Now, many of you may not have heard of Hampton Court Palace, it being overshadowed by the more well know Buckingham Place and the close by Windsor Castle. But for a history nut like me it means a lot. It was at Hampton Court Palace that many of the historic events of the Tudor period in English history took place, mostly because it was the principle palace for King Henry VIII and later his daughter Elisabeth I. Also, of the many places and castles that were owned by Henry VIII Hampton Court is one of only two that still exists.
The history of Hampton Court goes back before Henry VIII. The Knights Hospitallers of St. John Jerusalem purchased the site for their farm estate in 1236. Because Hampton sat between the royal places of Sheen and Byfleet the Knights built guest houses for the passing royal visitors as they went from one palace to the other.
In 1494 the Knight’s leased Hampton Court to a raising member of King Henry VII’s court, Giles Daubeney. During the time Daubeney had Hampton Court the king and his queen stayed there often. It was during this time that Hampton Court also grew in value. However it wasn’t until after Daubeney’s death in 1508 that it’s next owner, Thomas Wolsey, would make major expansions to the estate.
Thomas Wolsey was an ambitious member of the next King, Henry VIII, court. Thomas Wolsey rose from a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church to Archbishop of York, and to Henry VIII’s Chief Minister and favorite. In 1514 he claimed the estate from the Knights and began its extravagant expansion. Wolsey wanted Hampton to be the largest and most lavish palace in England. Over the next seven years he spent over 200,000 gold crowns adding new buildings and expanding the entire palace. However in 1528, seeing that his enemies were turning the King against him, he decided to give Hampton Court to the King as a gift, in the hopes of saving his head. Two years later, in 1530, Wolsey died.
Henry VIII realized that Hampton Court was the only one of his many houses and palaces that was large enough to accommodate his ever growing court of over a thousand. In addition six of Henry’s wives would stay at Hampton, as well as his children. Henry VIII continued to expand and build onto the palace until 1540. Hampton Court Palace was by then 36,000 square feet, and featured tennis courts, bowling alleys, a “Great Hall” and a chapel.The palace also had a lavatory that could sit 28 people. In 1546 Henry entertained the French ambassador, with his entourage of two hundred, as well as Henry’s own court of 1,300 there. At the time of his death in 1547 Hampton was the favorite of Henry, over his other sixty houses.
Some of the major events in Tudor history that took place at Hampton were: The birth of King Henry VIII’s only male heir, Edward VI by Jane Seymour. It was while attending mass in the palace’s chapel that the King learned of Queen Catherine Howard’s adultery, his fifth wife. Catherine was then confined to her apartments there until she was sent to the Tower of London, where she was executed.
Henry VIII died at Hampton Court Palace and his eldest daughter Queen (Bloody Mary) Mary I spent her honeymoon with King Philip there. Queen Elizabeth I, Mary’s half-sister, continued the expansion of the palace and also used it as her principle residence during her reign. When Elizabeth died in 1603 the crown passed to her first cousin-twice-removed, the Scottish King, James VI (son of Mary, Queen of Scots, whom Elizabeth had executed). He took the title as King James I of England, this ended the reign of the House of Tudor and began the House of Stuart.
There were many other historical events that took place at Hampton Court Palace, but there is one other that I think would be of interest to mentioned here. In 1604 James I called a meeting of the representatives of the English Puritan Church and the Church of England at Hampton Court in the hopes of working out their differences, this meeting is known as the Hampton Court Conference. While no agreement was reached between the King, the Church of England and the Puritans, it did cause the King to commission that the Bible to be translated into English; this was how the King James Version came about.
The royal families stopped using Hampton Court for themselves in 1737, but starting 1760 the palace was used, rent free, by those so honored by the crown. In 1838, the young Queen Victoria ordered that Hampton Court Palace, “should be thrown open to all her subjects without restrictions.”
Today Hampton Court is open to all visitors, who can walk in the rooms and hallways once trod by England’s most famous and infamous rulers.