Attractions · United Kingdom Travel

History Happened Here: Hampton Court

Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived. When we think of Henry VIII‘s reign, a lot of us may feel we are so far removed from that time period that we can’t truly conceptualize how big of an impact this late-in-life obese, larger than life tyrant played in British or world history. I have always been intrigued by British history, and most especially Tudor history having read one too many Philippa Gregory books as well as inhaled Antonia Fraser’s biographies of the Tudor Monarchs at possibly too tender an age. I first wanted to see Hampton Court Palace after realizing some of the most dramatic episodes played out in The Tudors would have in fact occurred here, and I was eager to explore it.

The Clock Court featuring the 16th C Astronomical Clock

Visiting Hampton Court Palace was the last historic attraction that I made on my trip to the United Kingdom in March. It also wound up being on Mother’s Day in Great Britain, so it was filled with families equally eager to explore the gardens if not the beautiful buildings within its walls. I was lucky enough to link up with a pen pal I had had over the years and never before had met in person named Lydia. I had suggested Hampton Court as an alternative to the countless museums that she had seen a multitude of times before, and this was something neither of us had seen. As I will delve into – despite having slightly different interests – she and I both enjoyed discovering this palace where so much history had happened. There was something intriguing about the palace that had served the most infamous of the Tudor, Stuart, and Hanoverian monarchs.

Hampton Court Palace is one of only two surviving palaces from Henry VIII‘s reign. The other is St James Palace in London which is not open to the general public. It is also a palace allegedly full of restless spirits – including supposed haunts by two of his six wives – Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard, the first having died there while giving birth to the longed-for son, and the latter having found out there about her impending death sentence after alleged adultery. When wandering into its courtyard, I was astonished to recognize that Hampton Court isn’t merely a single palace such as Kensington or even Holyroodhouse, but it is really like two inside one- a distantly Tudor red-bricked entrance ( The Great Gatehouse) and palace separated from its Baroque, Georgian exterior facing the trove of gardens. It was easy to pretend to be a time traveler, eavesdropping on some of the moments in history that had some of the biggest ramifications in English history. The sheer magnificence makes a bystander understand why Thomas Wolsey whom had built it for himself “gifted it” to Henry realizing too late that it appeared he was himself playing a king by living there.

The Baroque-style half of the palace today would have eventually been the entirety of what we would have today should William III and architect Sir Christopher Wren have completed their intended architectural plan of modernizing the state apartments and palace. William III had a bittersweet history at the palace and would abandon those plans after his wife died, and later on he himself died after falling off a horse at Hampton Court adding to the irony. What we have at Hampton today welcoming visitors and tourists is an intriguing mesh of Tudor and Hanoverian history. I am hear to tell you Hampton Court is a refreshing alternative to the hustle and bustle of central London, and birthplace to a lot of Britain’s most sordid history.

How to buy tickets?

One of the best things about this palace is that Hampton Court, for tourists, can be one of the included attractions of the London Pass or the Royal Palace Pass which also includes Kensington, Hampton, and the Tower of London for one price. Alternatively, if you do pay full price admission at the door, you can elect to contribute a 10 percent donation for the Historic Royal Palaces’ non-profit fund. The ticket price also includes admission to the beautiful gardens and the 17th century Hedge Maze, any historical reenactments that day, a multi-language audio guided tour, and children’s activities. You can also buy tickets online directly through Hampton Court’s website to avoid waiting in queue. I would suggest at minimum allocating 3-4 hours to enjoy most of the palace and exhibits in addition to walking through the gardens. Add another hour should you wish to do the Hedge Maze, as likely you will also wait in queue there. Also keep in mind the season in which you are visiting; in Britain, winter is considered the non-peak season, so the hours are far more limited.

How to get there from London?

Hampton Court is located in Greater London around 12 miles southeast of the center of London in East Molesey. The easiest way of getting there, and this is what I did, is to take the tube/ London Underground to Waterloo, where you can take the above ground train to Hampton Court station directly. There is not an underground station in Hampton, but the above ground train station is only about a 5-minute walk from the palace gates and entrance. The train typically runs at least once an hour each way, and often times during busier periods, two or three times.

Stained Glass in Henry VIII’s “Great Watching Chamber
The Haunted Gallery

Where to start? Henry VIII’s Great Hall, Audience Chambers

Hampton Court Gardens are 60 acres alone, and the palace itself is massive. The best thing that I did and would recommend anyone to do: Take advantage of the free audiovisual guide that is provided and sheds insight on different parts of palace, and the many stories hidden within its walls. If you are a Tudor fan, I would suggest to do as I did and start with the Henry VIII apartments and the Great Hall, and then weave through the receiving rooms and the Haunted Gallery.

Something mildly ironic that one of the curators had told me is that the poor artist who had just finished completion of the stained glass and coat of arms for Henry VIII’s redesign of the Great Hall (in tribute to his second wife Anne Boleyn) when he was informed that it all had to be redone to replace the Boleyn coat of arms and her initials with third wife Jane Seymour’s when that marriage dissolved. There is merely one piece of woodwork remaining of Henry and Anne’s initials entwined. Also, be sure to look up in the Great Hall; there are little wooden figurines carved into the top to serve as a warning that everything in court could be eavesdropped upon – everything was heard.

The best advice I have for the visitor is even though you will see a lot of faded brick, wooden paneling, and worn tapestries today – take yourself back in time. Try to imagine how voluminous and colorful it would have been hundreds of years ago as a courtier or better yet, a foreign diplomat having his first impression of England’s wealth. The tapestries that decorate the chambers were woven with gold so they would have been illustrious, and the paint that originally coated the Great Hall with bold colors in addition to the wood has worn thin. Keep that in mind also as you navigate the palace interior and exterior.

Stained Glass in Great Hall featuring King Henry VIII
Receiving chamber where inner courtiers would wait
The Great Hall, tapestries would have been illustrious 500 yrs ago
Always look up!
The Royal Chapel

Do check out one of the few locations where photography isn’t allowed – the Royal Chapel -which is just as illustrious, colorful, and as magnificent as it would have been during the episode in which Henry VIII found out about his fifth’s wife (Catherine Howard) alleged adultery in that very same chapel in the private box reserved for the monarch. I tried to imagine the anger of a tyrant feeling cuckolded by his teenage bride having an affair with a courtier. It was only shortly after discovering the accusations at the church that he signed her death warrant. Ironically enough – just a couple years later the room adjacent to the Royal Chapel would be where he would wed his sixth and final wife, Katherine Parr. Despite the sordid history this chapel still actively holds Anglican church services and has an organist. The public is welcome to attend Sunday services.

Room near Royal Chapel where Henry wed his 6th wife
Henry VIII kitchens, used in filming The Favourite
The Wine Cellars of Henry VIII

Let’s Talk About…. Food

Alternatively, folks interested in the Upstairs/Downstairs dynamic or food history will enjoy the Henry VIII Kitchens that were recently utilized in the filming of the Academy Award nominated movie The Favourite. (2018).** It would have been the good life working in the kitchens for the King because, as I found out from the audio guide, the kitchen workers not only had unlimited beer but also lodging and a stipend far exceeding what normal citizens would have made. These workers would have had the responsibility of feeding a king (Henry) that went from wearing a 32 inch waisted suit of armor to a 52 inch girth in just a matter of years. A curator told me he ate 8,000 calories a day so imagining what it must have been like to work in nothing short of grueling despite the unlimited beer.

The wine cellar is something to behold, and the kitchens as you weave in and out resemble a small village. Wine was a thing of luxury in Tudor England, while beer was the drink of choice for average folks. Wine was expensive and had to be imported during this time from continental Europe, so it was a status symbol to have this massive amount on hand. There are also Chocolate Kitchens close to the Henry VIII kitchens where George I and II would have copious amounts of their favorite beverage, hot chocolate, concocted.

My favorite “quirky” thing that I noticed close by to the kitchens was a statue of a drunken man with his head against the wall. There is also a fountain designed after the one portrayed in the famous painting of the Field of Cloth where Henry VIII met Francis I of France. Instead of drinking water, it reportedly flowed of wine. This is the reason for the aforementioned statue.

** For a list of films that have been shot at Hampton Court Palace, click here

** https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1134222/King-size-Henry-VIIIs-armour-reveals-52in-girth–paid-terrible-price.html

The Room Where It Happened

Me attempting to emulate Henry

One of the most exciting rooms to me was the Council Room. They even have a “throne” chair that you can sit on, as I did, and pretend you are surrounded by your Privy Council. I certainly did this and practiced my death stare. This would have been likely where Henry VIII had made his decision to leave the Catholic church after Wolsey failed to provide him the papal annulment for his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. It also likely would have been where James I would have held the Hampton Court Conference with the Puritans which ended not with a Puritan agreement, but the commissioning of the English King James Bible. Cue the Hamilton reference, but this would have been the room where it happened. It was not just Tudor Kings and Queens who utilized Hampton Court. Hampton Court remained a primary house of residence for the Stuarts, and then the Hanoverians and William III had grander ideas of reconstructing it in the style of Versailles in France. Thus, the competition between the English and French monarchies was constant.

Other Hampton Highlights

For fans of Pirates of the Caribbean, one of the most stunning parts of Hampton takes place in the section of William III’s apartments that is accessed by a magnificent staircase. It is easy for one to imagine himself as a debutante or a courtier walking up or down the stairs waiting for an audience or a viewing of the monarch. To experience those rooms was truly something else, and the grandeur of all of the beautiful artwork encapsulating the entry rooms was most especially immaculate. Fascinating too were the Queen’s Apartments adjacent to William’s that were designed just as the King’s in grandeur to indicate that Mary was equal parts crowned monarch and of the same authority as William. One thing I noticed as I made my way from the public chambers into the privy and “inner” chambers of both parts of the palace was that they become noticeably smaller. The processional or informal rooms start big, and as you walk through a precession of elaborate rooms encased with oak paneling, beautiful windows, and extraordinary woodwork, you notice the rooms get smaller. The day I was there, all of William’s apartments were filled with beautiful flowers as part of the Mother’s Day Flowermania event. The visit may have been hard on the allergies, but it was soft on the eyes.

Another site worth checking out is the dimly lit exhibit featuring nine tapestry-sized canvases depicting the Triumphs of Caesar (Andrea Mantegna) in the Lower Orangery. I stumbled upon this exhibit when looking for the corridor leading to the Great Vine, which is believed to be the oldest and largest grapevine in the world. It was planted at the bequest of George III, although he never stayed at Hampton Court. When you exit the Palace, take note of the King’s Beasts that are the symbolic representation of the Tudors and Seymours. (Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour, gave birth to the longed-for son.)

The Great Vine
Me posing by one of the “King’s Beasts”

For Further Insight

Hampton Court Palace is frequently featured on Historic Royal Palaces’ YouTube channel. I would encourage anyone who has enjoyed the photos or my experience to check out their Hampton introduction video. It offers a behind-the-scenes look and discusses snippets of its history. Keep in mind that if you want to enjoy the gardens and Hedge Maze, there are acres upon acres, so you may want to make a return visit to fully appreciate them.

33 thoughts on “History Happened Here: Hampton Court

    1. Hi! Thanks so much for reading this, and it truly was beautiful. It felt like going back in time, and even having studied its history didn’t realize the magnitude of some of the decisions that have been made here nor how many monarchs had resided here!

      I felt like it also makes such a nice break from London hustle and bustle and it’s not terribly far away so an easy day or half day trip.

      I am glad you enjoyed the photos, too!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Such a wonderful post Kara. Thoroughly enjoyed reading the post, with so many historical details. Also it reminded me , that it’s been a very long time since I last visited the Hampton Court Palace. Thank you very much for the nudge. Beautiful photos.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you very kindly, Usha, for taking the time to read it! I am so pleased you enjoyed the post and that it brought you back to visit. It is so massive I think even with as much As I tried to see in about half a day, I easily could have discovered more especially in the multitude of gardens!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so kindly for reading the post and glad that you thought that piece of advice! I think sometimes it’s hard when visiting his historical sites to try and look at them from how they are today instead of how they must’ve been 500 years ago or however many years ago but I think it’s important to do especially in a place like Hampton that actually would’ve been even more vibrantly colored at the time of construction!

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    1. I can’t blame Cardinal Wolsey for making that last ditch effort although what a shame for him, it truly is a magnificent palace 😂. The palace did not even gain him any favors still and he died in transit to the tower sadly for not getting Henry his annulment.

      Thanks so much Stefan for giving it a read! Truly appreciate your support.

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  2. LOVE this, Kara! I too have always been interested in Henry the 8th and his many wives, and have read every single Phillipa Gregory book. How fascinating to be in Hampton Court where so many things happened. I especially love being able to sit in the chair in the council room! I would absolutely make a plan to visit here and imagine, as you say, what it looked and felt like at the time. Great post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so so much for reading this and I am tickled to hear you say you enjoyed it! I love all of Phillippa Gregory books even wheb they take some liberties historically – have you seen the Spanish Princess series that is going to be based on The Constant Princess (on Catherine of Aragon)? I think you would absolutely love it! I wish I would have taken more photos in the kitchens too that would have captured the magnitude of how much of a village it required to cook for the royals!

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  4. Great read Kara..the details and history uve included takes you back in time…I’ve never visited it and hopefully fund the time this time
    Cheers
    Zee xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Really enjoyed this read, Kara! I totally agree with your advice when it comes to historical spots like this one, doing a little time traveling and imagining it in its prime is likely to leave you in awe. And great death stare, by the way! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for checking it out Lynn and so glad that you enjoyed it! I always think having an idea id what something was like beforehand is the best way to appreciate what you are experiencing. I think sometimes especially with castles more than palaces that is why some people leave disappointed. Hampton is not a place where I cab imagine anyone leaving disappointed! And thanks – it was me trying not to giggle while sitting there. 😂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is so thorough, I love how much background context and history you provided! I think my favorite info is the food-related facts, haha. Homie had a hot chocolate room? This guy was the worst but he did one thing right…def knew how to party.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Claire! Thanks so much for taking the time to read it and happy you enjoyed it. I sometimes find lists rather dry and trying to find a way of writing that presented as a narrative and informative is always the struggle. That’s why it took me so long to actually finally published it because I had several different versions of it. And LOL that is very true, not a great monarch that at least had good taste and beverages. Those particular chocolate kitchens were so crowded which is why I didn’t get a good picture of them!

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  7. Yes, it’s nice to know the history of this place! We watched a show about this one, and we love it! We never been to Europe yet and hope we can be there in the future! The photos are amazing and thanks for sharing!

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  8. Kara, you took me back in time! I love your post! You have inspired me to read the books you mentioned. I love history, as you know, so this is right up my alley! You did such a great job with the descriptions in your article, as well as fantastic pictures! Especially the pic of you on the throne😉. The staircase photo…really impressive.
    Excellent post, Kara! I really enjoyed it. I will definitely visit Hampton Court. Also, good to know there might be more limited hours in the off-season.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Fascinating article Kara. I have never been, but really must as one of my favourite periods of history is Henry Vlll. I love the quiky bits you found like the drunken man, as well as the more traditional aspects one expects to find in places like this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jane! I am happy to hear that you enjoyed the post and like that you thought the statue of the drunken man was rather fun. It is definitely a great place especially for a weekend retreat from the city center of London. I think you would really enjoy the gardens and maze, they were pretty crowded the day I went because it was Mother’s Day and unseasonably warn for March in England!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. A great commentary, both entertaining and informative I really enjoyed reading this! I have never been but would really like to now 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Shamefully I’ve still never been to Hampton Court Palace. Really enjoyed the read though, it sounds incredible so I might have to make time for a daytrip in the near future 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jason for reading it! I am happy you enjoyed it and I think you would really enjoy Hampton Court – so much to explore and see and truly a gem. It is a lovely alternate to the hustle and bustle of London too as it is not that far but far enough to feel like it’s a little calmer!

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  12. This is such a well written and intricate post, hampton court has been on my bucket list for years now, I love anything Tudor! Thank you for sharing this and keep up the good work on the blog 😊 x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much and happy that you enjoyed it! I was so excited to experience Hampton having been interested in Tudors a lot as well and it lived up to my lofty expectations! I rewrote this particular post several times trying to get it just right and feel like I was truly capturing a slice of it! Thanks so much 🦋

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      1. No problem, it’s lovely reading about history and other people’s experiences of it, it really shows that you put a lot of thought into your words! I intend to do more travel based posts in the future as they ar just sp fun to write as well as to read. Thank you for sharing this with the world! 😊 x

        Liked by 1 person

  13. I visited Hampton Court Palace today – so thought I’d look up a few blogs! I’ve written several times about HCP on my blog, but I still find it fun to read others’ accounts. I enjoyed your post!

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