Hampton Court Palace is located on the Richmond upon Thames in England 19 km south west of Central London. Along with St James’s Palace, it is one of only two surviving palaces out of the many owned by Henry VIII, the Tudor King.
Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York, Chief Minister and favourite of Henry VIII, took over the site of Hampton court Palace in 1514. Previously it was the property of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. Over a period of seven years, Wolsey spent around 2,00,000 gold crowns to build the finest palace in England at Hampton Court. He rebuilt the existing manor house to form the nucleus of the present palace. Very little of Wolsey’s building work remains unchanged, today. The first courtyard, the Base Court, the second inner gatehouse which leads to the Clock Court (Wolsey’s seal remains visible over the entrance arch of the clock tower) were his creations. The Clock Court contained the very best rooms – the state apartments – reserved for the King and his family. Henry VIII stayed in the state apartments as Wolsey’s guest immediately after their completion in 1525. Wolsey was only to enjoy his palace only for a few years. In 1528, knowing that his enemies and the King were engineering his down fall, he passed the palace to the King as a gift. Wolsey died two years later in 1530.
Within six months of coming into ownership, the King began his own rebuilding and expansion of the palace to accommodate his court consisted of over thousand people and transform Hampton Court to his principal residence. The first step towards this goal was to build vast kitchens. The architecture of King Henry’s new palace followed the design precedent set by Wolsey, perpendicular Gothic-inspired Tudor with restrained renaissance ornament. Between 1532 and 1535 Henry added the Great Hall and Royal Tennis Court. The gatehouse to the second inner court was adorned in 1540 with an astronomical clock. 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.
During the Tudor period, the palace was the scene of many historic events. In1537, the King’s much desired male heir, the future Edward VI, was born at the place and the child’s mother, Jane Seymour died there two weeks later. Four years afterwards, while 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 few days before being sent to Syon House and then on to the Tower of London to be executed. Legends claims, she briefly escaped her guards and ran through The Haunted Gallery to beg Henry for her life but she was recaptured.
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 Hampton Court that Queen Mary retreated with King Philip to spend her honeymoon after their wedding at Winchester. Mary was succeeded by her half-sister, Elezabth I and it was Elizabeth who had the eastern kitchen built, now this is the palace’s public tea room.
On the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, the Tudor period came to an end. The Queen was succeeded by the Scottish King, James VI who became James I of the House Stuart. He was succeeded in 1625 by his ill-fated son Charles I. Hampton Court was to become his palace and prison. It was also the setting for his honeymoon with his bride Henrietta Maria in 1625. Following King Charles execution in 1649, palace become the property of the Commonwealth presided over by Oliver Cromwell. While the government auctioned much of the contents, the building was ignored.
After Restoration King Charles II and successor James II visited Hampton Court but largely preferred to reside elsewhere. It was in 1689, England had two new joint monarchs, William of Orange and his wife 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.
The country’s most eminent architect, Sir Christopher Wren, was called upon to draw the plans, while master of works was to be William Talman. During this work, half of the Tudor palace was replaced and Henry VIII’s state rooms and private apartments were both lost; the new wing around the Fountain Court contained new state apartments and private rooms, one set for the King and one for the Queen.
After the death of Queen Mary, King William lost interest in the renovations and work ceased. 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 rule came to an end. Her Successor George I and his son George II were the last monarchs to reside at Hampton Court.
Like in India there is a ghost story associated with Hampton Court Palace. The ghost of Catherine Howard is believed to frequent Hampton Court’s haunted gallery, where she was dragged back screaming to her rooms while under house arrest, accused of committing adultery by her husband King Henry VIII.
Catherine was the fifth wife of King Henry VIII and in 1541 was accused of adultery and put under house arrest in the palace. But she escaped from her guards and ran down the gallery looking for the King to plead for her life. She was caught and dragged back screaming to her rooms… and in due course executed in the Tower of London.
The Great Vine of Hampton Court – The oldest grapevine in the world
The Great Vine in Hampton Court Palace Gardens is the oldest and largest known vine in the world. The Great Vine is more than 240 years old and 36.5 meters long. It is believed to have been planted by Lancelot “Capability” Brown around 1768, during his time as Surveyor to George III’s Gardens and Waters. It was planted from a small cutting of Black Hamburg (‘Schiava Grossa’) from Valentine’s Park in Essex. The Great Vine was first planted in a glass house built to house Queen Mary’s collection of exotics from the tropics. Its roots were planted outside and its branches were trained inside the glass house, which measured 18 by 4 meters.
By 1800 the girth of the trunk was about 1 foot. In 1887, it was already 4 feet around the base and today it measures 12 feet around the base. Its longest rod is 120 feet. The current aluminum Vine House was built in 1969. The vine was first shown to public in the 1840s when Queen Victoria opened the gardens to the public. The Vine usually blossoms in early May with small & fragrant flowers. The harvest takes place in September which weighs 220 to 320 kg.
The grapes, which are black and sweet, have always been used by the Royal household as dessert grapes. However in 1930, George V started sending the grapes to hospitals and within 5 years they were being sold to visitors in the palace shops.
So if you are visiting in September you can buy these grapes from the counter. When I visited in May the Vine was all in blossoms.
I would like to express my special thanks to my friend Thomas Dsouza for making this visit a reality.