Hampton Court Palace | Attraction Guides | History Hit

About Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace is a medieval palace once favoured by Henry VIII which has served as everything from a royal residence to a prison.  

The first buildings at what is now Hampton Court Palace belonged to the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, a religious order founded in the 11th century. Giles Daubeney, later Lord Chamberlain, leased and then modernised the medieval manor of Hampton Court.

In 1514, Thomas Wolsey, soon to be made cardinal, leased Hampton Court for a period of 99 years. He began rebuilding on a grand scale, converting Hampton Court into a lavish palace.

Wolsey added new private chambers at Hampton Court Palace for his own use, as well as three suites for the new royal family: one each for King Henry VIII, Queen Katherine of Aragon and their daughter Princess Mary. He also built 40 guest lodgings, each with an outer room and an inner room – and all ensuite with a garderobe (lavatory). This makes Hampton Court Palace sound like the Tudor version of a 21st Century luxury hotel!

Upon the fall of Wolsey, Henry VIII took Hampton Court Palace for himself. Henry set about further renovation of Hampton Court Palace, rebuilding and extending the existing palace, at a cost of over £60,000, rather a lot at the time.

Hampton Court Palace was then the site where some major events in Henry’s life took place: the break with Rome, the birth of his heir, Edward (VI), divorce of Anne of Cleves, and the accusation of adultery and subsequent detention of Catherine Howard.

The palace was used as a country retreat by Edward VI and Mary I. Elizabeth I used it as a venue for diplomacy and Hampton Court Palace was also used by James I, but none of them altered the buildings to any great extent.

Today, Hampton Court Palace is a popular tourist attraction, with visitors able to tour Henry VIII’s apartments and the Tudor kitchens as well as its famous maze. Hampton Court Palace’s official site has some good suggestions for itineraries.

Amongst its many attractions, Hampton Court Palace is home to a set of medieval “tenys playe” or tennis courts. These courts, then often used by a young Henry VIII and now England’s oldest existing “real” courts can still be seen there today. In fact, they are still actively used.