Hampton Court Palace, in Surrey, was originally the home of Henry VIII's Lord Chancellor, Thomas Wolsey. Wolsey, a tradesman's son, rose to great heights of influence and wealth. Henry's aristocratic councillors resented the influence of someone so "low born" and eventually managed to oust him. Wolsey had been trying to obtain dispensation from the pope for Henry to divorce Catherine of Aragon. When attempts failed, Wolsey's jealous enemies saw their chance and persuaded Henry that the blame should lie with Wolsey. This was not an age of meritocracy. I once said on this page that Wolsey was the son of a butcher, but after reading J.J. Scarisbrick's book on Henry it seems that this was probably a rumour put about by jealous aristocratic councillors to try and undermine their enemy. In 1529 Wolsey was sacked, and then arrested a year later for treason. Fortunately he died quietly before he could be taken to the Tower. All of Wolsey's possessions passed to the king, including his magnificent palace at Hampton Court. Henry then had Hampton Court lavishly extended. Between 1531 and 1536 the Great Hall was built, work continuing by candlelight, such was the urgency of the king's desire to get it finished. The Chapel Royal, the Great Watching Chamber, the Great Kitchen, and the Close Tennis Court followed.
The building at Hampton Court reflects powerfully on the nature of Henry VIII's reign. Henry, to obtain his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, ended the pope's authority in England. Henry now had to step into the pope's former role as spiritual leader. To reflect his increased status as political and spiritual leader, Henry used palaces as symbols of his new importance. As Scarisbrick writes: "During these years architecture was the hand maid of politics; for the monarchy which had been transfigured by the assumption of the Royal Supremacy was now housed in the hitherto unequalled splendour of palaces designed for imperial kingship" (Henry Vlll P529).
Hampton Court became firmly established as an important royal palace. Henry VIII's son, the future Edward VI was born here. Henry's daughter, the catholic Queen Mary questioned her younger protestant sister Elizabeth at Hampton Court, in the days when being on the wrong side of Mary was a dangerous place to be. Then into the Stuart period Hampton Court remained at the centre of events. The first night of Charles I's life on the run in January 1642, at the beginning of the English Civil War, was spent at Hampton Court. He was also imprisoned here later in the war. The palace survived the end of the Civil War, unlike a number of others, and became a royal residence again at the monarchy's restoration in 1660. Hampton Court was a favorite residence of William and Mary who came to power after the deposition of James II in 1688. Mary worked with Christopher Wren to remodel the main palace at Hampton Court. The palace then continued as a royal residence until 1737 when George II stopped visiting Hampton Court following the death of Queen Caroline. In 1838 Queen Victoria opened Hampton Court to the public and it has been visited by hundreds of thousands of people a year since then. No doubt the aristocratic councillors who made Wolsey's life so difficult would have been horrified to see the public wandering around a royal palace.
Every day there are free presentations by costumed guides in the State Apartments. Free audio guides are also available. Hampton Court has the world's oldest hedge maze still in use, originally planted in 1700.
The gardens are stunning, combining meadow areas, open lawns with strikingly shaped yews, and formal gardens. Some of these gardens reproduce the knot designs of Tudor times, using patterns of low hedge.
Henry VIII was a great lover of tennis, and the world's oldest tennis court can be seen at Hampton Court.
Film enthusiasts may be interested to know that some scenes in The Young Victoria were filmed at Hampton Court.
Opening Times: Please use contact details below.
Address: Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey KT8 9AU
Directions: From the M25 leave at junction 10 and follow the A307, or junction 12 and follow the A308. Direct train services run from Waterloo, and the station is only a two minute walk from the Palace. Click here for an interactive road and satellite map centred on Hampton Court. Hampton Court looks spectacular from above, so switch to satellite view and zoom in. Tudor gardens were designed to be viewed from balconies. Henry VIII would have appreciated a satellite view.
Access: As an historic building there are uneven surfaces within Hampton Court, but most of the palace is accessible to people who cannot climb stairs. There is a lift to take visitors to the State Apartments on the first floor. Manual wheelchairs are available for use within the palace. There are adapted toilet facilities at a number of locations. The video at the start of Henry the Eighth's State Apartments is signed and captioned. Braille guides are available from the Information Centre in Clock Court. Carers of people in wheelchairs are admitted free.
telephone: 0844 482 7777