Well, needless-to-say, the moment we arrived at Hampton Court and I caught a glimpse of the palace for the first time, I was speechless. No pictures can possibly do it justice - you just have to see it in real life. It is absolutely the most beautiful, ornate, and extravagant palace I can imagine, and it's easy to see why Henry VIII loved it so much and wanted it for himself after Cardinal Wolsey's downfall. It's also very easy to imagine yourself as a Tudor courtier, walking up to the palace for the first time and feeling excited and terrified all at once - because this palace absolutely captures and represents the magnificence and splendor that was King Henry VIII. It's absolutely fantastic.
Of course, not all the palace is dedicated to King Henry VIII and the Tudor period - though wouldn't that be great? One of the first exhibits I went through was William III's Apartments - (This is William of Orange, as in "William and Mary," the co-monarchs of the Stuart dynasty who overthrew Mary's father, James II). Though I knew virtually nothing about him before walking through his rooms, I found the exhibits very interesting and learned quite a lot about protocol and etiquette during the late Stuart period. The design, artwork, and elegance is very different from that of the Tudor period - but just as beautiful in my opinion.
Walking into Henry VIII's Great Hall was the moment I had been waiting for! It was absolutely beautiful and easy to imagine rows of courtiers and noblemen dressed to the nines and dining in the presence of King Henry and one of his many wives. Although the Hall was nowhere near as elegant and colorful as it was back in the 1500's, it was still absolutely lovely to look at and walk through. Evidently, during Henry's reign, the ceiling would have been painted vibrant blue, gold, and red to highlight the magnificence of himself and his court. There was also a gorgeous stained glass immortalization of Henry himself, set into a large window at the back of the Hall - where Henry would have had full view of it as he dined.
Possibly my favorite part of Henry VIII's Apartments was the Chapel Royal, which I had just enough time to walk down the center aisle and turn back around - (unfortunately we were running late to catch our bus). Although I was in there for only a few minutes, I definitely had an emotional moment while walking up to the altar. Thinking about the masses that were held in that chapel for Henry and his Queens, the baptism of Edward VI, and the hours of praying for the souls of the victims of Henry's axeman - I absolutely felt like I was transported back to the 16th century. Part of that could have been the fact that there was beautiful soft choral music playing from the altar, which gave the place a very authentic feeling. In any case, I could have sat in that chapel for hours and just taken it all in.
After we finished touring the apartments of Henry VIII, we went to the new and temporary Stuart exhibition called "The Wild, the Beautiful, and the Damned" - about the mistresses and beautiful ladies of the Stuart court. This exhibit was absolutely lovely, and I wish I could have taken pictures, but they were forbidden. It included beautiful portraits of some of the most notorious and well-known ladies, such as Barbara Villiers, Frances Stuart, Nell Gwynn, Louise de Kerouaille, and many others. These ladies were present and admired at the courts of Charles II, James II, William and Mary, and Anne - the last of the Stuart monarchs. The exhibit was beautifully and tastefully done - gorgeous portraits and educational plaques explained the opulence, sensuality, and debauchery of the Stuart court - and for me, having just recently developed a great interest in the Stuart dynasty it was a wonderful addition to my visit to the palace.
The other garden we walked in was the Great Fountain Garden directly to the back of the palace. The enormous fountain was installed by William III and can be seen from some of his rooms. There were costumed Stuart gentlemen and ladies walking around this garden while I was there, and there was also a beautiful horse-drawn carriage giving garden tours. If only I had the time to do that!
So, those are the highlights from my wonderful day at Hampton Court Palace. Of course, I spent a little more time than I might have needed to in Henry VIII's sections of the palace, and therefore I missed some of the other exhibits - that's the downside of sightseeing with a big group, because you're held to a schedule. I missed the Georgian Private Apartments and the Apartments of Mary II (William's wife and Queen). Because of that, I feel a very pressing need to return to Hampton Court before I head back to the States in December. I'm sure I can find a bit of time to make the trip back to Surrey between now and then. Not only would I like to see the exhibits I didn't have a chance to see today - I would also like to spend more time admiring the Tudor apartments, as well as sitting in the Chapel Royal for a while as I mentioned before. The Maze, I hear, is also a place worth visiting amidst the gardens of the palace - There just wasn't enough time today!
If I do get the pleasure of returning to Hampton Court in the next few months, I will be sure to post another blog post to let you know about the other parts of the palace. In the meantime, I hope you'll enjoy viewing my photos as much as I enjoyed taking them!