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Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace was the home to some of Britain’s most famous kings and queens and the setting for many great events during nearly 500 years of royal history. From the west Hampton Court is still the red brick Tudor palace of Henry VIII (1509-47). From the east it presents the stately Baroque façade designed by Sir Christopher Wren for William III (1689-1702). The sumptuous interiors reflect the different tastes of its royal residents and are furnished with great works of art. Hampton Court Palace, with its beautiful gardens and extensive parkland is both visually and historically enthralling. There are over 60 acres of gardens to explore at Hampton Court including the Maze, the Great Vine and the restored Privy Garden.

For many visitors Hampton Court is associated with Henry VIII. He was a significant figure in the history of the English monarchy. Henry VIII was an accomplished musician, author and poet. He excelled at sports, especially jousting, hunting and tennis. Henry VIII had six wives: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr. Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were executed. Jane Seymour gave birth to a son, Prince Edward the future Edward VI, in 1537. But the birth was difficult and the queen died from an infection. After Jane’s death, the entire court mourned with Henry for an extended period. Henry considered Jane to be his ‘true’ wife, being the only one who had given him the male heir (Henry VIII had two daughters: Mary I, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, and Elizabeth I, the daughter of Anne Boleyn). He was buried next to Jane after his death. In 1540 Henry desired to marry once again. Thomas Cromwell suggested Anne, the sister of the Protestant Duke of Cleves. Hans Holbein the Younger was dispatched to Cleves to paint a portrait of Anne for the king. It has been said that he painted her in a more flattering light. After regarding Holbein’s portrayal, and urged by the complimentary description of Anne given by his courtiers, Henry agreed to wed Anne. On Anne’s arrival in England, Henry is said to have found her utterly unattractive, privately calling her a “Flanders Mare.” The marriage was soon dissolved and Anne received the title ‘The King’s Sister’. Catherine Parr, the King’s last wife, outlived him.

Before the King the palace belonged to Thomas Wolsey who had been appointed both a Cardinal and Lord Chancellor of England by 1515. Throughout the 1520s, Wosley used his new residence both for pleasure and for affairs of state. By 1528, Wosley had fallen from favour because of his inability to secure the Pope’s consent to Henry’s divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. He was forced to relinquish Hampton Court to the King who within six months, began his own building operations. In just ten years he spent more than £ 62, 000 rebuilding and extending Hampton Court. By the time Hampton Court Palace was finished in about 1540, it was one of the most modern, sophisticated and magnificent palaces in England. There were tennis courts, bowling alleys and pleasure gardens for recreation, a hunting park of more than 1,100 acres, kitchens covering 36, 000 square feet, a fine chapel, a vast communal dining-room (the Great Hall) and a multiple garderobe (lavatory) – known as the Great House of Easement – which could sit 28 people at a time. Henry VIII’s only son, Edward VI, was born at Hampton Court and christened in the Chapel Royal. His mother, Jane Seymour, died at the palace days later.

The events of the Civil War marked bad times for Hampton Court. In 1645, parliamentary troops seized the palace and soon began to make an inventory of the royal possessions before putting them up for sale. In 1652, Hampton Court itself was sold to one Edmund Backwall but when Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector in 1654, the palace was bought back for his use.

Much of the palace was lost at the end of the 17th century when William III and Mary II commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to rebuild Hampton Court. Their original plan was to demolish the whole Tudor building, except the Great Hall, but the project ran out of time and money and only Henry VIII’s and his queen’s apartments on the south and east sides of the palace were destroyed. Much of the Tudor palace remained but this was subsequently modernised by Sir Christopher Wren. In 1702 William III fell from his horse in Hampton Court Park and later died at Kensington Palace. In 1838 Queen Victoria opened Hampton Court to the public.

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The two world wars left the palace largely untouched. Only a few incendiary bombs landed at the palace and some windows in the Great Hall were damaged. In the 1970s and early 1980s, exhibitions and shops were introduced and some improvements made in the State Apartments, but all this was interrupted in 1986 by a fire that severely damaged a large part of the King’s Apartments. Repairs took six years and led to the largest series of restorations at the palace since the 1880s. These were largely completed in 1995.

It was Cardinal Wolsey who was the first to build ornamental gardens at Hampton Court, but it was Henry VIII who, in 1529, began to establish Hampton Court as a show place for English gardening. Henry VIII was responsible for setting out the structure of the gardens, very much as they remain today: a privy (private) garden to the south; a hunting park to the east; pleasure grounds to the north and, to the west, the entrance way and Tiltyard (for jousting and tournaments), built late in his reign but never used by the king himself. William III (1689-1702) decided to remodel the whole of the estate in a Baroque style. To the west of the Privy Garden is a small Knot Garden made of box hedging. Further on are the Pond Gardens. The three ponds that were dug for Henry VIII in 1535 still give the form for the sunken gardens we see today. Close to the Lower Orangery is the Great Vine planted in 1768. It is the oldest known vine in the world and it still produces an average crop of 227-318 kg each year. Beyond the East Front Gardens is Home Park with the great canal, or Long Water, dug for Charles II in the 1660s and on each side, the first great avenue of lime trees, replanted in 2004. At the easternmost end of the Long Water is the Jubilee Fountain, the largest multi-jet fountain in Britain. The park contains a herd of 350 deer. The 20th-Century Garden is today planted with ornamental trees, shrubs and a series of hornbeam hedges. At the north end of the Broad Walk is the Royal Tennis Court. The court is still in use today and is the venue for the British Open Real Tennis Championships. The winding paths of the Maze amount to nearly half a mile and cover an area of a third of an acre. Every year 330,000 people make their way in (and out, eventually) of the branching maze at Hampton Court. It took half a mile of yew plants to restore the maze in the 1960s, when the original hornbeam hedging was replaced.

The Great Hall is the largest room in the palace. It had two functions. First, to provide a great communal dining-room where 600 or so members of the court could eat in two sittings twice a day. And secondly, to provide a magnificent entrance to the State Apartments which lay beyond. The hall is hung with the priceless Flemish tapestries of the Story of Abraham commissioned by Henry VIII and probably intended for the Great Hall itself. They were woven in the 1540-s by the Brussels weaver Willem Kempaneer with real silver and gold thread. Through much of the 18th century the hall was in use as a theatre. The Horn Room was originally built as a waiting place for servants bringing food to the Great Hall and Great Watching Chamber next door. The room acquired its present name because it was in here that the antlers and horns that had decorated the galleries of the Tudor palace were stored after they were taken down by William III. The Haunted Gallery owes its name to the story of the ghost of Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife. 15 months after her marriage to the King in 1540, the young queen was charged with adultery and was arrested. Before she was sent to the Tower of London, she was kept under house arrest in her lodgings at Hampton Court. The story goes that she managed to escape from her rooms and run along the gallery to the Chapel door where the King was at Mass. But she was seized by guards who dragged her screaming back to her rooms. It is said that her ghost still shrieks along the gallery.

‘I’ve often thought I should like to live at Hampton Court. It looks so peaceful and so quiet, and it is such a dear old place to ramble round in the early morning before many people are about’. (Jerome K. Jerome ‘Three Men In a Boat’ 1889)

Solve the crossword:

1. This private garden was restored and brought back into harmony with the palace between 1991 and 1995 (see picture № 1 below).

2. The largest multi-jet fountain in Britain (see picture № 2 below).

3. Henry’s fifth wife, who was charged with adultery and executed.

4. The artist who painted a portrait of Anne of Cleves for Henry VIII.

5. The man who owned Hampton Court before Henry VIII.

6. The architectural style of the palace.

7. The place at Hampton Court where you can get lost.

8. The room which acquired its present name because it was in here that the antlers and horns that had decorated the galleries of the Tudor palace were stored.

9. The name of the Queen who opened Hampton Court to the public in 1838 (see picture № 3 below).

10. The surname of the architect who was commissioned by William III and Mary II to rebuild Hampton Court.

11. The name of Henry VIII’s ‘true’ wife.

12. Henry VIII’s only son.


By Svetlana Yunyova ,
Moscow Regional Pedagogical College, Serpukhov