Hello, London Perfect readers and welcome to Part Two of our Tudor-themed series of blog posts. I hope you enjoyed our interview with Dr. Charlotte Bolland of the National Portrait Gallery that started everything off. Let’s now have a chat about one of the most impressive architectural monuments to the Tudors: Hampton Court.
And the best bit? It’s only a short train ride out of London. Infinitely doable as a day trip and arguably as much of a must see as the more central palaces and monuments that litter this fair capital. What I love about Hampton Court is that there’s something for pretty much everyone.
1. History, history, history (of which a bit more later) for those who get excited about politics and gossip that’s almost five centuries old.
2. Architectural wonder. The Chapel Royal gets me all giddy, it’s that beautiful. And as for the chimney pots? Oooohhhh…. Lovely.
3. Horticultural magnificence. You’re coming to England. We do gardening here. Very good gardening as we’ve been at it for centuries. Hampton Court’s beautiful gardens stand testament to that. My advice? Mock an Englishman’s grubby green fingers and evangelical tones when discussing rhubarb or pelargoniums at your peril. You’d be amazed what damage can be inflicted with a well-aimed dibber.
But enough about what delights await a modern visitor at Hampton Court (no angry gardeners with dibbers. I promise). How did the palace get so fabulous?
Hampton Court has – a per usual when we’re dealing with pretty much anything in Britain – quite a bit of history. It was originally a medieval barn that belonged to the Knights Hospitallers of Jerusalem (a charitable organization that’s still in existence today) but by the early 16th century Hampton had become a significant manor. In 1515 it was acquired by one of the most powerful men in the court of Henry VIII, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (c. 1475-1530).
For the next six years Wolsey took on a massive project of rebuilding and redecorating… not that he got to enjoy it for long. In the mid 1520s he gave it to Henry VIII, retaining a small apartment in the palace until 1529. By then Wolsey was in deep trouble. He had not convinced Pope Clement VII to grant Henry the divorce the king wanted wanted from his wife, Catherine of Aragon. To make matters worse, Wolsey was a deeply unpopular figure with Anne Boleyn – Henry’s lover and future wife – and her coterie. Thus it was only a matter of time before Wolsey was ousted. In 1529 he was arrested for treason, dying enroute to his trial.
Out of the 60 palaces (yes, 60. Imagine the dusting… ) he owned, Hampton was his favourite. Not only was this a space to come and relax – with tennis courts, a hunting park and some smashing gardens as just a few of the delights on offer – this was also a place intended to impress. And one of the best ways to impress foreign dignitaries, local aristocrats, chums and wives (all six of Henry’s visited Hampton court) was with food.
The kitchens are therefore suitably impressive. Some days I struggle to put together a sandwich for myself without too much fuss. Imagine cooking for 600. TWICE A DAY.
An Ikea kitchen just wouldn’t cut the mustard. Or venison, wild boar, swan or whatever else was on the menu in the 16th century. If you just cannot comprehend the amount of effort, skill and panache that a Tudor chef and his entourage at Hampton Court would have needed it’s a jolly good thing there are a series of Tudor Cookery displays on this autumn.
Oh? But you’re on the other side of the Atlantic / planet / M25? Fret not. There are some cook-along videos that you can try at home.
Just make sure you’ve a scullion to tidy up the resultant mess and do the washing up. Henry VIII had oodles. You’re worth at least one or two.
Zoë F. Willis is a writer and enthusiastic London resident. You can read more about her adventures and creative exploits at http://thingswotihavemade.blogspot.co.uk/