Ladies' Lunch, August 2017.



What Henry VIII did for Hampton Court Palace

Ian Franklin - A Senior Warder at Hampton Court Palace


Ian began by explaining that recent excavations and research into the archives at Hampton Court Palace have provided new information on the origins and design of the building and its development by Henry VIII from a sumptuous Cardinal’s palace into an even more magnificent royal residence.

In the early 13th century the Manor of Hampton was the property of Henry of St. Albans and was then acquired by the Knights Hospitaller of St John of Jerusalem in England.      The Knights already owned pasture in the area and it is probable that their small house or ‘camera’ with its chapel stood on the site which is now Hampton Court Palace.     In the late 15th century the camera appears to have been used as an annexe to Shene Palace and was visited by Edward III.    In 1497 Henry VII stayed there when unable to remain at Shene (Richmond) Palace due to a catastrophic fire, a perpetual hazard in Tudor and Stuart times.  .

 In 1500 Sir Giles Daubney acquired the lease for 99 years and began development of the house but following his death and his widow’s lack of interest in the estate, the lease passed to Cardinal Wolsey in 1514 at a rent of £50 per annum.    Excavations 50 years ago gave some idea of the extent of Daubney's 'proto palace’ which  had been visited by royalty and Wolsey set about making it more suitable to accommodate the monarch’s and his own growing entourages. 

His first priority was the kitchens which were developed on the pre-existing kitchen site and in 1515 a wharf was constructed to receive building materials.  It is thought that the main house, except for the chapel which stood on consecrated ground, was demolished and rebuilding work progressed quickly with an estimated labour force of about 100 men.  By 1516 Henry VIII was able to visit the house with Katharine of Aragon and stay in a suite of rooms, designed by Wolsey, which were reserved for their sole use.   1520 an inventory shows that some 600 tapestries were imported to furnish the palace.

The first courtyard, the Base Court (initially containing lodgings for 44 guests) was Wolsey’s creation, as was the second, inner gatehouse which leads to another court (now named Clock court) which housed Wolsey’s private apartments with his seal over the entrance arch.   These prestigious rooms later became the state apartments which were reserved for the king and his family. 

In building the palace, Wolsey may have been influenced by Paolo Cortese's De Cardinalatu, a manual for cardinals which included advice on palatial architecture, published in 1510.      Whatever the inspiration behind the rebuilding, it combines domestic English Tudor and the perpendicular Gothic windows with the Italian Renaissance classical style.    A small group of Italian craftsmen who specialised in adding Renaissance ornamentation to Tudor buildings were working in England in the early years of the sixteenth century.      It was one of these, Giovanni da Maiano, who was responsible for the set of eight relief busts of Roman emperors which were set into the brickwork  at  Hampton Court at a cost of £2.8s.6d each.

In 1518 Wolsey commissioned and paid for a new moat around the house but with the increased numbers using the site and the ornamental ponds in the newly planted gardens, water became a problem.      Two springs served the site and conduits were laid with brick built heads  with windows and doors.     This provided running water to the palace and recent excavations in Base Court have revealed the octagonal foundations of what was probably a drinking fountain.  

Whether this was for water or for wine, as is shown in the artist’s representation of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, is uncertain, but it was not unknown in the Tudor period for public fountains to be filled with wine on festive occasions, such as Anne Boleyn’s coronation.  This painting also shows a model, made of wood and canvas on a brick base, of the rebuilt Hampton Court Palace and this replica was transported to France in order to impress Francis I with the wealth, sophistication and power of the English monarchy.

In 1525, as Wolsey’s influence waned, the house and all its contents passed from Wolsey to the King and the Spanish Ambassador noted that In future the Cardinal will lodge as any other of the King’s servants.

In 1529 Wolsey finally fell from power and Henry began to enlarge the already large property which was to become one of his principal and favourite residences.    Once again the kitchens were quadrupled in size on the NE side of the Palace to cope with the Court which soon numbered over 1000 men.  A ‘House of Easement’ was built for their ‘convenience’.  Henry scoured the country for both skilled and unskilled labourers and at one time nearly 500 men were working on the site so that the work could be done with ‘hastye expedicoun’

Henry obtained a lease from the Knights Hospitaller in perpetuity and set about a major reconstruction of the Great Hall.  It is uncertain how much of Wolsey’s Hall, hailed by his contemporaries as magnificent, was reused but the great bay windows were certainly part of Wolsey’s design.      In 1533 Anne Boleyn and Henry made a visit to check progress on the great hammerbeam ceiling and in 1535 the Great Hall was dedicated to Anne.    Subsequently all the major Festivals were celebrated by the court in the Great Hall at  Hampton.

Leisure pursuits were not forgotten and Henry supervised the building of a Bowling Alley which was lined with stained glass windows from Rewley Abbey, part of the booty received by the Crown as a result of the  dissolution of the monasteries.     The Royal Real Tennis Court was constructed and in 1539 Hampton Court Chase was completed.  This allowed the king to hunt all the way from Hampton to Windsor without leaving Crown lands. 

Recent excavations have uncovered the remains of one of the Palace’s lost Tiltyard Towers which were built during this period and largely demolished during the 1680s.      They were used as elaborate viewing galleries for tournaments which were staged on feast days, jousting being one of the King’s favourite pastimes.  Many other workshops and outbuildings for the  services required by the court  were added to the palace complex.

The Chapel has already been rebuilt by Wolsey but In 1535 on the direct order of Henry work began on the striking blue and gold wooden ceiling of the Chapel Royal.        The wooden panels were prepared down river at Sonning and then ‘flat-packed’ along the river on barges to Hampton when the units were assembled and painted under the supervision of master craftsmen from Kingston.   This latter work took about nine months.       Wolsey’s arms at the entrance to the chapel were replaced by those of Jane Seymour but the Cardinal’s religious background of adoring angels remains to this day.

After her executive,  Anne Boleyn was replaced in Henry’s affections by Jane Seymour, a former lady in waiting, who became Henry’s next Queen.    Henry then set about remodeling the Queen’s Apartments ready for the arrival of the long awaited male heir.

Unfortunately Jane Seymour died shortly after giving birth to a son in October 1537 and the heartbroken monarch is said to have had her heart interred beneath the altar in the newly decorated Chapel Royal, which a few days previously had been the setting for the lavish christening of the future Edward VI.

In 1540 an astronomical clock was added to the gatehouse of the second inner court (sometimes known as Anne Boleyn’s Gate as her coat of arms is still visible on the gateway).    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 – this latter was very important when the principal route to London was by boat on the Thames.    It still works today!

The divorce from Henry’s next wife Anne of Cleves was signed at the Palace, and Henry married Katherine Howard, who was proclaimed Queen.      It was also there that Henry was told of her infidelity and she was taken away and subsequently beheaded on Tower Green.      Henry then turned his attention to and married Catherine Parr, whom he had often met privately in her rooms in the Palace and they were married in the Chapel Royal in 1543. 

  With increasing ill health and the work at Hampton completed, Henry began to interest himself in the building of Nonsuch Palace but in 1547 he died at Whitehall.     His inventory included 17,810 items including 2000 tapestries and 1800 books.    Henry also owned 55 ‘palaces’ but Hampton was the grandest of them all, with many additions to the already large house and gardens which he had  obtained from Wolsey under 20 years before..   


Ian then went on to discuss the bad press which Henry has received over the years, mainly because of his matrimonial adventures and disasters.      He mentioned the long marriage to Katharine of Aragon whom he divorced because of her inability to provide a male heir.    The lives of Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard ended because of the women’s ‘treason’ in committing adultery when married to the King.  Henry finally found some degree of happiness with Catherine Parr, despite her radical Protestant leanings.     Henry had relatively few mistresses throughout his life, possibly because of the lack of eligible women at court apart from the Queen’s Ladies in Waiting

 In contrast to Henry’s history,  Charles II led a  disreputable life, with many mistresses and illegitimate children, some of whom lived at Hampton Court, but he still retains the popular image of  ‘The Merry Monarch’’.    Ian also noted that it was difficult for us in the 21st century to understand the late mediaeval mind and especially Tudor politics in which all power ultimately resided in the King. 

At question time, Rodney Murray Jones asked when Hampton was last used as a Royal Residence.      Ian gave the year as 1837 when Queen Victoria decided against living there and made the decision to open the State Apartments to the general public. 

President David Richardson thanked Ian for his colourful, illustrated and interesting lecture which he regretted had had to be somewhat rushed due to time constrictions.      Nevertheless Ian had managed to give some fascinating insights into the construction and history of one of the borough’s most prestigious historical sites and the talk was much appreciated by members and guests. 


Report by Pam Frazer  (Guest at the Ladies’ Lunch)

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