Our first two days in England were spent doing Royal things. When I say “Royal things”, I mean we visited a palace and a castle. And when I say “a castle”, I mean THE Castle…
…but i get ahead of myself.
First stop was Hampton Court Palace, a massive stately home* on the banks of the Thames just outside London. The Palace was famously expanded from a medieval residence by Thomas Wolsey, who did such a good job that Henry VIII “expressed his admiration for the Palace”, which I believe if you are Henry VIII, translates into “Give me your house, Wolsey”.
The Tudor part of the house is full of evidence of Henry’s many wives: Anne Boleyn was integral in designing the Great Hall, Jane Seymour died after giving birth at the Palace, Henry’s divorce from Anne of Cleves’ was finalised there, Catherine Howard was imprisoned on suspicion of adultery and Henry married Katherine Parr in the Palace Chapel. This section of the Palace has a very manly feel to it, even with its stunning ceilings and painted walls.
What makes Hampton Court Palace interesting is the many different generations represented in the building’s architecture. You begin walking slowly around the site and quickly realize you should pick up the pace as it is enormous and brimming with history. As Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell used to spend his weekends there. Sir Christopher Wren (famous for building St Paul’s Cathedral) was hired in 1689 to give the place a face lift for William III and Mary II, and as a consequence, much of the Tudor Palace was demolished. A large part of the exterior one sees is now Georgian in style.
A walking gallery, for battling the unpredictable English weather.
My favorite part of the visit were the gardens. The trees have been spectacularly shaped into much-harder-than-i-thought-to-photograph giant mushrooms and the whole space has a calm and magical feel to it. (Magical might actually be the right wording for it as there have been rumours of at least two ghosts roaming the Palace grounds.)
The Palace has interesting modern history too. Sophia Duleep Singh, an Indian princess, was granted access to the Palace in 1898 and later joined the English suffragette movement, accompanying Emmeline Pankhurst on her first march to Parliament in 1910.
In 1944, General Eisenhower began planning the Normandy invasion from the park, which extends across 750 acres. Rain kept us from getting lost in the Palace maze, but for a future trip, I am always up for getting lost.
Hampton Court Palace is certainly worth a visit if you are a fan of history and its architecture and size will keep you interested for hours. Do some reading up before you get there on their website. (I would skip the audio guide, which is more concentrated on narration from fictional characters than actual facts about the building itself.)
Tomorrow, THE Castle.
*Stately homes – a term familiar to the English but one which Americans find endlessly amusing. “Stately home” just does not roll off the tongue right in an American accent, just like how we cannot get away with saying tea is “lovely” (i.e. – is tea beautiful?) or say that a show was “brilliant” (i.e. – the actors were shiny?)