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Hampton Court Palace

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by Kat Parr Mackintosh (subscribe)
Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
Published October 26th 2010
Hampton Court Palace looks like the kind of place a king would want to live. Its terracotta bricks stand out from its great, green riverside garden, its towers have turrets and crenellated ramparts and it's got a big old gatehouse with a drawbridge. So it's no surprise that Henry XIII decided to take it off the uppity cleric Cardinal Wolsey, who had built the palace in around 1514, and built it to be more impressive than the king's own castle. And the tone of the palace is still defined by this most charismatic of English kings.

The grounds have been encroached upon since Henry's day, by a golf course and housing none of the royal family have lived here since the 18th Century but there's still a very large public park, grazed by deer, undoubtedly the great, great great, great etc. grandkids of the deer Henry and chums hunted.

Henry would notice more changes than that: much of the look of Hampton Court Palace today should be credited to William III who spent a lot of money expanding it. Starting by commissioning Christopher Wren to design it, intending it to rival Versailles. Which is why you might have been wondering how a Tudor palace can look so Baroque. Henry was supposed to have conducted many of his seductions in the palace gardens, but both ornamental gardens, with fountains and topiary, and kitchen gardens with orchards were replanted by William, who also had the maze put in, now one of Hampton Court's main attractions. Its neat hedges ring with the sound of children laughing, but it's easy to imagine them ringing with the giggling of young maids.

The vast kitchens are Henry's though while he has a reputation for gluttony in this instance he needed them to feed his court of 1000 as is the Great Hall and the Royal Tennis Court which is a 'real tennis court' so possibly not what you'd see at Wimbledon. The astrological clock in the inner court was also brought in by Henry. It tells the time of day, week, month, year, the star sign and the height of the water at the London Bridge river gate. This last bit of information was the most relevant to visitors, as most people travelled to and from London by barge.

The fixtures and furnishings are from varied periods, but mostly from the late 17th and early 18th Centuries when William III resided here. As well as important art works and state beds the palace also has Britain's first chandelier. If your tastes in history run more to the grizzly you might prefer to visit the King's Guard Chamber where there are all sorts of old pistols, muskets, swords, daggers and other weapons and armour.

To help funding the kingly upkeep on the palace events are held here throughout the year. Each month there's real Tudor cookery undertaken in the kitchens, in summer there's a flower show and a music festival, held in a romantically lit courtyard, and at Christmas there's an ice skating rink.

Even if not everything you see is as Henry would have seen it, it's still the allure of his legendary forceful charisma that draws a lot of people to visit which is why the Tudor period, and Henry especially, are the stars of most of the re-enactments and reconstructions that you'll see when visiting. If it's a nice day and you're not fussed about the inside of the house you can get entry just to the park or to the park and the maze.
After such exertions of a day trip to Hampton Court Palace, ole 'Enery the Eighth would have had a beer - if you feel the same way the pub next to the "lion Gate" entrance to the palace is just the place for it.
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Why? This atmospheric palace belonged to one of England's most charismatic rulers, Henry VIII
When: In Summer the palace and maze are open 10am - 6pm, in Winter, 10am - 4:30pm
Where: Nearest station Hampton Court
Cost: Adults: 14, Concessions: 11.50, Children: 7
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