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Hampton Court Palace: England’s rival to Versailles




A grand red-brick palace, Hampton Court was built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, adviser to Henry VIII. However, the King liked the palace so much that he simply took it away. Over time, Sir Christopher Wren was invited to rebuild the residence and create an English version of the Palace of Versailles on the banks of the Thames.

The south façade of the Hampton Court Palace
The south façade of the palace. Photo: © Martin Tester / geograph.org.uk (cc-by-sa/2.0)
The south façade of the Hampton Court Palace
The south façade of the palace. Photo: Maxwell Hamilton, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

According to the Domesday Book, in 1086 the manor of Hampton was owned by Walter of Saint-Valery and remained in the possession of his family until 1218. Between 1237 and 1531 the building belonged to the Knights Hospitallers. In 1515, they leased it to the Archbishop of York, Thomas Wolsey, for 95 years.

Hampton Court
Hampton Court. Photo: 139904 / pixabay (Pixabay License)
Entrance to the Hampton Court Palace
Entrance to the palace. Photo: Maxwell Hamilton / flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Wolsey devoted the first ten years of the lease to the construction of a new palace. Its size, and probably splendor, played a cruel joke: Wolsey was forced to cede the palace to Henry VIII, who acquired the proprietary to it in 1531.

Hampton Court Palace from the Privy Garden
Palace from the Privy Garden. Photo: Vince Smith, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)
The south façade of the Hampton Court Palace
The south façade of the palace. Photo: Mark Percy / Hampton Court Palace South Facade, Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Henry VIII significantly altered and expanded the building, eclipsing Wolsey’s architectural ideas

Fountain Court at the Hampton Court Palace
Fountain Court. Photo: Chris mcdonn, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Tulip Festival at the Hampton Court Palace
Tulip Festival. Photo: Derek Winterburn / Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Hampton Court became one of the most beloved residences of Henry VIII. The palace was expanded so that the future wife of the king, Anne Boleyn, and her courtiers could freely accommodate in it. Boleyn’s influence in the building’s architecture can also be seen in the carved H&A initials on a wood panel in the Great Hall. It survived despite Henry’s attempts to erase all the traces of Anne after her execution in 1536.

Interior of the Hampton Court Palace
Interior of the palace. Staircase. Photo: MrsEllacott, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Over the years, Hampton Court Palace has witnessed some of the most significant events in the life of Henry VIII. The rupture of relations with Rome; the birth of the heir Edward VI and the death of the third wife Jane Seymour; the divorce from the fourth wife Anna of Cleves, as well as the accusation of adultery and the subsequent arrest of the fifth wife Catherine Howard – this is not a complete list…

Interior of the Hampton Court Palace
Interior of the palace. Photo: Heather Smithers / flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Interior of the Hampton Court Palace
Interior of the palace. Photo: Heather Smithers / flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Later, in 1689, King William III and Queen Mary did a great job of restoring and expanding the complex, which was supposed to become a worthy rival to Versailles. Sir Christopher Wren was in charge of the project. He destroyed much of the palace, leaving it in two contrasting architectural styles – Tudor country houses and Baroque. King George II was the last monarch to live in the palace.

Interior of the Hampton Court Palace
Interior of the palace. Photo: Heather Smithers / flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Interior of the Hampton Court Palace
Interior of the palace. Photo: Alistair Young / flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In 1796, the Great Hall was restored, and in 1838, during the reign of Queen Victoria, a complete restoration was done, and the palace was opened to visitors.

Interior of the Hampton Court Palace
Interior of the palace. The Great Hall. Photo: bvi4092 / flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The complex is surrounded by a luxurious garden, on the territory of which there is the first hedge labyrinth in Britain.

Hampton Court
Hampton Court. Photo: Jim Linwood / flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Garden with a pond at the Hampton Court Palace
Garden with a pond. Photo: stu smith / flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Formal garden at the Hampton Court Palace
Formal garden. Photo: Formal Garden, Hampton Court Palace, Surrey by Christine Matthews, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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