How useful is a visit to the Tudor parts of Hampton Court to find out how Henry VIII used the palace

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Last updated: November 13, 2019

Hampton Court is a Royal Palace built by Cardinal Wolsey in 1514 and taken over in 1528 by King Henry VIII. It is Situated in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames in South west London on the bank of the River Thames. Today the palace is open to the public and is a large tourist attraction. Hampton Court has not been lived in by a Royal family since the 18th Century as it has been open to the public since 1838 and is now owned by the charity historical royal palaces.Hampton Court which was originally owned by Cardinal Wolsey was built by him to show off his wealth and status but by 1528 Wolsey had fallen from favour of the king and therefore it came to be the possession of the King. Once he owned the palace Henry began to enlarge it so it was able to hold the full royal court.

Henry continued to add to the palace. The kitchens were quadrupled in size by 1529, the Great Hall was made more magnificent and the chapel was altered.Henry VIII used Hampton Court mostly for hunting, entertaining and demonstrating his superior power and wealth to his rich subjects and foreign ambassadors and visitors from abroad. Henry loved hunting and often came to Hampton Court in the autumn to hunt in the surrounding parks.

It was important for Henry to entertain others as there were no newspapers or photography in Tudor times and therefore it was compulsory for Henry to meet others and be seen by his people. Henry owned many palaces. Lots of them were built along the river Thames just like Hampton Court.These palaces were: Greenwich, Richmond, Eltham, New Hall, White Hall and Hampton Court. All these palaces were placed along the Thames because in Tudor times the main form of Transport was by barge. Henry was able to go from place to place easily; he needed to be able to do this because the sanitary conditions of that time meant that he was unable to stay in the same place for too long.

I will be focusing on the Tudor parts of the palace that are left standing and how useful they are for us to find out how Henry used his palace.A lot of objects or ornaments in the palace today may look Tudor but are in fact artefacts that were replicated or restored by Victorians in the 1800s when they tried to restore the palace to the way it looked in the Tudor period. The three main ways to find out about how Henry used his palace are by looking at written and pictorial sources, visiting other remaining Tudor palaces and by using Hampton Court itself as a source to learn more about the different uses of the palace.

Hampton Court is a palace and was used by Henry VIII to entertain. Tudor palaces were very different from previous royal homes because before the Tudor period most of the time the country was at war and therefore Royal homes needed to be used for defence and for the protection of the monarch. Before Henry VIII came to the throne there had been the war of the Roses and so the monarchs lived in castles which were built to keep those inside safe and also they were designed to fight the enemy while being safer inside the walls.Although Hampton Court wasn’t used like a castle many features where used as decorations that replicated parts of a castle for example; turrets, archery holes and moats all of which are used on Hampton Court as embellishments and ornaments but were not used for their original use. They looked appealing and luxurious and therefore suited their purpose on the palace of Henry VIII. Henry VIII owned many palaces and the few that still stand today can help us learn about how Henry used his palaces.Although they were different in many ways they were usually used for similar reasons and therefore many of the palaces designs and structures were alike. Henry always wanted to be the head of fashions and made sure that he owned all the latest styles and items, his palaces were much the same, he wanted them too to be the most luxurious and glorious.

Each palace he built was updated with the fashion of that time and therefore although many of his palaces were similar they were also different in that they were modernized and fitted to the trend of that time.Every one of Henry’s palaces were adorned with the most desirable materials and fitted with the latest craze. St James’ Palace can teach us how Henry used his palaces as it like Hampton Court has survived and you are able to still visibly see some Tudor buildings. The Palace was built by Henry in the place of St James’ hospital in Westminster. A lot still survives today of the Tudor palace and this means it can be used as a useful source along with Hampton Court to learn about how Henry used his Tudor palaces.The parts that are still there today are the Tudor red-brick gatehouse (as seen on the left), the chapel royal and two Tudor rooms in the state apartments.

Although Hampton Court was built ten years earlier than St James’ in 1536 you can see the similarities in the building. The West Front at Hampton Court (as seen on the right) which used to be taller with another section added to its gatehouse is similar to the gatehouse at St James’. The turrets and the red-brick towers are the same style for both Hampton Court and St James’ palace both leading to a high arched entrance way.

Nonsuch Palace (as seen on the left) was a palace built for Henry VIII. It was built in a renaissance style and has only few similar features to Hampton Court. Nonsuch took nine years to build but was finally ready in 1547 and cost a phenomenal amount. Nonsuch was built in Surrey near Epsom.

Nonsuch was ornately and richly decorated and was built with eight sided towers at each end. Nonsuch however was destroyed in the 17th Century and no trace remains of the magnificent Tudor palace therefore we can visit the palace to see what Henry used Nonsuch for.The palace like Hampton Court and St James’ had towers and turrets and I’m sure it would have been just as impressive as the other two palaces as they were all used to show off to guests and other members of court. Eltham Palace is in South-east London and still stands today although most of its Tudor parts have been refurbished and modernized yet the hammer-beam roof and large traceried windows are still left were the great hall stood. The Great hall at Eltham (as seen on the left) was built in 1479 to be used as a banqueting hall for the palace.Hampton Court also has a magnificent great hall (as seen below) and was used in exactly the same way.

Eltham palace was the childhood home of Henry and it remained his home up until he married Anne Boleyn. Using these sources I am able to gather that Henry must have used his palaces mainly to impress the court by having large banqueting halls and impressive entrances also he had to use his palaces to conduct business as in Hampton Court he had a private chamber where he could meet with his privy council and discuss matters that were important to the running of the country.Also as the King he must have used his palaces for private living and leisure time as Hampton Court has large hunting grounds near by and he must have used his palaces to practice his faith as he had a private chapel for his use and so he could freely practice his religion and have mass at whatever time he saw fit. Henry used his palaces for these reasons; he lived and worked in these palaces.

A Hampton Court visit can teach us different things about how the palace was used in Tudor times and there are still things that are the same which can help us but many changes have taken place over the years since the palace was built and since Henry took over the Palace from Cardinal Wolsey. These changes mean that although the visit is useful it is not exactly how the palace was and therefore we can not get a full picture of what Henry’s palace was like. As new owners took over the palace they added there mark to Hampton Court and this led to less and less of it being like it originally was.Hampton Court can still be used as a source of information as long as you can take into account the fact that it is not all Tudor. Even between the times that Cardinal Wolsey owned the palace and Henry owned the palace many changes took place like Henry knocked down Wolsey’s great hall and built a much larger and grander one in its place. Over time people have knocked things down and added on, but in the Victorians they did try and restore many things but then they are not original Tudor and this just makes it hard to know which parts are Tudor and which are Victorian.

Also before the Victorians there was William and Mary who owned the palace. They built a new section, knocking down a lot of the Tudor parts of the palace. This is why Hampton Court is so different from both ends. One side is Tudor and the other Georgian. William and Mary took over Hampton Court when they came to the throne and began to knock parts of the palace down.

They planned to completely refurbish Hampton Court but they ran out of money and were unable to finish their building work. Most rooms and places in Hampton Court have changed in one way or the other since Henry VIII owned the palace.The Great Hall though looks much like it did in Tudor times, with its carved hammer beam roof still in tact and the walls are still adorned with the tapestries made in the 16th century. The Great Hall took four years to build and it was massive; thirty metres long and eighteen metres high.

The size was necessary for all the banquets and other entertainments that the royal court and visitors enjoyed. The hammer beam roof in the Great Hall is really impressive with the carved and painted wood.In Tudor times in the centre of the Great Hall there would have been a fire burning and to let out the smoke there would have been a louvre above the fire, this is a way to tell where the fire was placed in the room.

At one end of the hall there is a raised platform where the main servants would be seated, all the rest sat on trestle tables in the main part of the hall. The large stain -glass window at the back of the Great Hall although impressive was not there in Tudor times, this is obvious as in the stained-glass there is mention of all six of Henry’s wives and Henry himself standing in the centre.Although there would have been a window there it would not be the one placed there now. The Great Hall would have been used mainly by the servants at court as they ate and slept here. The Great Hall was basically a large and very richly decorated entrance room for visitors to the palace and on occasion it would have been used for banquets and balls. The Great Watching chamber is the next room inside the palace; it leads off from the Great Hall. This is the room that was used as a dining room by the Lord Chamberlain and other very important servants.

Many men would guard this room because off this room used to be the Kings bedchambers and private apartments. Henry’s private rooms are now gone and so these rooms are not able to help us and show us how Henry would have used them. The great watching chamber has a wonderful restored roof, which is not Tudor but has been made to look how it would have done. The glass in the windows is not Tudor and the fireplace also is not. However the tapestries hanging on the wall were bought by Cardinal Wolsey and so are true Tudor tapestries but would not have been placed where we see them today.The tapestries were used to show wealth and status, these tapestries were from Wolsey’s large collection and show religious stories which were appropriate to his position as Cardinal. Wolsey had commissioned over twenty sets of tapestries for Hampton court alone. The main function of the great watching chamber was as a dining room for the more senior members of the court also the guards slept in this room over night.

Henry would sometimes eat here with his important servants but mostly he would eat in his private appartements.Off this room is a small box room which is called the Garderrobe. This room was used as a toilet for those guards who slept in the great watching chamber over night. Now the room is just a plain empty room but in Tudor times there would have been a wooden seat over a brick shaft and this then dropped to a brick vault which had to be cleaned very regularly, this vent led to open air. There could also have been wash facilities. Through the Great Watching Chamber there is a room that today is called the Horn room but in Tudor times was the serving room.A staircase is still in place today in this room that is an original Tudor staircase, no one is allowed to walk on this to prevent damage and to cause wear on the stairs. The Chapel was originally built by Cardinal Wolsey but when Henry took over the palace he added a new ceiling which is just as we see it today.

The wooden screen now in the chapel was added much later and was not there in Tudor times neither was the staircase. The chapel is ornately decorated with a ceiling painted blue with gold stars and magnificent carved angels. His royal motto ‘Dieu et Mon Droit’ placed in several places round the chapel ceiling painted in gold.Today it shows how richly decorated the rest of the palace must have been. Outside the chapel stands the kings coat of arms again with his royal motto placed upon it. It is traditionally furnished with crimson velvet. Upstairs the Holy day closet stands completely different to how it was in Tudor times now with dark varnished wood and inside it has been separated whereas in Tudor times it would have been open for the king and queen to sit and watch the mass above the rest of the court.

This way King Henry was closer to God while having mass.Many people tried to get Henry to sign papers here as it was the only time when anyone knew where the King was. Henry came to the chapel at least once a day and therefore it was the perfect time to find him and ask him to sign papers. The Kitchens were extremely important in Hampton Court as this place was where all the food was made for the king and his court. Henry had to enlarge the kitchens when he took over the palace in order for servants to be able to prepare all the food for the important guests in the palace. There were also many store rooms around the palace too and a wine cellar.

Each room was used for a different purpose.The main kitchen today is divided into two but in Tudor times the Kitchen was just one whole enormous room. Huge fireplaces line the wall, so they were able to roast meat on them. All the kitchen rooms were near to the Great Hall in order to be able to carry the food up without it going cold. Most of the food prepared in the kitchens was for the Great Hall but some food was made for the Great Watching Chamber depending on where you ate, it depended on which type of plates you were given. So those in the Great watching chamber ate on silver plates instead of pewter which was used for the great hall.Hampton Court needed such a big kitchen in order to get all the food prepared in time for the king and all of his servants, courtiers and guests in the palace. The main entrance to the palace was and still is West front.

Visitor’s today’s impressions of the main entrance would not be that different from that of a visitor in Henry’s day. In the 16th Century there the main entrance was built using deep red brick which was adorned by using black bricks to create diamond patterns along the front. The moat which is still in place today would have been filled with water (this was a castle design used again for Hampton Court).Today the moat is not filled but you can still see the water line along the brick where it would have been filled to. The ornate chimneys which were restored by the Victorians are very impressive to look at and each chimney holds its own personal design. These chimneys were designed not only to look good but many of them were in use. The mass amount of chimney’s shows that Hampton Court must have needed many fires to keep the palace warm as there was no central heating and therefore fire was there only source of heat.The entrance column used to be two more storeys high but now is only three storeys.

Beyond the main entrance there are two courtyards Base court and Clock Court. The first courtyard has not changed much. Base Court used to be the place of Wolsey’s guest lodgings but Henry knocked this down to create a bright entry court yard. Lead-capped turrets and gargoyles all built by Wolsey. In each tower on the gateway leading to the next courtyard Wolsey had commissioned busts of royal roman emperors and these still remain in tact and in there original place.

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