Photo by Tracy Wilkinson and featured in our Tudor Places Calendar

The beautiful riverside Hampton Court Palace is a treasure trove for Tudor history lovers, which is why it features on all three of our Tudor history tours.

Visitors cannot help but be awestruck at its beauty and excited by the Tudor treasures this still sumptuous palace keeps safe.

The History of Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace started off as a manor that was built for the Knights Hospitallers of St John Jerusalem in the 13th century, sometime before 1338. The manor was the central part of a large farm estate which had been designed to provide money to support crusaders in the Holy Land.

In 1494, one of Henry VII’s senior courtiers, Giles Daubenay, leased the estate and then in 1514 Cardinal Thomas Wolsey obtained it on a 99 year lease and began transforming it from a private house into a huge palace complex fit for a king. Wolsey built the palace to impress the whole of Europe and it was a wonderful fusion of Catholic iconography and Renaissance art and architecture, with an incredible “long gallery”, a huge new entrance courtyard, new chapel and cloister, and hundreds of fine tapestries. So lavish was Wolsey’s palace that Henry VIII used it in 1527 as the location for the peace treaty negotiations with France.

When Cardinal Wolsey fell from royal favour in 1529, after failing to get Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled, Henry removed him from the palace, which Wolsey had already offered him as a ‘gift’, and took possession. He and his intended bride, Anne Boleyn, spent the equivalent of many millions of pounds in today’s money (some say 18 million!), turning Hampton Court into the palace of their dreams. Improvements carried out by Henry VIII included:-

  • New Queen’s lodgings – Although planned by Anne Boleyn, she never actually had the chance to use them.
  • The kitchens – These were enlarged significantly, to cover an area of 36,000 square feet, so that they could cope with serving Henry’s court.
  • The Great Hall with its carved hammer-beam roof
  • The Royal Tennis Court
  • Privy lodgings with hot and cold water for the King
  • Bowling alleys
  • Pleasure gardens and a 1,100 acre+ hunting park
  • A beautiful royal chapel
  • The Great House of Easement – a lavatory system which could seat 28 people at a time!
  • Lead pipes to carry water from Kingston’s Coombe Hill, 3 miles away, to the palace.
  • Paintings – Henry VIII commissioned Renaissance artist Hans Holbein as his Royal painter.

Hampton Court Palace had become a true royal palace!

As well as entertaining the royal court and providing a home for Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Henry’s subsequent wives, the palace was also the setting of key events in Tudor history – the birth of Edward VI (son of Jane Seymour and Henry VIII), the death of Jane Seymour from suspected puerperal fever, the house arrest of Catherine Howard, the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine Parr, Mary I’s acceptance of Philip II of Spain’s marriage proposal and her confinement in 1555.

Henry VIII, His Six Wives and the 21st Century Hampton Court Palace

Tudor Kitchens, Hampton CourtAlthough the palace has undergone many changes over the centuries and suffered from fire damage, much of the palace so loved by Henry VIII still exists today:-

  • The Wolsey rooms – Part of the palace built by the cardinal in the 1520s
  • The Great Hall – Can you find the HA motifs that Henry’s workers missed when they were ordered to remove evidence of Anne Boleyn?
  • The Chapel Royal with its magnificent1530s blue vaulted ceiling – It is said that the heart of Jane Seymour was buried in this chapel
  • Henry VIII’s Great Watching Chamber with its Tudor ceiling and tapestries.
  • Tudor portraits and paintings, including “The Family of Henry VIII”
  • The amazing Abraham Tapestries – These Flemish made tapestries depicting the Biblical story of Abraham are from a set of 10 ordered by Henry VIII in the 1540s
  • The Haunted Gallery – Woooooohhhh!
  • Henry VIII’s astronomical clock – An amazing clock with gears and dials showing the time, day, date and position of the sun in the zodiac.
  • The Wolsey Closet – Found in the Georgian Apartments, this small room features a ceiling from Henry VIII’s reign and a frieze linked to Cardinal Wolsey because it displays his motto “dominus michi adjutor“, “the Lord is my judge”.
  • The remains of Henry VIII’s kitchens – Carpenter’s Court, Boiling House, Fish Court and the Great Kitchens all educate visitors about how Henry VIII’s banquets would have been prepared.

Hampton Court Palace Ghosts

Like many old houses with a colourful history, Hampton Court Palace is said to be the home of a collection of ghosts:-

  • Catherine Howard – It is the ghost of Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife, which gives “The Haunted Gallery” its name. According to legend (and not history!), when Catherine was charged with adultery in 1541 at the palace, she broke free from the guards and attempted to run into the chapel to find Henry. Unfortunately, Henry would not help his queen and Catherine was beheaded at the Tower of London for adultery and treason. It is said that she floats around the Haunted Gallery with a look of despair and making an awful shrieking sound!
  • Jane Seymour – Jane is said to haunt Clock Court and is seen carrying a lighted taper.
  • Sibell Penn, “the lady in grey” – Sibell was little Prince Edward’s nurse (Edward VI) who died in 1562 and was buried at Hampton Church. Her remains were disturbedin 1829 when the church was demolished and she now returns to the rooms she once knew so well at Hampton Court Palace.
  • “The Wolsey Closet Dog” – Yes, a phantom dog can be found at Hampton Court Palace in the Wolsey Closet alcove.
  • “Skeletor” – This ghost dressed in period costume turned up on CCTV footage of the area near the Introductory Exhibition in Clock Court. On three consecutive days it caused trouble by opening a fire door.

Other Sights to See

As Tudor lovers, we are drawn to the parts of the palace that relate to Henry VIII and his six wives, but there are other parts of the palace that are well worth a visit:-

  • The Great Vine – This vine was planted in 1768 by Capability Brown and still lives on, producing the most wonderfully sweet black grapes. I bought a cutting of this and so have a part of Hampton Court Palace in my garden!
  • The Gardens – There’s nothing better on a warm, sunny day than strolling round the beautiful gardens. See the Privy Garden, the Great Fountain Garden, the Banqueting House, the Pond Garden, the Rose Garden, the Tiltyard Gardens, the Wilderness and Maze, the Long Water and Chapel Court garden.
  • The Georgian Private Apartments, once home to George II’s family.
  • Mary II’s Apartments which were built over the remains of Anne Boleyn’s lodgings and which consist of huge, lavish rooms complete with rich furniture, marble, tapestries and paintings.
  • William III’s Apartments – A series of awe-inspiring Baroque style rooms

Our Tours

Hampton Court Palace is visited on every single one of our tours, with our own private guide, so do check out the tour itineraries and details at our special tour website History Tours of Britain. We offer:-

  • The Anne Boleyn Experience – This Anne Boleyn focused tour in September 2012 is based at Hever Castle but has a day at Hampton Court Palace.
  • The Executed Queens Tour – This takes place in June 2012 and is split between Coombe Abbey and Hever Castle. Attendees will visit places associated with Mary Queen of Scots, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey, including Hampton Court Palace which Catherine Howard is said to haunt.
  • The Discover the Tudors Tour – New for 2012, this June tour is an 8 night/9 day tour taking attendees back in time through visits to the Tudor attractions of London, including Hampton Court Palace, and Stratford-upon-Avon.

Early Bird Booking Offer

We’re presently offering an Early Bird Discount of £100 off the full cost of our Tudor tours if you book before midnight on Friday 9th September. You can reserve your place with a deposit of £300 per person. Click here to reserve your place.

Now sit back and enjoy these photos of Hampton Court Palace taken on our recent tours.

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Have you been to Hampton Court Palace? Which were your favourite bits?

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14 thoughts on “Hampton Court Palace – A Tudor Gem”
  1. I love Hampton Court Palace and I am fortunate as a volunteer for Historic Royal Palaces to work there quite often. I was on duty in the Members Room last Saturday. I never tire of this beautiful place having loved it since I was a child and was brought here by my parents – who both shared my love of the Palace… As child I used to often make the river trip between Richmond on Thames and Hampton Court – you can still do it, in fact the boats go all the way to Westminster. It is a glorious triip on a nice summers day.

    The historic re-enactment team Past Pleasures really make the Palace history come to life. I often pass King Henry and always remember to give him a curtsy lol! As a volunteer we get a chance to do a wonderful variety of work – although work hardly seems a good word for something that is such a pleasure. I would like to point out that on the Open House London weekend that takes place this year on the 17th and 18th of September, there will be tours taking place at Apartment 39 – an area of the Palace not normally open to the public, where the famed former Great House of Easement ued to be. It would be lovely if some of you could come. along. If not the Palace is a joy whenever, you can make it. I feel like I have stepped right back into history as soon as I enter the gate.

    1. You are so lucky, Carol! I love HCP and never tire of it, it’s such a beautiful place. When we were there in May we saw Catherine Howard and Thomas Culpeper having a secret meeting and the actors were really good, they really bring the palace and the past to life. Please do post about that weekend on The AB Files Facebook page too as I’m sure people would love to know about it.

  2. Being able to be literally “thisclose” to paintings I have only seen in history books and walk the halls that used to be filled with the voices of a lively court is what made Hampton Court so amazing to me. What I would give to be able to go back in time and walk around it’s corridors when it was in it’s heyday! Don’t they do a “Tudor Themed” meal there at the Palace dining room? I want to say I remember seeing something about re-enactment dinners. That would be something fun to experience!

  3. I think that Hampton Court is one of Britains most beautiful national treasures, (apart from Hever of cause, nothing to my eyes can beat that). How I envy those people that live there in the private apartments, being able to walk around the grounds after the visitors have left… heaven.
    I too, have been lucky enough to visit when there has been a re-enactment from Tudor times (Catherine Parr’s marriage to the King), and yes Claire I whole heartily agree, they do bring the palace and history alive, wish I could be there when they open apartment 39. As Claire says, Carol, please post about the event.

        1. When I was there in 2009 I asked a warder and he said there were still private residents living there, ‘grace and favour’ as Claire says. And I did see signs on gates on the ground floor (I think), around the Palace stating No Entry Private residence. or something of that nature. Maybe its changed in the last 2 years.

        2. Yes, I’m not sure.

          It was two “grace and favour” ladies who saw the ghost of Catherine Howard for the first time. The poor ladies were frightened to death!

        3. Just had a quick look about, and apparently, the doors are in foutains court, with name plates of past residents, most have moved now , but a few still there. Grace and Favour was stopped in 1970, so if there are a few still there they must be getting on a bit by now.
          There are two holiday lets Fish Court, sleeps 6 and The Georgian House, sleeps 8. Fish court, wonder what the story is behind that name, doesn’t sound inviting does it 🙂
          I wonder if those two ladies moved soon after… bless ’em. What year was that Claire?

        4. Thanks for the article to read Claire, very interesting. I guess it would be like staying at Hever, when you take your trips. It would be awesome to be in the same places that Henry and Anne actually were!

  4. Regarding grace and favour apartments at Hampton Court Palace, Grand Duchess Xenia, one of Tsar Alexander III’s daughters, Nicholas II’s oldest sister, died in one of them in 1960.

    1. I have just took a quick look on the net about her, she led a very eventful life. She spoke 3 languages, had many practical skills, and 7 children. She was around 85 when she died at Hampton Court. I bet she’s interesting to read about… thanks for that DeAnn

  5. My daughter and I along with a few friends stayed at Hampton Court Palace at Fish Court earlier this month, our second visit. Words cannot describe this magical palace. We stayed monday thru thursday and when the guests had gone we had the whole palace to ourselves. The gardens are beautiful, I think the most beautiful I have ever seen. Just the history of the Palace is awe inspiring. To walk the same grounds as many monarchs did in their time is a privledge and a trip of a lifetime. We had a wonderful time visiting the Palace. All of the staff at Hampton Court Palace are very friendly and informative and our thanks goes out to them. I would recommend staying at Hampton Court Palace to anyone interested in it’s abundant History. We hope to revisit in a few years.

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