Do you ever wish, as you wander through the red-bricked walls of Hampton Court Palace, that their walls could talk?
Hampton Court has witnessed some jubilant - and chaotic - scenes over the last five hundred years. Next time you're walking around the palace, consider some of the events that have gone on inside...
Prince Edward's Christening, Royal Chapel, 1537
Underneath the blue and gold starred ceiling of Hampton Court's chapel, a newborn baby made his first theatrical entrance into the court. This was Prince Edward, the son of Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour. He was carried by the Marchioness of Exeter, assisted by her husband and the Duke of Suffolk. Four men of the king's Privy Chamber held a rich canopy over the tiny prince as they made their way to the chapel from the Council Chamber. Servants and others held up torches to salute the young prince's arrival, where he was then baptised. Afterwards trumpets sounded and minstrels played in celebration. But the event for Henry was to be bittersweet: he had baptised the son he longed for, but his young wife who had delivered him died less than two weeks later. (2)
Catherine Howard's Arrest, Queen's Apartments, 1541
As the queen continued gossiping and gazing out of her window in her royal apartments, she would have been oblivious to what was going on within the palace walls around her. Secret investigations had begun into claims Catherine Howard had committed adultery with one of the king's close servants, Thomas Culpepper, and possibly an old flame that had recently returned to court, Francis Dereham. Her maids, the men accused and others were secretly interrogated, with no alarm raised yet to the queen. Eventually Archbishop Cranmer came to question Catherine himself. She was escorted out of the palace, minus her jewels, ladies and expensive dresses, into Syon Abbey and then later transferred to the Tower of London where she would be executed just a few months later. Did she run screaming down the Haunted Gallery? Historians aren't sure, but it makes for a good story.
Henry's Last Christmas Party, Great Hall, 1546
Henry VIII entertained the French Ambassador at Hampton Court in December 1546. The ambassador wrote that he was greeted by over five hundred of the king's men and then treated to six full days of banqueting, hunting and games with 'noble masques and mummeries'. By now Henry would have found it hard to walk around his palace unaided, and his ulcerated leg would have been agonising for him. Henry would leave Hampton Court a few days later for the last time. He died at Westminster a month later. (2)
Philip and Mary's Christmas in the Great Hall, 1558
In Hampton Court's Great Hall, glittering in candlelight and with the scent of freshly cooked meats in the air, the Spanish Philip and England's Queen Mary enjoyed a celebration together, for Christmas 1558. The hall was 'illuminated with 1,000 lamps curiously disposed', and there were 'revels, maskings and disguisings'. Philip and Mary were seated on a table under the cloth of state and the 25-year old Princess Elizabeth dined with them. Records show that on the 29th December that year, a 'grand spectacle of jousting' was held, with half the combatants dressed in the Spanish fashion, and half in the English - when the action was so heroic that '200 spears were broken'. (1)
|Hampton Court Palace, photo: Jo Romero|
Elizabeth Has a Secret Meeting with a Suitor, Privy Gardens, 1559
The Earl of Arran, being a potential suitor for the new Queen Elizabeth I, had stayed with William Cecil at his house in The Strand, having arrived from Europe in 1559. Cecil decided to arrange a secret meeting with the new queen, the Earl crossing the river in secret and being presented to Elizabeth in the palace gardens, where Elizabeth would take her regular walks. While Elizabeth may have been flattered by this furtive, romantic surprise visit, Cecil would soon learn that Elizabeth had no intention to marry. (2)
Charles I Escapes the Palace, 1647
After he was captured after the Civil War, Charles I was imprisoned by Oliver Cromwell at Hampton Court Palace. One November night, he retired to his rooms and asked not to be disturbed, as he said he was writing important letters. A few hours' later, when there was still no sign of the king, soldiers burst into his room. They were empty. Charles had left the palace some hours before through a secret passage, emerging onto the riverside at the outer palace wall. He was met by royalist supporters, who provided a horse for the king to gallop off into the sunset on his escape. He got as far as the Isle of Wight, where he was again imprisoned, at Carisbrooke castle. He would be executed in 1649.
Charles II Brings His Mistress on His Honeymoon, 1662
Amid many tears, Charles II's new bride, Catherine Braganza, discovered that Charles had brought his pregnant mistress, Barbara Palmer (later Villiers), Lady Castlemaine, on their honeymoon with them at Hampton Court. He even insisted that she be employed in the queen's household. The queen argued against it, but Charles got his way. This, unsurprisingly, soured their marriage celebrations and one man walked out of the palace in disgust at the king's actions and the humiliation of the queen. And as if that wasn't all bad enough for Catherine, Barbara gave birth to a child at the palace during the honeymoon, and Charles immediately recognised the child as his own, giving him the surname 'Fitzroy'. Catherine would never bear children, but Charles fathered anywhere between 12 and 20 illegitimate children (depending on which account you read) through his many mistresses during his reign. (2)
Have you been to Hampton Court? What are your favourite stories from this palace?
1. An Historical Account of Those Parishes in the County of Middlesex, Daniel Lysons, 1800, Google books, accessed 31. Mar. 2020
2. VCH Hampton Court Palace, accessed 31 Mar. 2020