During the last break, I went on a visit to London and the Hampton Court Palace. The place is known as the official residence of Henry VIII, however, there is lots of history behind that fact.
According to history, the first tenant was the courtier Giles Daubeney, who took out a lease on the property in 1494. Daubeney was on the way up (he became Lord Chamberlain to King Henry VII the following year), and needed a house close to London. Daubeney’s choice of Hampton Court was rewarded by a series of visits from the royal family. Henry VII and his queen stayed there on a number of occasions and seem to have particularly favoured Daubeney’s country residence as a peaceful retreat away from their London homes at Westminster and the Tower of London. Daubeney died in 1508 and few years later, Thomas Wolsey became the next ambitious occupant of the Hampton Court.
Wolsey acquired Hampton Court in 1514 and began building work a year later. He built a vast palace complex at Hampton Court, immeasurably transforming a grand private house into a magnificent bishop’s palace. Wolsey added new sumptuous private chambers for his own use, as well as three suites for the new royal family: one each for King Henry VIII, Queen Katherine of Aragon and their daughter Princess Mary.
Throughout the 1520s, Hampton Court hosted important European delegations. These were occasions for ostentatious displays of wealth and conspicuous consumption, but also – and the two purposes were not mutually exclusive – for doing deals and signing treaties that would help improve England’s position in Europe. Wolsey was thus criticised by many of his peers for his extravagant lifestyle, epitomised by his ostentatious palace at Hampton Court. Nevertheless, this was not what brought Wolsey’s fall from grace. By the late 1520s, Henry was desperate to obtain a divorce from his first wife. Katherine had failed (in Henry’s eyes) to provide Henry with a male heir, despite numerous pregnancies. Henry’s desire was now the much younger Anne Boleyn.
However, after years of political manoeuvring and discussions, Katherine still refused to comply; the Pope did not grant the divorce and in 1528 Wolsey lost Hampton Court to Henry.
By the time Henry finished his building works at Hampton Court Palace in about 1540, the palace was one of the most modern, sophisticated and magnificent in England. There were tennis courts, bowling alleys and pleasure gardens for recreation, a hunting park of more than 1,100 acres, kitchens covering 36,000 square feet, a fine chapel, a vast communal dining room (the Great Hall) and a multiple garderobe (or lavatory) – known as the Great House of Easement – which could sit 28 people at a time. Water flowed to the palace from Coombe Hill in Kingston, three miles away, through lead pipes.
All of Henry’s six wives came to the palace and most had new and lavish lodgings. The King rebuilt his own rooms at least half a dozen times. The palace also provided accommodation for each of the King’s children and for a large number of courtiers, visitors and servants. In addition, he used Hampton Court to impress. Most famously in August 1546 Henry feasted and fêted the French ambassador and his entourage of two hundred gentlemen – as well as 1,300 members of his own court – for six days. An encampment of gold and velvet tents surrounded the palace for the occasion. A year later, Henry was dead, with three surviving children – the 9-year old Prince Edward and his older sisters Mary and Elizabeth. Hampton Court would continue to play an important part in the lives of Henry’s heirs and in the history of the English royalty.