To mark its 500th birthday, Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator of Hampton Court Palace, reveals some of the hidden histories of King Henry VIII’s favourite home.
Anyone who’s watched the BBC’s Wolf Hall (screening on Masterpiece/PBS in the US), which serialises novelist Hilary Mantel’s two historical fiction novels set in Tudor England – the book from which it takes its name and Man Booker Prize-winning Bring up the Bodies – will know that Hampton Court Palace was at the centre of many of this period’s most momentous events.
Although Wolf Hall, which depicts the rise of Thomas Cromwell from son of a blacksmith to King Henry VIII’s right-hand man, was filmed across some magnificent Tudor locations, the scenes set in Hampton Court were actually filmed elsewhere.
Real or not, the programme reaffirms the significance of Hampton Court in Tudor times: it was at Hampton Court that Henry married the last of his six wives, Catherine Parr; his long-awaited son Edward was born here to Jane Seymour (who died less than two weeks later in the same room) and it was also the location from which he launched the English Reformation – effectively saying to the Roman Catholic Church: “If you won’t let me marry Anne Boleyn I’ll set up the Church of England.”
Few people – if any – understand the workings of Hampton Court Palace and life in a Tudor court as well as Lucy Worsley – she even lived here for a time when she first took on the role of Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, freezing away in a room fitted with 17th-century windows through which the “wind would blow in and out.”
Lucy tells us that Cardinal Wolsey, who ordered the building of Hampton Court Palace, was an ambitious man: “He was a sort of magnate of the Church and he saw himself as equivalent to the Renaissance princes of Europe – England was too small to hold him really so he wanted a grand country residence,” she says.
And so 500 years ago, in 1515, the building project at Hampton Court began.
“He built the whole of Base Court and what you can still see around Clock Court, then Henry VIII came along and just took it off him,” Lucy says.
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Scroll down for more behind-the-scenes images from our interview with Lucy Worsley.
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