Hampton Court Palace
A Tudor and Baroque Palace with world famous gardens
Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court is a tale of two palaces
A Tudor initially built for Cardinal Wolsey before transferring ownership to Henry VIII and a grand baroque palace for King William III and Queen Mary II. Visiting feels like entering the Tudor era and walking across a courtyard and through a door. You then fast forward in time by 200 years.
Take a tour through Britain's fascinating history, hear King Henry VIII's full story, and see the rooms Henry and his court would recognise. Step into the 1700s and see the architecture of Sir Christopher Wren, the designer of St Paul's Cathedral. He removes half of the Tudor building and replaces it with an elegant baroque Palace. The Thameside palace, designed to impress, has 1390 rooms, 18 courtyards and 750 acres of gardens and parkland.
A day at Hampton Court is a chance to explore one of Europe's most extraordinary Royal homes. Make it a Royal day out and Tour Windsor Castle and Hampton Court Palace on a driver-guided day tour from London. Hear the real stories of England's Kings and Queens in the places where the events took place.
The vast riverside palace with world famous gardens
A brief history of Hampton Court Palace
The Knights Hospitallers
The land was owned by the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem in the middle ages. This military-religious order protected the Holy Land from the Turks. The religious order sold the lease to Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop and chief minister to King Henry VIII.
Wolsey was a super organised administrator. Henry bestowed upon Thomas Wolsey (1473-1530) a long list of titles and offices of state, adding to his income. With the accumulation of vast wealth, Hampton court quickly became a giant building site. The plans of the building reflected his new status that of a Cardinal. This strikingly modern and huge ‘Cardinals’ Palace would provoke envy amongst courtiers and King Henry VIII (reign 1509-1547) himself.
As Cardinal, there was the expectation to entertain foreign diplomats and prelates on a large scale. Hampton Court became the 16th-century version of a vast Vegas hotel, with luxury lodging, enormous kitchens and grounds to stroll and talk politics.
The Cardinal could not secure Henry’s desire to divorce from Catherine of Aragon; Henry was not happy with this outcome. The King sent the Cardinal to trial. Wolsey’s health failed him, and he died before the trial began.
King Henry VIII
King Henry invested large sums improving and extended Hampton Court; it was one of sixty homes owned by the King; this was his fourth favourite. All of Henry’s six wives stayed at the Palace. When Queen Elizabeth I (reign 1558-1603) came to the throne, she entertained the Duke of Wurttemberg who was impressed and said, ‘the most splendid and most magnificent Royal edifice to be found in England, or for that matter in other countries’.
King William III and Queen Mary II
King William III (reign 1689-1702) and Queen Mary II (reign 1689-1694) wanted to build a modern Baroque Palace. The plan was to demolish the entire Tudor palace and rebuild. The genius Sir Christopher Wren was employed to carry out the work. After Queen Mary died in 1694, work ceased, ultimately the Palace was not finished, so we have an exciting blend of styles from those two periods. The later Georgian Kings and Queens added their style, works of art and remodelling.
The fire of 1986 devastated the Kings apartments. Repairs took six years and led to the most extensive series of restorations since the Victorian ages. The visitor experience is now better than ever.
Gardens and Parkland
There are over sixty acres of gardens to explore at Hampton Court reflected the changing tastes of 500 years of royal gardening history. There is a mix of formal baroque, Victorian flower beds and Tudor knot gardens.
The gardens are world-famous and warrant spending at least half of your time outside. For hundreds of years, visitors have got lost in the famous Hampton Court Maze. Try your luck, you will need at least 30 minutes.
The wilderness area has 200,000 spring bulbs planted that offer a spectacular show in April. Not to be missed. Beyond the gardens is the home park, a traditional deer park.
The Great Grape Vine
You do not think of England and grape vines, but the Great Grape Vine at Hampton Court is the oldest and largest in the world. The vine was planted in 1768 by the famous landscape gardener Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. It is astonishing and once produced dessert grapes for the Kings table, and now bunches are sold in the shop during harvest time. In its hay day, it grew over a ton (over 2000 pounds) of grapes each year. It still manages 700 pounds today.
As you would expect the Great Hall is the largest in the Palace, it is 106 ft (32m) long, 40 ft wide (12m) and amazingly 60 ft high (18m). The hall is a Henry VIII addition which replaced a smaller version. It has a double purpose, firstly to impress guest when they arrive, it is in effect an entrance hall and to allow the 600 members of the court to dine in two sittings. The roof is a masterpiece of English carpentry and in the past coloured blue, red and gold.
The Chapel Royal
The Royal Chapel is still a working place of worship, and you are most welcome to attend services on Sundays. It has been in continuous use for over 450 years. Royalty would sit in an elevated box, much like a Royal box at the opera. The gilded, painted and carved pendants that hang from the ceiling date from Henry’s time. The chapel gives you an idea of how the artisans would have used colour in other Palace spaces.
Hampton Court is well known for its ghosts. King Henry VIII may have learnt of Queen Catherine Howard’s infidelity while at prayer in The Chapel Royal. His instructions were simple, ‘The Tower’, Catherine’s fate sealed. She escaped the guards' clutches and ran down the hall towards the chapel, banging on the doors, begging forgiveness. Catherine Howard’s ghost, the ‘White Lady’ can still be seen and heard screaming through the Palace. Enjoy a guided tour of Hampton Court Palace on our suggested Windsor Castle and Hampton Court Palace driver-guided tour and hear all the ghost stories.
Touring and accommodation
Stay at the luxurious Cliveden House Hotel and use it as a base to tour the region. The beauty of the Thames Valley is on your doorstep. Windsor Castle is a short drive with Oxford and Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey), under an hour away. If you love gardens, RHS Wisley is a must-tour for professional or amateur horticulturalists. Great Fosters Hotel is another option with beautiful gardens and a short drive to Heathrow airport.
If this is your first time to England, we would recommend a custom version of our Town and Country Tour; it covers the famous places and allows you to utilise your private driver-guide by getting off the beaten path. Our Classic tour of Ireland is a good place to start for the first trip to Ireland, and we suggest the Classic tour of Scotland for your first trip to the bonny Highlands. Merging Wales with England makes for a dynamic experience of mountains, stately homes and cosy country pubs.
Two Palaces from Different Places in Time
World Class Gardens and Hundreds of Historical Rooms to Explore
- World Famous Gardens
- Tudor and Baroque Palace
- 750 Acres of Grounds
- Visit the MAZE
- See the Largest Grape Vine in the World
- Visit Windsor Castle on the Same Day
Hampton Court Horse Carriage Rides
The Chapel Royal
The Famous Yew Trees
Hampton Court Palace with visitor
Hampton Court Kitchens
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