Hampton Court Palace, Probably the Best Value Day Out in London.
Hampton Court Palace covers more than 700 years of the changing tastes of its demanding owners, each one, building on to and yet blending into the predecessors’ architectural heritage. Hampton Court was envied for its location amidst valuable hunting territory and for lying ensconced within a totally English, rural aspect. It was admired for its history of various building styles, creating a fascinating ambience of romantic charm continued down the ages.
Within the foundations are the remains of the first known house of the Knights Hospitallers of St John, dating from 1338. Originally created to fund crusades to the Holy Land through its large farming estate. Giles Daubeney, a senior courtier of King Henry VII’s leased the court in 1494 and from here the palace started to emerge.
In 1514, Hampton Court was owned by Thomas Wolsey, whose rise from humble stock to leading clergyman and politician was swift. He became Henry VIII’s trusted administrator and consequently his fortunes rose immeasurably. The manor house became a palace fit for the King and thus came the new galleries; and hundreds of fine tapestries adorned the walls.
In 1525 Wolsey formally presented it to the King but by 1529, Wolsey had been forced to resign for not getting Henry the divorce he desired. Wolsey died in November 1530, having been arrested for treason and surely wrote his most compelling epitaph, “If I had served God as diligently as I have done the King, he would not have given me over in my grey hairs.”
I will leave it there, for we know that Henry VIII (reigned 1509-47) continued with new projects at Hampton as did Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603) despite not holding much affection for the palace. King James I (reigned 1603-25) enjoyed plays by his theatre company, including one William Shakespeare and in 1604, staged a religious debate that resulted in the King James translation of the Bible.
Charles I (reigned 1625-49) brought fantastic Italian art collections to the palace. Charles II (reigned1660-85) added a new tennis court and hunting park. James II (reigned 1685-8) and was soon ousted to France, he used Hampton very little but Mary II and William of Orange (reigned jointly 1689-94) and then William III (reigned on his own from 1694-1702) set about rebuilding on a grand scale attempting to rival the baroque palaces of Louis XIV, foiled only by the huge rebuilding costs whilst half way through.
Queen Anne (reigned 1702-14) and also did some refurbishing work on a much smaller scale and the new king, George I (reigned 1714-27) left it to his son to complete the Queen’s Apartments. George II (reigned 1727-60) when the palace was already in terminal decline and George III formalised the system of granting unused apartments to courtiers who were deserving of royal ‘grace and favour’.
Monarchs deserted the palace and in 1839 Queen Victoria opened it to the public, to large numbers of paying visitors and over the Victorian era, Hampton Court was gradually restored to its rightful place in history. A serious fire threatened to destroy the palace in 1986 damaging the King’s Apartments. Expert salvage, conservation and restoration work took several years before the palace emerged as beautiful as before and a bigger attraction than ever.