Completed in 1515, Hampton Court was Henry VIII’s favorite summer residence. It epitomized Tudor fashion and style. But Henry didn’t have it built. He seized it.
Designed by Henry’s closest advisor, Thomas Wolsey, Hampton Court Palace was originally conceived as Wolsey’s own home—as a reward to himself for becoming Cardinal in 1515.
Sparing no expense, Wolsey used glittering painted red brick with a black diamond pattern, white mortar joints and dozens of decorative chimneys—the largest collection in England.
Its opulence provoked gossip that it was finer than any of the King’s own palaces. So Wolsey smartly deflected criticism by saying he had built it for Henry all along.
But, your majesty, I was keeping it as a surprise for your birthday.
Good man, Wolsey. I knew I could trust you. Keep it up!King Henry and Cardinal Wolsey
Interwoven into the stonework of Hampton Court is Catherine of Aragon’s royal emblem—pomegranate seeds that were meant to represent the potency of her kingdom. Next to it was carved the Tudor rose, indicating how serious Henry was about their relationship that lasted almost 24 years—longer than his five other marriages combined.
2. Hampton Court has the largest surviving 16th-century kitchens in the world
200 cooks worked slavishly from sunup to sundown to feed 800 guests when Henry’s entourage was staying at the palace.
Burning a ton of wood in each of six huge fireplaces, the cooks sweated buckets and were rewarded with as much beer as they could drink.
3. Hampton Court Palace was the ultimate Tudor sports and leisure complex
Its 16th-century tennis court is one of the oldest sporting venues in the world.
But jousting was Henry’s favorite sport. Set amongst the 60 acres of formal landscaped gardens there was a jousting complex. He saw himself as a chivalrous knight in armor and risked serious injury every time he took part.
Splinters from shattered lances could blind and serious cuts might mean literally bleeding to death.
Opening an ulcer in his leg, Henry would suffer severe pain for the rest of his life. Some believe the constant pain changed him into an irascible tyrant.
Anne Boleyn was watching, and later suffered the miscarriage that would ultimately put her head on the block.
4. Hampton Court has many priceless works of art
Commissioned by Henry VIII and hanging on the walls of the palace’s Tudor apartments are enormous paintings that tell a story of Henry’s battlefield conquests.
To celebrate the birth of his only son and heir, Edward, Henry commissioned a series of spectacular tapestries.
Considered one of the finest pieces of decorative artwork from the Tudor period, the “Abraham Tapestries” depict stories from the life of the biblical prophet Abraham.
Made with cloth of gold, each tapestry cost Henry the price of a warship.
Painted by Italian Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna between 1484 and 1492, the Triumphs of Caesar depict a triumphal military parade of Julius Caesar in the Gallic Wars.
Thought to be Mantegna’s greatest masterpiece, the paintings are the best examples of their kind ever created.
5. The Great Hall was a token of love from Henry to Anne Boleyn
The term “eavesdroppers” comes from the colorful little faces hanging from the eaves of the Great Hall looking down on courtiers below. A reminder that walls have ears.
After Anne Boleyn’s execution, Henry wiped all traces of her from Hampton court, apart from one of her symbols that the workmen missed. It remains to this day.
6. Hampton Court was the birthplace of the Church of England
Henry broke with the Roman Catholic church after Pope Clement VII failed to grant him an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn.
Despite being opposed to Protestantism, Henry appointed himself Supreme Head of the Church of England to ensure the annulment of his marriage. Pope Paul III excommunicated him in 1538.
7. Hampton Court was the place for Tudor ladies to be seen in all their finery
Arriving suitably attired meant a lot of preparation, with up to five layers of clothing.
This portrait of Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour, shows the foresleeves that were separate pieces tied on with ribbons and matching the kirtle.
8. The Great Watching Chamber was built in honor of Jane Seymour
Built in honor of Jane Seymour, the only wife to produce a male heir, the Great Watching Chamber was where courtiers would wait to see Henry. The ceiling is a lavish latticework of gilt interspersed with colorful leather maches.
Less than two weeks after the birth of her only child, who became King Edward VI, Jane Seymour died of postnatal complications.
The only one of Henry’s wives to receive a queen’s funeral, Jane’s heart and lungs are kept inside a lead box hidden behind the altar of the chapel at Hampton Court.
9. Hampton Court was the home of King William III and Queen Mary II
Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to redesign the palace in the style of Versailles. Lack of funds meant that only half the palace was rebuilt.
10. Hampton Court was a fusion of architectural styles and periods
The Hampton Court we see today is a unique fusion of two different styles of architecture—Tudor and Baroque—and two different worlds set 150 years apart, covering the Tudor and the Stuart eras.
Even its ghosts travel across the threshold of time.