain much the same as they would have been in the time of Henry VIII; today, they offer a glimpse into the working life of the Tudor Court.
They can be seen at Hampton Court ready to prepare a meal and by seeing them we can fully appreciate the scale on which the meals were; one Tudor visitor described the kitchens as ‘Veritable Hell’ however today they are empty of people, cold and dark in contrast to the hustle, noise and smells of some 500 years ago. In order to feed the many courtiers who would often dine at Hampton Court the kitchens had specialist kitchens, these included pastry, spicery, pantry and confectionary.
Tudor meals were often dominated by meat and so there would be a lot of effort made in the preparation of the meat as well as the rest of the food, this was of course in order to make a good impression and reflect the king’s wealth. Source 5 shows just how much or a part meat played in the Tudor diet, in one year the Tudor Court ate, 1,240 oxen, 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 760 calves, 1,870 pigs and 53 wiled boar. There were also areas of the Palace that contained what would be known today as Tudor propaganda. The Haunted Gallery owes its name to the story of the ghost of Catherine Howard that supposedly haunts the gallery.
Before her marriage to Henry Catherine had already been in love with another man and 15 months into her marriage with Henry she was caught committing adultery with this man and arrested. Before being sent to the Tower of London she was kept under house arrest in her lodgings at Hampton Court. It is said that she managed to escape and ran along the gallery to the chapel door where the King was at mass. She was seized as she reached the door and dragged screaming back to her room by the King’s guards. Today her ghost is said to still shriek along the gallery.
The Gallery itself contains a collection of five tapestries (currently under restoration) and a collection of painting from the Royal collection. One painting in particular is important it shows The Family of Henry VIII by an unknown artist. Henry is shown with his third wife Jane Seymour and his children, Princess Elizabeth, Princess Mary and Prince Edward. This painting does not portray an actual event that happened, it is a fictional picture and shows us the way that Henry liked to be seen to have a happy loving family. We know that this never happened as Jane Seymour died shortly after giving birth to Prince Edward of a childbed fever.
Another of these fictional paintings known as The field of the Cloth of Gold exists and is an ostentatious display of wealth and power that earned the meeting place between Francois and Henry. The meeting lasted for three weeks (7 Jun – 24 Jun 1520), during which time each court strove to outdo the other in offering splendid entertainments and making grandiose gestures. There were processions, masques, balls, banquets, sporting events, and even fireworks. Each day the monarchs and their entourages appeared in more sumptuous and elaborate costumes.
The expense incurred by both monarchs was enormous, and put tremendous strain on the finances of each country. Henry was accompanied by 5,000 people and spent in excess of i?? 13,000 on the splendor of the occasion. The Field of Cloth of Gold made a great impression on those who were witness to such splendor. Though despite the restoration, the ‘Tudor’ human element is missing although today at Hampton Court there are guides and actors who bring the palace back to life, giving us an insight into how it may have looked in Henry’s time with courtiers wandering through the halls.
To help you even more there are also miniature models that have been created to show how some of the rooms that have been changed dramatically. These can help us understand and visualise furthermore the uses of Hampton Court. We can also look at some of Henry’s other palaces as they too hold clues as to how Hampton Court would have looked and how it would have been used. Whitehall Palace was once the biggest Palace in Europe, stretching over 23 acres of land until it was destroyed by fire in 1698.
What we do know is that before its destruction it was once too an impressive masterpiece of architecture and decoration. St James Palace is also very similar to Hampton Court, on the exterior we see the classic garish Tudor style with deep red brickwork, painted and patterned with diamond shapes of black brick, two turrets rose magnificently some 7 story’s high. We can see that Henry clearly wanted to be seen as powerful and wanted his residences to give all who visited a grand impression of wealth and importance.
Source 4 talks about Royal Residences up to the 18th Century and Hampton Court was no exception, with its lavish decorations and its etiquette the building itself followed the trend of beginning with outward chambers, the public rooms and working its way towards the more private rooms. From Henry’s obvious expensive taste we can deduce that he wanted to establish the Tudor family as the most important royal family and show that a monarchs palace was more that just a residence, it was the centre of power.
After all in the Tudor times the King was seen as being God’s representative on earth, Henry had to show this by demonstrating just how far his power and wealth went. Today, as you approach the palace from the West side you see the gatehouse first, its deep red brick patterned with black would have been stylish at the time; originally it would have been 5 stories high and a moat would have surrounded Hampton Court, today though it is only 3 stories high due to safety issues but is nonetheless impressive to visitors.
The outer pillars of the gate line the entrance to Hampton Court, Lions and Unicorns upon them supporting shields (1727-60). The wings of the left and right of the gatehouse were added by Henry VIII and once contained the Great House of Easement (communal lavatories) and the Kitchens. On the turrets either side of the gatehouse are terracotta roundels with the heads of Roman emperors, they were made for Cardinal Wolesy in 1521 and display power showing international links with other heads of government.
Beyond the gatehouse there were two courtyards, Base Court that was once a lodging for Wolsey and his guests and the Inner Court or as it is known now the Clock Court. The Base Court remains much the same as Wolsey built it however it was originally cobbled. As you enter if you look behind about the gateway through which you entered, you can see Henry VIII’s arms and on the turrets either side the badges and initials of his youngest daughter Elizabeth I (1558-1603); this again was a clear display of Henry’s power and wealth.
On the far side of the Base Court is Anne Boleyn’s gatehouse that leads to the Inner Court (Clock Court) above the gateway you can see Wolsey’s arms supported by cherubs; above is the famous Astronomical clock made for Henry VIII in 1540 by Nicholas Oursian. This ornate clock is another display of power and wealth; put together with pervious ones it creates an impression of a magnificent all powerful King. To your right Henry VIII’s Great Hall rises high; its lofty buttresses topped with gilded flags.
The South Side is noticeably different in style; Sir Christopher Wren constructed it in the late 17th century. At the far end of the Clock Court George II’s Gateway leads to the Fountain Court that replaces Henry VIII’s courtyard which stood on the same site by Sir Christopher Wren for William III. Arched cloisters run around the whole of the courtyard, above the tall windows of the State Apartments. Carved wreaths in the form of loin skins surround circular windows and above them smaller windows lit lodgings provided for important courtiers. In the centre is the fountain.
As you enter the palace visitors are intrigued to know and see more, courtiers would have behaved with an elaborate formal etiquette as ordered by the king, showing respect and adding to the King’s image of power and authority. As they were close to the King they could eat where their lodgings where, this depended on your rank which depended on whether the king liked your or not. Some would stay outside in the stables; others would be lucky enough to sleep in the kitchen near the fire. Written sources show that servants and lesser officials were only permitted to the Privy Chamber and the Great Hall.
Henry had 6 wives during his reign and three children; he also used Hampton Court to give them lavish lodgings, always re-styling them with the trends. As well Hampton court being used for obvious uses such as political functions, court entertainments and as a reflection of Henry’s wealth and power it also served another function. Henry would go about his normal day-to-day life here and would enjoy many sporting activities, he fenced and walled in the park lad and filled it with deer and fame for the royal hunt.
Indoor and outdoor tennis courts and bowling alleys were built, in the Tudor times ‘Real Tennis’ was played, it was a bit like squash and can still be seen being played today although, the tennis court used was built by James 1st. Another favourite sport of Henry was falconry. Royal tournaments were also popular; a huge tiltyard was built with several towers for spectators, once tower can still be seen today. After jilting on horseback with enormous lances, the jousters would fight across a wooden barrier with two-handed swords. Henry also enjoyed music and was also a composer, on of his more famous compositions is green sleeves.
Henry would also enjoy masques held in the Great Hall; these were like pantomimes and were the job of the Master of the Revels to organize. In order to be able to work out properly the uses of Hampton Court it is important that we take into account written and pictorial sources including plans, visitors accounts from the Tudor times and paintings as well as his other palaces as these can help fill in the gaps.
A visit is useful to help see Hampton Court on a real scale, making the impression that is portrayed felt as you stand there in the Clock Court surrounded by architectural magnificence, much the same as it was in the Tudor Times, the ornate brick work, twisted chimneys and the beautifully intricate astronomical clock make it all more real and even today was can still appreciate just how impressive Hampton Court would have appeared to its Tudor visitors.
There are also as mentioned previously guides dressed in traditional Tudor clothes and options such as audio tours where you can have each room explained in detail; if you’re lucky you might see musicians playing old instruments. Hampton Court is not the only palace that were can get a sense of Tudor life, there are various other palaces such as Longleat House in Wiltshire, Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, Richmond Palace, Westminster Abbey and Greenwich Palace.
Personally I found the visit useful, as I was able to appreciate its magnificence more fully and helped me to experience and gain much the same impression that Tudor visitors would have got; it helped me to explain how Henry used the palace I do feel however that no amount of restoration can substitute the actual place in its Tudor period; it is void of the smells, noises and people that would have once been there.