Hampton Court Palace - History and Facts | History Hit

Hampton Court Palace

London, England, United Kingdom

Hampton Court Palace is a medieval palace whch has served as everything from a royal residence to a prison.

Amy Irvine

19 May 2021
Image Credit: Mistervlad/Shutterstock.com

About Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace is a Grade I listed royal palace, built over 500 years ago in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames / Surrey, 12 miles south-west of central London on the River Thames.

Hampton Court Palace history

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey built Hampton Court Palace in 1515 as a luxurious private residence, but in 1529 – as Wolsey fell from favour – the palace was relinquished to King Henry VIII.

Hampton Court went on to become one of Henry’s most favoured residences, and was enlarged to accommodate his courtiers and soon-to-be wife Anne Boleyn, for whom new apartments were constructed above what is now known as Anne Boleyn’s Gate. Boleyn’s influence in the architecture of Hampton Court may also be seen in the carved H&A initials found on a wooden panel in the Great Hall, with this symbolic feature surviving Henry’s attempts to erase all traces of her following her execution in 1536.

Over the years Hampton Court Palace bore witness to some of the biggest events in Henry VIII’s life: the break with Rome, the birth of his heir Edward VI and death of Jane Seymour, his divorce with Anne of Cleves, and the accusation of adultery and subsequent arrest of Catherine Howard.

King William III and Queen Mary later undertook massive rebuilding and expansion work in 1689 (with architect Sir Christopher Wren), intended to rival the Palace of Versailles. It destroyed much of the Tudor palace, leaving it in two contrasting architectural styles – domestic Tudor and Baroque. However, a unity between the two styles exists due to their shared use of red-pink bricks and a symmetrical balancing of successive low wings. King George II was the last monarch to reside in the palace.

In 1796, the Great Hall was restored and in 1838, during the reign of Queen Victoria, the entire restoration was completed and the palace opened to the public. On 2 September 1952, the palace was given statutory protection by being Grade I listed. (Other buildings and structures within the grounds are also separately Grade I listed).

Hampton Court Palace today

The palace is still a magnet for visitors from around the world, and its gardens are also as spectacular and varied as Hampton Court Palace itself.

Visitors can tour Henry VIII’s Kitchens and the Great Hall where he hosted lavish feasts, view art from the Royal Collection, or visit the palace gardens and explore the world’s oldest puzzle maze. The structure and grounds are cared for by an independent charity, Historic Royal Palaces.

Two famous annual festivals – the Hampton Court music festival and the RHS Flower Show – stay true to Henry VIII’s ‘pleasure palace’ principle, and an outdoor ice-rink is available in Winter. One of the newest attractions is the Tudor-inspired Magic Garden, opened in 2016 by the Duchess of Cambridge.

Getting to Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court is easily reached by train from Waterloo every 30 minutes. Hampton Court train station is a 5 minute walk from the palace. Bus services run from Kingston (routes 111, 216, 411, 461, 513) and Richmond (route R68). Alternatively, take a riverboat from Westminster to Kew (available from April to October).

The palace is on the A308 and is well signposted from all major local roads. Limited parking is available but public transport is advised.

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