It may have been a while ago that Hampton Court Palace extended their Tudor offering with more rooms and a new garden to explore, but it was new to me and my family and maybe will be to you too.
Anyhow, this is what we discovered on a winter's day out when we visited the rooms in the Tudor part of the palace.
By coincidence, I had also been dipping into an old book about the childhood of Elizabeth I who had grown up in the unstable environment of Henry VIII's court.
By turns she had been adored, rejected, ignored, re-united, rebuffed and finally re-united again with her father, King Henry. Elizabeth's childhood had been an emotional rollercoaster. Shaped by the tyrannical impulses of her father as he went through a succession of wives, both his daughters found themselves in and out of favour.
Fragments of their stories emerge from Edith Sitwell's book as she weaves together events from the various letters that have survived as well as from other contemporary written accounts.
It was in a room like this that you can imagine the scene when King Henry VIII was reconciled to his daughter Princess Mary. It was December 1536, Mary's mother Catharine of Aragon had died at the beginning of that year after her divorce from the King. Mary had lost favour with him because she had refused to renounce her old faith, Catholicism. Persuaded by Thomas Cromwell to change her mind, she had been sent for. Edith writes the Princess found the King stood by his new wife, Queen Jane by the fire in the Chamber of Presence when she entered with all her train.
So soon as she came within the chamber doore, she made a low curtsey unto him; in the midst of the chamber she did so againe, and when she came to them, she made them both low courtsey and falling on her knees asked his blessing, who after he had given her his blessing, took her by the hand, and kiss't her, and the Queen also, both bidding her welcome. Then the King turning him to the Lords there in presence said: 'Some of you were desirous that I should put this jewel to death.' 'That were great pity,' quoth the Quene, 'to have lost your chiefest jewel of England.'...Then upon these words this good lady, knowing that when her father flattered most, mischief was like to ensue, her colour coming and going, at last in a swoon fell amongst them. When that the King, being greatly perplexed....sought all possible means to recover her, and being come to herself, and after a perfect recovery, took her by the hand, and walked up and down with her. (from Fanfare for Elizabeth by Edith Sitwell)
After this we found other new-to-me rooms. Just outside the Waiting Chamber was a room that had been used as an office and bedroom by the Pages of the Chamber and had now been filled with furniture that dated back to this period. Down the next corridor we found King Henry VIII’s Council Chamber. To give a sense of what the Council Chamber would have been like a film showed council members debating and counselling the King over the difficult issues in the year 1543.
After we left this room we heard a voice telling us to stand aside for some ladies in Elizabethan dress and to courtesy as the Queen was approaching. I thought they looked brilliant, but my four and a half year nephew was not easily duped. They're not real, he told me. But still their costumes looked pretty authentic to me.
Next we went into the vast space of the Tudor kitchens where there were more people dressed in Tudor outfits and the great fire had been lit. On a winter's day even with the sun shining outside the fire had drawn visitors to it. A fire that had once been used twice daily to cook food for around 600 courtiers.
Tudor Privy Garden
Around the next corner and through a door I found a Tudor garden, called the Chapel Court Garden. Inspired by Henry VIII’s privy gardens at his Hampton Court and Whitehall Palaces it had been planted exclusively with flowers, herbs and shrubs that would have been available in 16th century England.
Although we were there at the wrong time of year to see the flowers, if you go later in the year you'll see a garden full of white and red roses with borders of wild strawberries and sweet woodruff. The garden paths had been laid with gravel and crushed oyster shells and rosemary had been shaped into ships, complete with riggings and canvas sails too.
Just like in the painting, The Family of Henry VIII c. 1545, which hangs in the palace there were magnificent beasts on standing posts amongst the flowerbeds. On top of each post was a different animal, the golden lion of England, a bull, dragon, falcon, leopard, greyhound, lion, white hind and a yale. These had been recreated in English oak, painted and gilded in brightly coloured Tudor livery and bound by 24 carat gold chains.
The final treasure I'll mention is the famous astronomical clock that you can see in the courtyard.
Henry VIII had asked for this clock to be installed so that he would know the time of high tide in London and so decide the best time to travel by river in his Royal barge back to London. He would have worked this out by checking which hour the sun crossed the meridian, and, therefore, the time of high water at London Bridge.
Click on Hampton Court Palace to find out more. Hampton Court Palace, Surrey KT8 9AU
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