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Hampton Court Palace

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Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace, the great gatehouse. Marked "A" on the plan below.'1'
Hampton Court Palace is located in Greater London
Hampton Court Palace
Location in Greater London
General information
Location Richmond upon Thames, Greater London, England
Decorative Tudor brick chimneys at Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace is a royal palace in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, Greater London, in the historic county of Middlesex, and within the postal town East Molesey, Surrey; it has not been inhabited by the British Royal Family since the 18th century. The palace is 11.7 miles (18.8 kilometres) south west of Charing Cross and upstream of central London on the River Thames. It was originally built for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, a favourite of King Henry VIII, circa 1514; in 1529, as Wolsey fell from favour, the palace was passed to the King, who enlarged it.

The following century, King William III's massive rebuilding and expansion project intended to rival Versailles was begun.[1] Work halted in 1694, leaving the palace in two distinct contrasting architectural styles, domestic Tudor and Baroque. While the palace's styles are an accident of fate, a unity exists due to the use of pink bricks and a symmetrical, if vague, balancing of successive low wings.[2]

Along with St. James's Palace, it is one of only two surviving palaces out of the many owned by King Henry VIII.

Today, the palace is open to the public, and is a major tourist attraction, easily reached by train from Waterloo Station in central London and served by Hampton Court railway station in East Molesey, in Transport for London's Zone 6. The palace is cared for by an independent charity, Historic Royal Palaces, which receives no funding from the Government or the Crown.[3]

Apart from the Palace itself and its gardens, other points of interest for visitors include the celebrated maze, the historic real tennis court (see below) and the huge grape vine, claimed to be the largest in the world.

The palace's Home Park is the site of the annual Hampton Court Palace Festival and Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.


Tudor period

Hampton Court Palace, with marked reference points referred to on this page. A: West Front & Main Entrance; B: Base Court; C: Clock Tower; D: Clock Court, E: Fountain Court; F: East Front; G: South Front; H: Banqueting House; J: Great Hall; K: River Thames; M: East Gardens; O: Cardinal Wolsey's Rooms; P: Chapel

Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York, Chief Minister and favourite of Henry VIII, took over the site of Hampton Court Palace in 1514.[4] It had previously been a property of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.[2] Over the following seven years, Wolsey spent lavishly (200,000 gold crowns) to build the finest palace in England at Hampton Court.[5] Wolsey rebuilt the existing manor house to form the nucleus of the present palace. Today, little of Wolsey's building work remains unchanged. The first courtyard, the Base Court,[6] (B on plan), was his creation, as was the second, inner gatehouse (C) which leads to the Clock Court (D) (Wolsey's seal remains visible over the entrance arch of the clock tower[7]) which contained his private rooms (O on plan).[4] The Base Court contained forty-four lodgings reserved for guests, while the second court (today, Clock Court) contained the very best rooms – the state apartments – reserved for the King and his family.[8] Henry VIII stayed in the state apartments as Wolsey's guest immediately after their completion in 1525.

In building his palace, Wolsey was attempting to create a Renaissance cardinal's palace of a rectilinear symmetrical plan with grand apartments on a raised piano nobile, all rendered with classical detailing. The historian Jonathan Foyle has suggested[9] that it is likely that Wolsey had been inspired by Paolo Cortese's De Cardinalatu, a manual for cardinals that included advice on palatial architecture, published in 1510. The architectural historian Sir John Summerson asserts that the palace shows "the essence of Wolsey—the plain English churchman who nevertheless made his sovereign the arbiter of Europe and who built and furnished Hampton Court to show foreign embassies that Henry VIII's chief minister knew how to live as graciously as any cardinal in Rome."[10] Whatever the concepts were, the architecture is an excellent and rare example of a thirty-year era when English architecture was in a harmonious transition from domestic Tudor, strongly influenced by perpendicular Gothic, to the Italian Renaissance classical style. Perpendicular Gothic owed nothing historically to the Renaissance style, yet harmonised well with it.[11] This blending of styles was realised by a small group of Italian craftsmen working at the English court in the second and third decades of the sixteenth century. They specialised in the adding of Renaissance ornament to otherwise straightforward Tudor buildings.[11] It was one of these, Giovanni da Maiano who was responsible for the set of eight relief busts of Roman emperors which were set in the Tudor brickwork.[12]

Anne Boleyn's Gate. The Tudor gatehouse and astronomical clock, made for Henry VIII in 1540 (C on plan above) Two of the Renaissance bas reliefs by Giovanni di Maiano can be seen set into the brickwork.

Wolsey was only to enjoy his palace for a few years.[10] In 1528, knowing that his enemies and the King were engineering his downfall, he passed the palace to the King as a gift. Wolsey died two years later in 1530.[10]

Within six months of coming into ownership, the King began his own rebuilding and expansion.[8] Henry VIII's court consisted of over one thousand people, while the King owned over sixty houses and palaces. Few of these were large enough to hold the assembled court, and thus one of the first of the King's building works (in order to transform Hampton Court to a principal residence) was to build the vast kitchens. These were quadrupled in size in 1529.[13] The architecture of King Henry's new palace followed the design precedent set by Wolsey: perpendicular Gothic-inspired Tudor with restrained Renaissance ornament. This hybrid architecture was to remain almost unchanged for nearly a century, until Inigo Jones introduced strong classical influences from Italy to the London palaces of the first Stuart kings.

Between 1532 and 1535 Henry added the Great Hall (the last medieval great hall built for the English monarchy) and the Royal Tennis Court.[14] The Great Hall has a carved hammer-beam roof. During Tudor times, this was the most important room of the palace; here, the King would dine in state seated at a table upon a raised dais.[15] The hall took five years to complete; so impatient was the King for completion that the masons were compelled to work throughout the night by candlelight.[5]

The gatehouse to the second, inner court was adorned in 1540 with the Hampton Court astronomical clock, an early example of a pre-Copernican astronomical clock. Still functioning, the clock shows the time of day, the phases of the moon, the month, the quarter of the year, the date, the sun and star sign, and high water at London Bridge.[16] The latter information was of great importance to those visiting this Thames-side palace from London, as the preferred method of transport at the time was by barge, and at low water London Bridge created dangerous rapids. This gatehouse is also known today as Anne Boleyn's gate, after Henry's second wife. Work was still underway on Anne Boleyn's apartments above the gate when the King, who had become tired of her, had her executed.[17]

Henry VIII's first building project at Hampton Court created vast kitchens capable of feeding his court of 1,000 people.

During the Tudor period, the palace was the scene of many historic events. In 1537, the King's much desired male heir, the future Edward VI, was born at the palace and the child's mother, Jane Seymour, died there two weeks later.[18] Four years afterwards, whilst attending Mass in the palace's chapel, the King was informed of his fifth wife's adultery. The Queen, Catherine Howard, was then confined to her room for a few days before being sent to Syon House and then on to the Tower of London. Legend claims she briefly escaped her guards and ran through The Haunted Gallery to beg Henry for her life but she was recaptured.[19]

King Henry died in January 1547 and was succeeded first by his son Edward VI, and then by both his daughters in turn. It was to Hampton Court that Queen Mary I (Henry's eldest daughter) retreated with King Philip to spend her honeymoon, after their wedding at Winchester.[5] Mary chose Hampton Court as the place for the birth of her first child, which turned out to be the first of two phantom pregnancies. Mary had initially wanted to give birth at Windsor Castle as it was a more secure location, and she was still fearful of rebellion. But Hampton Court was considerably larger, and could accommodate the entire court and more besides. Mary stayed at the Palace awaiting the birth of the "child" for over five months, and only left because of the inhabitable state of the court being kept in the one location for so long, after which her court departed for the much smaller palace of Oatlands. Mary was succeeded by her half-sister, Elizabeth I, and it was Elizabeth who had the eastern kitchen built; today, this is the palace's public tea room.[18]

Stuart period

Christopher Wren's south front built for William and Mary (G on plan) viewed from the Privy Garden.

On the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, the Tudor period came to an end. The Queen was succeeded by her first cousin-twice-removed, the Scottish King, James VI, who became known in England as James I of the House of Stuart.

In 1604, the palace was the site of King James' meeting with representatives of the English Puritans, known as the Hampton Court Conference; while agreement with the Puritans was not reached, the meeting led to James's commissioning of the King James Version of the Bible.[20]

King James was succeeded in 1625 by his son, the ill-fated Charles I. Hampton Court was to become both his palace and his prison.[20] It was also the setting for his honeymoon with his fifteen year old bride, Henrietta Maria in 1625.[5] Following King Charles' execution in 1649, the palace became the property of the Commonwealth presided over by Oliver Cromwell. Unlike some other former royal properties, the palace escaped relatively unscathed. While the government auctioned much of the contents, the building was ignored.[21]

After the Restoration, King Charles II and his successor James II visited Hampton Court but largely preferred to reside elsewhere. By current French court standards Hampton Court now appeared old-fashioned. It was in 1689, shortly after Louis XIV's court had moved permanently to Versailles, that the palace's antiquated state was addressed. England had two new joint monarchs, William of Orange and his wife, the daughter of James II, Queen Mary II. Within months of their accession they embarked on a massive rebuilding project at Hampton Court. The intention was to demolish the Tudor palace a section at a time, while replacing it with a huge modern palace in the Baroque style retaining only Henry VIII's Great Hall.[22]
The ceiling of the Great Hall of Hampton Court Palace.
The country's most eminent architect, Sir Christopher Wren, was called upon to draw the plans, while the master of works was to be William Talman. The plan was for a vast palace constructed around two courtyards at right angles to each other. Wren's design for a domed palace bore resemblances to the work of Jules Hardouin Mansart and Louis Le Vau, both architects employed by Louis XIV at Versailles.[22] It has been suggested, though, that the plans were abandoned because the resemblance to Versailles was too subtle and not strong enough; at this time, it was impossible for any sovereign to visualise a palace that did not emulate Versailles' repetitive Baroque form.[23] However, the resemblances are there: while the façades are not so long as those of Versailles, they have similar, seemingly unstoppable repetitive rhythms beneath a long flat skyline. The monotony is even repeated as the façade turns the corner from the east to the south fronts. However, Hampton Court, unlike Versailles, is given an extra dimension by the contrast between the pink brick and the pale Portland stone quoins, frames and banding.[24] Further diversion is added by the circular and decorated windows of the second floor mezzanine. This theme is repeated in the inner Fountain Court, but the rhythm is faster and the windows, unpedimented on the outer façades, are given pointed pediments in the courtyard; this has led the courtyard to be described as "Startling, as of simultaneous exposure to a great many eyes with raised eyebrows."[25]
The Fountain Court designed by Sir Christopher Wren (E on plan): "Startling, as of simultaneous exposure to a great many eyes with raised eyebrows."[25]

During this work, half the Tudor palace was replaced and Henry VIII's state rooms and private apartments were both lost; the new wings around the Fountain Court contained new state apartments and private rooms, one set for the King and one for the Queen. Each suite of state rooms was accessed by a state staircase. The royal suites were of completely equal value in order to reflect William and Mary's unique status as joint sovereigns.[26] The King's Apartments face south over the Privy Garden, the Queen's east over the Fountain Garden. The suites are linked by a gallery running the length of the east façade, another reference to Versailles, where the King and Queen's apartments are linked by the Galerie des Glaces. However, at Hampton Court the linking gallery is of more modest proportions and decoration. The King's staircase was decorated with frescos by Antonio Verrio and delicate ironwork by Jean Tijou.[27] Other artists commissioned to decorate the rooms included Grinling Gibbons, Sir James Thornhill and Jacques Rousseau; furnishings were designed by Daniel Marot.[28]

After the death of Queen Mary, King William lost interest in the renovations, and work ceased. However, it was in Hampton Court Park in 1702 that he fell from his horse, later dying from his injuries at Kensington Palace. He was succeeded by his sister-in-law Queen Anne who continued the decoration and completion of the state apartments. On Queen Anne's death in 1714 the Stuart dynasty came to an end.

Queen Anne's successor was Caroline of Ansbach, further refurbishment took place, with the architect William Kent employed to design new furnishings and decor including the Queen's Staircase, (1733)[30] and the Cumberland Suite (1737) for the Duke of Cumberland.[30] Today, the Queen's Private Apartments are open to the public and include her bathroom and bedroom.


The Cartoon Gallery at Hampton Court

The palace houses many works of art and furnishings from the Mantegna's Triumphs of Caesar housed in the Lower Orangery. The palace once housed the Raphael Cartoons now kept at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Their former home, the Cartoon Gallery on the south side of the Fountain Court, was designed by Christopher Wren; copies painted in the 1690s by a minor artist, Henry Cooke, are now displayed in their place. Also on display are important collections of ceramics, including numerous pieces of blue and white porcelain collected by Queen Mary II, both Chinese imports and Delftware.

Queen Mary II's Bedchamber, also known as Queen Caroline's State Bedchamber.

Much of the original furniture from the late 17th and early 18th centuries, including tables by Jean Pelletier, "India back" walnut chairs by Thomas Roberts and clocks and a barometer by Thomas Tompion. Several state beds are still in their original positions, as is the Throne Canopy in the King's Privy Chamber. This room contains a crystal chandelier of circa 1700, possibly the first such in the country.[31]

The King's Guard Chamber contains a large quantity of arms: muskets, pistols, swords, daggers, powder horns and pieces of armour arranged on the walls in decorative patterns. Bills exist for payment to a John Harris dated 1699 for an arrangement believed to be that still seen today.

Chapel Royal

Stained glass windows in the Great Watching Chamber.

The timber and plaster ceiling of the Chapel is considered the "most important and magnificent in Britain".[19] The altar is framed by a massive oak reredos in Baroque style carved by Grinling Gibbons during the reign of Queen Anne.[19] Opposite the altar, at first-floor level, is the royal pew where the royal family would attend services apart from the general congregation seated below. Queen Catherine Howard was painfully dragged down this gallery pleading to Henry not to be executed.


The grounds as they appear today were laid out in grand style in the late 17th century. There are no authentic remains of Henry VIII's gardens, merely a small knot garden, planted in 1924, which hints at the gardens' 16th-century appearance.[32] Today, the dominating feature of the grounds is the great landscaping scheme constructed for Sir Christopher Wren's intended new palace. From a water-bounded semicircular parterre, the length of the east front, three avenues radiate in a crow's foot pattern. The central avenue, containing not a walk or a drive, but the great canal known as the Long Water, was excavated during the reign of Charles II, in 1662. The design, radical at the time, is another immediately recognizable influence from Versailles, and was indeed laid out by pupils of André Le Nôtre, Louis XIV's landscape gardener.[24]

On the south side of the palace is the Privy Garden bounded by semi-circular wrought iron gates by Jean Tijou.[33] This garden, originally William III's private garden, was replanted in 1992 in period style with manicured hollies and yews along a geometric system of paths.[32]

The garden recreated in the style of Henry VIII's gardens of 1536.

On a raised site overlooking the Thames, is a small pavilion, the Banqueting House. This was built circa 1700, for informal meals and entertainments in the gardens rather than for the larger state dinners which would have taken place inside the palace itself. A nearby conservatory houses the "Great Vine", planted in 1769; by 1968 it had a trunk 81 inches thick and has a length of 100 feet.[24] It still produces an annual crop of grapes.[34]

The palace included apartments for the use of favoured royal friends. One such apartment is described as being in "The Pavilion and situated on the Home Park" of Hampton Court Palace. This privilege was first extended about 1817 by Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, to his friend, Lieut General James Moore, K.C., and his new bride, Miss Cecilia Watson. George IV continued this arrangement following the death of Prince Edward on 23 January 1820. The Queen continued the arrangement for the widow of General Moore, following his death on 24 April 1838. This particular apartment was used for 21 years or more and spanned three different sponsors.[35]

One of the Palace's sunken gardens. In the background is William III's Banqueting House (H on plan) of 1700.

A well-known curiosity of the palace's grounds is Henry Wise for William III of Orange.[34] It was originally planted with hornbeam; it has been repaired latterly using many different types of hedge. there is a 3D online browser simulation of the Hampton Court Maze--see the external links section

Inspired by narrow views of a Tudor garden that can be seen through doorways in a painting, The Family of Henry VIII, hanging in the palace's Haunted Gallery, a new garden in the style of Henry VIII's 16th-century Privy Gardens, has been designed to celebrate the anniversary of that King's accession to the throne. Sited on the former Chapel Court Garden, it has been planted with flowers and herbs from the 16th century, and is completed by gilded heraldic beasts and bold green and white painted fences. The heraldic beasts carved by Ben Harms and Ray Gonzalez of G&H Studios include the golden lion of England, The white greyhound of Richmond, the red dragon of Wales and the white hart of Richard II, all carved from English oak. The garden's architect was Todd Langstaffe-Gowan, who collaborated with James Fox and the Gardens Team at Historic Royal Palaces.

King's Beasts

The King's Beasts

There are also ten statues of heraldic animals, called the King's Beasts, that stand on the bridge over the moat leading to the great gatehouse. Unlike the Queen's Beasts in Kew Gardens, these statues represent the ancestry of King Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour. The animals are: the lion of England, the Seymour lion, the Royal dragon, the black bull of Clarence, the yale of Beaufort, the white lion of Mortimer, the White Greyhound of Richmond, the Tudor dragon, the Seymour panther and the Seymour unicorn. [36]

Recent history

Since the reign of [26]

In 1796, the Great Hall was restored and in 1838, during the reign of Queen Victoria, the restoration was completed and the palace opened to the public. The heavy-handed restoration plan at this time reduced the Great Gatehouse (A), the palace's principal entrance, by two stories and removed the lead cupolas adorning its four towers.[37]

On 2 September 1952, the palace was given statutory protection by being [40] and the Tudor and 17th-century perimeter walls.[41]

Throughout the 20th century in addition to becoming a major London tourist attraction, the palace housed 50 grace and favour residences given to esteemed servants and subjects of the crown. It was an elderly recipient of one such grace and favour apartment who caused a major fire that spread to the King's Apartments in 1986. This led to a new programme of restoration work which was completed in 1990.

The Royal School of Needlework moved to premises within the Palace from Princes Gate in Kensington 1987, and the Palace also houses the headquarters of Historic Royal Palaces, a charitable foundation.

Film location

The palace served as the location for the film U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St James's. The palace was used in the film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011).

2012 Olympic Games

The palace was the venue for the Road Cycling Time Trial of the 2012 Summer Olympics and temporary structures for the event, including a set of thrones for time trialists in the medal positions, were installed in the grounds.[42]

See also


  1. ^ a b Dynes, p. 90.
  2. ^ a b Dynes, p. 86.
  3. ^ "Historic Royal Palaces > Home > About us > Who we are". Retrieved 12 July 2011. 
  4. ^ a b Summerson, p. 12.
  5. ^ a b c d Williams, p. 52.
  6. ^ "Base" in this instance simply means "lower" in the hierarchy of courtyards; it is not topographically lower.
  7. ^ , Volume 2A History of the County of Middle sexSpelthorne Hundred: Hampton Court Palace: architectural description, : General; Ashford, East Bedfont with Hatton, Feltham, Hampton with Hampton Wick, Hanworth, Laleham, Littleton (1911), pp. 371–379. Retrieved 21 March 2009.
  8. ^ a b Thurley, p. 6.
  9. ^  
  10. ^ a b c Summerson, p. 14.
  11. ^ a b Copplestone, p. 254.
  12. ^ Copplestone, p. 257.
  13. ^ Thurley, p. 8.
  14. ^ This court is still in use for the game of real tennis, an older version different from the present game. It is now the oldest extant real tennis court.
  15. ^ Summerson, p. 21.
  16. ^ Thurley, p. 18.
  17. ^ Williams, p. 53.
  18. ^ a b Thurley, p. 9.
  19. ^ a b c Thurley, p. 23.
  20. ^ a b Thurley, p. 10.
  21. ^ Thurley, p. 11.
  22. ^ a b Summerson, p. 16.
  23. ^ This is the stated opinion of Sir John Summerson. Summerson, p. 19.
  24. ^ a b c Dynes, p. 95.
  25. ^ a b Summerson, p. 19.
  26. ^ a b Williams, p. 54.
  27. ^ Dynes, p. 94.
  28. ^ The furnishing was discussed by Tessa Murdoch, "The furniture for the King's Apartments: 'Walnuttree' gilding, japanning and marble", Apollo 140 (August 1994) pp. 55–60.
  29. ^ Thurley, Simon (2003). Hampton Court: A Social and Architectural History. p. 255.
  30. ^ a b Thurley, Simon (2003). Hampton Court: A Social and Architectural History. p. 279.
  31. ^ Mortimer, Martin (2000). The English Glass Chandelier. p. 41.
  32. ^ a b Thurley, p. 44.
  33. ^ Dynes. p. 95.
  34. ^ a b Thurley, p. 46.
  35. ^ From The Gentleman's Magazine, Volume 173, pp. 659–660, Obituary for Lieut-General James Moore.
  36. ^ "Statues of the King's Beasts". Beautiful England. Retrieved 10 November 2014. 
  37. ^ Dynes, p. 91.
  38. ^  
  39. ^  
  40. ^  
  41. ^  
  42. ^


External links

  • Official site at Historic Royal Palaces
  • Historic photos of Hampton Court Palace
  • Hampton Court by Walter Jerrold
  • Hampton Court Palace entry from The DiCamillo Companion to British & Irish Country Houses
  • Grace & Favour: A handbook of who lived where at Hampton Court 1750-1950 (pdf) - there are full floor plans of the palace on pages 10–13
  • Aerial view of the maze at Google Maps
  • The Hampton Court Flower Show
  • The Royal Tennis Court at Hampton Court Palace
  • The Choir of The Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace
  • Aerial photo and map
  • Areal photo and solution map to the Maze
  • Online 3D Virtual Hampton Maze Browser Simulation
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