Little Waldingfield History Society was delighted to welcome Dave Steward to the Parish Room where, on a relatively calm and surprisingly warm winter evening in mid December, 35 members & visitors came to hear about Hampton Court Palace, from its humble medieval beginnings to the “grace and favour” period and then onto when it was opened to the public in 1838 by Queen Victoria.
Dave began his talking picture show with the astonishing fact that Hampton Court comprises some 1,300 rooms based around a number of large courts or very grand courtyards. There are also 60 acres of gardens that run down to the Thames and feature fountains, displays of over 200,000 flowering bulbs, along with 750 acres of royal parkland, originally for hunting.
Dave then briefly ran through the history of the palace, telling us that Wolsey was a man on a mission who soon became cardinal and Lord Chancellor of England; perhaps more significantly he was also a close friend of Henry VIII, serving as his chief minister for over a decade. Through many photos, Dave showed us that Wolsey built a vast palace complex, transforming a great private house into a superb bishop's palace, adding sumptuous private chambers for his own use and three suites for the new royal family - one each for Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon and daughter Mary - with a grand processional route leading from these apartments to an imposing double-height chapel.
By the late 1520s, as we all remembered, Henry was desperate to divorce wife Katherine, who had failed to provide a male heir despite many pregnancies; she turned 40 in 1525 and the object of Henry's desire was now the much younger Anne Boleyn. Despite years of political manoeuvring, Katherine refused to comply with Henry's wishes, the Pope didn't grant a divorce and consequently Wolsey lost Hampton Court to Henry in 1528.
Dave then told us that when Henry died in 1547, he owned more than 60 houses, though none were more important to him, nor more sumptuously decorated than Hampton Court. When Henry had finished building works at Hampton Court around 1540, the palace was one of the most modern, sophisticated and magnificent in England, with tennis courts, bowling alleys, recreation gardens, a huge hunting park, kitchens covering 36,000 square feet, a fine chapel, a vast communal dining room (the Great Hall) and a multiple garderobe or loo, known as the Great House of Easement, which could sit 28 people at a time!
All of Henry's six wives came to the palace and most had new and lavish lodgings whilst he 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. Henry really used Hampton Court to impress, and in August 1546 he feasted and fêted the French ambassador and his entourage of two hundred gentlemen, along with 1,300 members of his own court, for six days! Dave told us that Peacock would have been a favourite dish, roasted with a number of other birds inside it - the original Turducken - and presented in a lifelike way with wings and tail feathers on display - sounds wonderful.
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 his heirs. Under James I, Hampton Court's continuing importance in royal life was assured as he was a keen huntsman; the palace provided excellent hunting in the park and his first English court took place over Christmas and New Year 1603-4. The palace served as a venue for plays, dances, banquets and court masques, and William Shakespeare was booked as one of the newly liveried ‘King's Men' to produce his plays in front of a royal audience.
Dave then told us that Hampton Court served as both palace and prison for James's son Charles, who was a frequent visitor to the palace in the early part of his reign. Charles revamped and updated parts of Hampton Court to ensure its continued popularity as a venue for entertaining visiting dignitaries, building a new tennis court and digging out the Longford River (which still brings water from 11 miles to power the fountains of Hampton Court's formal gardens). Charles was also an enthusiastic collector of art, the most striking of which was Mantegna's Triumphs of Caesar, acknowledged as his greatest work; the nine large paintings arrived at the palace in 1630 where they have remained ever since (together form the world's largest metric area of renaissance paintings outside Italy).
Parliamentary troops seized the palace in 1645, making an inventory of the royal possessions before putting them up for sale, also removing all the fine fittings from the Chapel Royal. When Cromwell became Lord Protector, he reserved the palace and some of its principal treasures, including the Triumphs of Caesar, for his own use and enjoyment, and daughter was married in the Chapel Royal.
In 1660 the monarchy was restored and Charles II became king; he preferred Windsor Castle but sometimes came for the day to attend council meetings; he did however build a set of lodgings at the south-east corner of the palace for one of his mistresses, Barbara Villiers and her illegitimate children. The new rooms were totally different from the Tudor gothic architecture of Henry day, heralding a move towards the style that would be favoured by William III and Mary II and their new Baroque Palace.
Soon after their accession William and Mary commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to rebuild Hampton Court. Wren's original plan was to demolish the entire Tudor palace, except for the Great Hall, but as neither time nor money was available for such ambitions, Wren had to be content with rebuilding the main apartments on the south and east sides of the palace, on the site of the old Tudor lodgings. Work began in May 1689 and lasted many years, going over budget in the process. Whitehall Palace burned down in 1698 so William stepped up efforts to finish the new palace, appointing William Talman (Wren's deputy), who had offered a lower price and who completed the new King's Apartments under budget.
Dave told us that Wren and Talman completely transformed the east and south facades of Hampton Court, replacing Tudor towers and chimneys with the elegant baroque exteriors that dominate the Formal Gardens today. Inside, Grinling Gibbons carved elegant fireplaces and architectural mouldings and Antonio Verrio painted triumphant and colourful ceilings. The gardens were dug up, landscaped and filled with new plants, including Queen Mary's own collection of exotic plants from around the world, bordered by gilded wrought-iron screens by Jean Tijou with a new Banqueting House by the river.
The King who did more than any other to shape Hampton Court did not live to enjoy his new palace; he died at Kensington Palace from complications after a bad fall from his horse in Hampton Court Park in 1702, so the palace was now enjoyed by Queen Anne, for whom the major attraction was again hunting.
After her death, new king George I was a shy man who disliked ceremony, didn't speak English, spent much time in his native Hanover and never brought his queen to England. The result was a general decline in the trappings of royalty and in the development of royal palaces. However, the Prince and Princess of Wales (later George II and Queen Caroline) delighted in the magnificence of a royal court and the Queen's Apartments were finally completed for their use, under the direction of Sir John Vanbrugh. Vanbrugh completed the formal circuit of royal apartments, fulfilling the vision of William and Mary and Sir Christopher Wren.
For a short period during 1718, George I held court at Hampton Court, including assemblies and balls in the tennis court, Cartoon Gallery and Public Dining Room; thereafter Windsor Castle was the main private residence and Hampton Court Palace was little used from 1718 til the death of George I in 1727.
Prince George and Princess Caroline returned to Hampton Court soon after George's accession to the throne. George II's reign also produced the last rooms at Hampton Court built for any member of the royal family; he had new lodgings built on the east side of Clock Court in 1732 for his second son. These rooms, today known as the Cumberland Suite, were designed by William Kent and built at a cost of £3,454. George II's reign also marked the final year, 1737, that the royal family used the entire palace.
Queen Caroline died soon after and the King never visited the palace again with his full court. From 1760 onwards, the palace was divided up for ‘grace-and-favour' residents who were granted rent-free accommodation, often living with their own small households of servants above, underneath and around the state apartments. Over the next two hundred years a wide variety of people became Hampton Court residents. Lady Baden-Powell had apartments within Henry VIII's kitchens and the great experimental scientist Michael Faraday had a house on Hampton Court Green.
In 1838, a young Queen Victoria ordered Hampton Court Palace ‘should be thrown open to all her subjects without restriction', and ranks of society were now invited to stroll through the palace.
Between 1838 and 1851, about £7,000 a year was spent on restoration. The Great Hall, the Great Gatehouse and the whole of the West Front were ‘re-Tudorised'. Sash windows introduced in the 18th century were removed and new stone casement windows in a Tudor style were inserted. A 2nd phase of restoration between 1875 and 1900 paid more attention to historical precedent than those of the 1840s; before long, Anne Boleyn's Gateway, the Great Gatehouse, several of the kitchen courtyards, Wolsey's Closet, the West Front moat and the Chapel windows had all been restored.
So ended a fascinating illustrated talk of perhaps the most famous Tudor building remaining, leaving many guests very keen to spend half a day or so wandering round the real thing.
Our next event will be for members only on 20th January (please note a change of date from that originally advertised) at 7.30 in The Parish Room, Little Waldingfield, when the Madgwick family will tell us all about their illustrious father Clive, who has left such a legacy of superb and delightful country scenes both as original works of art and as numerous prints. We hope members will trust us for the evening with their precious Madgwicks so that we can create a mini art gallery on the night and really see the tremendous depth of talent which Clive Madgwick clearly had.
Andy Sheppard 18th December 2015