With its famous maze and lavish rooms, Hampton Court Palace is best known for Henry VIII's gruesome love affairs. Meant to rival the elaborate palaces of European monarchs, this historical gem is packed with incredible works of art and beautiful antique furniture.
It sits next to the River Thames in a lovely leafy location on the edge of London and hosts the much-loved annual Garden Festival, with impressive displays and live music, as well as handcrafted homewares and artisan food and drink on sale.
This summer after lockdown, Country Living readers can visit the palace in the company of Tudor history expert and TV favourite Professor Suzannah Lipscomb, who will reveal some of the stories and secrets behind its fascinating building and answer your questions. It's set to be a fascinating experience during our exclusive three-day staycation.
Over the three days, you'll also visit the other great attractions by the Thames, including Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and Windsor Castle, where you can enjoy a private behind-the-ropes tours and sip champagne afterwards.
Ahead of the trip and while the only travel we can do is via our sofas, we thought we'd shine the spotlight on one of Britain's most magnificent attractions and bring you eight fascinating Hampton Court Palace facts.
Keep scrolling to get to know a few interesting details about King Henry VIII’s favourite home.
1. Henry VIII didn’t actually build it
The palace as it is now dates back to 1515, and was actually commissioned by Henry’s advisor, Thomas Wolsey, to celebrate becoming a cardinal of the Catholic Church. It was completed 10 years later, but Thomas wouldn’t have it for long.
When other noblemen gossiped that it was a grander design than any of the king’s own palaces, Thomas gifted it to Henry in 1528.
2. It’s the best place to learn about Tudor feasts
The palace has the largest surviving 16th-century kitchens, with six huge fireplaces inside, where a team of up to 200 cooks would prepare huge all-day feasts for the king and his entourage.
3. It was the Tudor version of a theme park
With tennis courts, a bowling green, jousting complex and archery in the 60 acres of landscaped gardens, as well as hunting grounds nearby, the palace was the closest thing the Tudors had to a leisure centre or theme park.
No surprise, since Henry was famed for his love of sports as a younger man. The hedge maze was added in 1700, and survives to this day, the oldest of its kind.
4. Tourists have been visiting for nearly 200 years
After the palace’s final royal resident King George II died in 1760, and passed it on to his son George III, the palace was unoccupied for almost a century.
That is until Queen Victoria ascended to the throne, and opened it up to the public for the first time in 1838. One early visitor was artist Vincent Van Gogh, who came to see the spectacular tapestries.
5. It has dozens of chimneys
When you visit Hampton Court Palace, peer up to the roof and you’ll spot endless ornamental chimneys poking up from the tiles, with some incredible decorative brickwork snaking around the outside of them.
6. William Shakespeare stayed for Christmas
The Great Hall became the stage for some festive drama during the Christmas season of 1603, when Shakespeare’s theatre company stayed for three weeks and performed their plays for King James I.
The entertainment wasn’t quite as light-hearted as your typical Christmas panto though – with the actors staging The Bard’s famous tragedies, Hamlet and Macbeth. He’s behind you!
7. Watch out for the ghosts…
During the early 1900s the palace became a hotspot for ghost tours, and enterprising photographers mocked up popular postcards showing spooky spectres haunting the corridors.
They’re said to be stalked by the ghosts of Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour, who died after giving birth there, and his fifth wife, the ‘Screaming Queen’ Catherine Howard, who was arrested at Hampton Court for alleged adultery and treason before being beheaded at the Tower of London.
8. Henry liked his guests to have a welcome drink (or three!)
Base Court, the first courtyard, was where visitors to Hampton Court would wait to find out if King Henry would see them.
To make sure they didn’t get bored, he had a wine fountain installed where they could help themselves to a drink. Cheers!
Explore Hampton Court Palace with TV historian Suzannah Lipscomb on a Country Living tour of London’s royal palaces.
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