Cardinal Wolsey, influential Archbishop of York to Henry VIII, began building Hampton Court in the early 16th century. Originally it was not a royal palace, but was intended as Wolsey’s riverside country house. Later, in 1528, Hampton Court was seized by the king when Wolsey fell from royal favor.
The buildings and gardens were then twice rebuilt and extended into a grand palace, first by Henry himself and then, in the 1690s, by William III and Mary II, who employed Christopher Wren as architect. There is striking contrast between Wren’s Classical royal apartments and the Tudor turrets, gables and chimneys elsewhere. The inspiration for the gardens as they are today comes largely from the time of William and Mary, for whom Wren created a vast, formal Baroque landscape, with radiating avenues of majestic limes and many collections of exotic plants.
ROYAL COURT AND MAZE
Henry VIII had the Royal Tennis Court built in the 16th century, as he was very fond of the game. Legend says that he was playing tennis at Hampton Court while his second wife, Anne Boleyn, was being executed. When William III moved into the palace in 1689, he had the gardens and the buildings remodeled. Wren’s design for the gardens included the Fountain Garden and the Maze. The Maze was planted with hornbeams until the 18th century, when they were replaced with yews and hollies.
THE CHAPEL ROYAL AND THE GREAT HALL
Cardinal Wolsey had the Chapel Royal built during his time at Hampton Court. As soon as King Henry VIII moved in, he refurbished the chapel and installed its impressive vaulted ceiling in 1535-6. The chapel subsequently become the location for many decisive moments in Henry’s life – it was here that he learned of his fifth wife Katherine Howard’s infidelity and married his last wife, Catherine Parr. The Great Hall, with its delightful hammerbeam roof and Gothic fireplaces, was also part of Henry’s rebuilding of Hampton Court. Stained-glass windows were added to the beautiful hall, showing the king flanked by the coats of arms of his six wives.
CARDINAL WOLSEY AND HENRY VIII
The English statesman and cardinal Thomas Wolsey (c.1475-1530) was considered the most powerful person in England after the king. During Henry VIII’s reign, from 1509, Wolsey was given the role of managing England’s foreign affairs, as well as being the king’s adviser. This important position earned Wolsey a lot of wealth, but he also had enemies. His downfall came when Henry wanted a church annulment from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, so he could marry Anne Boleyn. Wolsey, aware that his life would be in danger if he did not achieve Henry’s demand, proceeded slowly with a request to the pope. This angered the king, and also Anne, who used her influence to remove Wolsey from court. A few years later, Wolsey died suddenly on his way to face trial for treason.
A man-made lake runs almost parallel with the Thames, from the Fountain Garden across the Home Park.
The so-called Anne Boleyn’s Gateway is at the entrance to Clock Court. Henry VIII’s Astronomical Clock, created in 1540, is also located here.
Andrea Mantegna’s nine canvases depicting The Triumphs of Caesar (1480s) are housed here.
This sunken water garden was part of Henry VIII’s elaborate designs.
The yew and holly hedges here are around 7ft (2m) high and 3 ft (0.9m) wide.
A few of the clipped yews here were planted in the reign of William and Marry.
The windows of the Queen’s Drawing Room, designed by Wren, overlook the central avenue of the Fountain Garden.
HAMPTON COURT FLOWER SHOW
The large ornamental gardens at Hampton Court host one of Britain’s most popular horticultural events each summer. Some of the best gardeners from all over country showcase their garden designs, surrounded by flowers and exotic plants. The creator of the most captivating gardens are awarded medals.
c. 1236: The Knights Hospitallers ofSt. John of Jerusalem acquire the manor of Hampton and begin to use the site as a grange.
1514: Cardinal Thomas Wolsey obtains the lease of Hampton Court from the Knights Hospitallers.
1532: As part of Henry VIII’s rebuilding of Hampton Court, work begins on the Great Hall.
1838: Queen Victoria opens Hampton Court Palace to the public for the first time.