I’m back to reviewing Tudor history books, something which I have very much enjoyed doing in the past. It gives me a great excuse to sit and read as I can snuggle on the sofa with my nose in a book and say “I’m working”!
This was the perfect book to start with as it was an absolute delight of a read. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it and it’s definitely one I will return to.
Here’s my video on it. Scroll down for a text version and for the book details.
Thank you to Gareth Russell and his publisher William Collins for sending me a review copy of Gareth’s book “The Palace”. I’m a huge Gareth Russell fan – his biography of Catherine Howard, Young and Damned and Fair, is one of my all-time favourite history books, and I can’t say enough good things about his book on the Titanic, The Ship of Dreams – so I was dying to read “The Palace”.
I was not disappointed, and now I have another all-time favourite history book!
I loved it. I loved every minute of reading it. It was a delight. I carried it around the house from room to room, enjoying five minutes here and there, well, perhaps more like 20 minutes, as I did chores or took a break from work. It felt like an indulgence reading it; it was such a treat.
Now, you might be forgiven for thinking this book on Hampton Court is going to be a dry read, that it’s going to be about the palace’s architectural history. Well, you’d be wrong. It’s not that at all. The palace is the setting; it’s the beautiful backdrop. As novelist Philippa Gregory says on the cover quote, “If a house could gossip, this is the book that Hampton Court would whisper”, and that’s so true. The building has seen so much history, so many people, so many lavish events, births, deaths, marriages, affairs, been a refuge for some, a place of sad memories for others, a home for many, from the very privileged to the lowliest servant. If only its walls could speak, and they really do in Gareth’s book.
In “The Palace”, Gareth takes us through the history of the palace, but it’s a social history; it’s told through the people who owned it, lived there or visited it. The prologue takes us back only to 1953 to a ball held at Hampton Court Palace for the new queen, Elizabeth II, 600 years after the first monarch, Edward III, had arrived at the palace. We’re then taken back to the very beginnings of the palace as a manor owned by the Knights to the Hospitaller before we have a wonderful journey through history, ending with a visit made to the palace in 2016 by the then Duchess of Cambridge.
I can’t believe how much history Gareth got through, and it was all done in such an entertaining, and at times poignant, way. So many people’s stories were told, and I particularly loved the stories of those who lived in the grace and favour accommodation at the palace, people who called it home and saw it very differently to its royal owners or the public visiting it. I loved little snippets like servants’ children getting into trouble in Victorian times for defacing works of art like those by Holbein and grace and favour children graffiti-ing no smoking signs and their parents having boozy picnics in the ground and nearly burning down centuries-old trees! Others having seances or complaining about the resident ghosts, and others like Michael Faraday and his wife just loving it as their home.
One poignant tale was that of the Unknown Warrior, whose tomb is, of course, found in Westminster Abbey. What I didn’t know was that his coffin was made from a royal tree, an oak from the Hampton Court Palace estate. “The Fallen Oak” was one of my favourite chapters, and I just loved how Gareth told the story of the Unknown Warrior.
I have visited Hampton Court Palace so many times, but the next time I go, I will view it with new eyes. I’ve only ever been interested in the Tudor bits before, but Gareth’s book has given me a new understanding of the palace’s history, a new appreciation for what later royals did to it, and I know as I wander around it, I will be transported back in time and probably find myself chuckling to myself as my mind conjures up some of the episodes from Gareth’s book, the bad behaviour of some of its residents.
I won’t share any more as I don’t want to spoil the book, but do put this one on your “to read” list. It’s a delight, it really is.
The Palace was published in the UK by William Collins in hardback in August 2023. I believe it comes out over the pond in December.
It has beautiful colour plates and is fully referenced with a bibliography. It has well over 400 pages and also includes some useful royal family trees.
For centuries, Hampton Court has been a place of power, scandal and intrigue: a stage for events that shaped the nation. The Palace raises the curtain on 500 years of British history with royals, politicians, criminals, and geniuses all playing their parts.
Hampton Court has been an arc of monarchy, revolution, religious fundamentalism, sexual scandals, and military coups. In this rich and vivid history, Gareth Russell moves through the rooms and the decades, each time focusing on a different person who called Hampton Court their home.
Beginning with the Tudors, Russell takes the reader from the kitchens of Henry VII and the dreams of Anne Boleyn to Elizabeth I’s brush with death and the staging of Shakespeare’s plays. To the commissioning of the King James Bible, the republican victories of Oliver Cromwell, the many mistresses of Charles II and their laxative-laced attempts to embarrass one another. The gossip and feuds of Georgian aristocrats lead into the era of the Windsors when Hampton Court becomes the place to host Elizabeth II’s coronation ball and hide the last Tsar’s sister.
Fascinating and engaging, The Palace is as atmospheric as it is gossipy and through the many sovereigns and servants that lived and worked in its halls reveals the personal tragedy and political importance of this extraordinary place.
View the details on Amazon.com at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BV16LR9P/ref=nosim?tag=theancom-20
That’s my affiliate link and I may get a small payment if you order the book through that link.
And here’s a link for Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Palace-Tudors-Windsors-History-Hampton/dp/0008436983/
Publisher: William Collins (17 Aug. 2023) in the UK, Atria Books (December 5, 2023) in the US.
Hardcover: 480 pages
ISBN-10: 0008436983 (US: 1982169060)
ISBN-13: 978-0008436988 (US: 978-1982169060)