Hampton Court Palace’s 500th birthday

Make sure you pay Hampton Court a visit during its 500th anniversary year, to enjoy an unprecedented number of displays, special events, and exciting activities for all the family

Hampton Court Palace Tudor Gatehouse

Five hundred years ago – to the year – Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the second most powerful man in England, acquired a small manor on the banks of the River Thames. Halfway between Windsor and London and surrounded by hunting ground, it was the perfect spot to build what was to become one of the most important palaces in the land.

For half a millennium, it has been a symbol of power, prestige and majesty and everything about it, from its moat to its battlements was designed to reflect status. As fitting for a cardinal, Wolsey looked to Rome and Renaissance influences.

Hampton Court Palace Great Hall

The distinctive red brick was a bold, new look for the time. And the palace boasted a whole host of ‘modern’ comforts: it was said, for example, there were enough chimneys for every day of the year; there were more lavatories than any palace had boasted before; and in the first courtyard – the Base Court – was a fountain that would flow with wine. (a feature that will be revived as part of the 500th anniversary celebrations).

Hampton Court Palace has been a witness to the honeymoons of Henry VIII, Mary I and Charles II, and the birth and baptism of Henry VIII’s much longed for heir. It has been the setting for confrontations and private meetings between Mary I and Elizabeth I; Elizabeth and her many suitors; Charles I and Cromwell. It is the place where Jane Seymour died, where Charles I was imprisoned, and where William III suffered a fatal accident. Shakespeare performed in the Great Hall; Handel played in the Chapel Royal, and Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat got lost in the famous maze.

Hampton Court Palace Maze
Hampton Court Palace South Front

And Hampton Court remains to this day one of Britain’s most popular and best-loved visitor attractions, as much for its thrilling ghost stories as its magnificent grandeur and unparalleled maze. So for its 500th year, the Palace’s epic sweep of history will be brought to life with its best ever programme of immersive live performance and treats:

Easter Weekend spectacular

Hampton Court’s 500th birthday season begins at Easter with a spectacular weekend of celebrations, culminating in a state of the art 3D film projection onto the palace’s south façade, and taking a kaleidoscopic journey through the building, re-modelling and life of the palace in four ‘movements’. In the Tudor State Apartments, a digital tapestry – inspired by the Great Hall’s magnificent Abraham tapestries – will explore the ‘warp and weft’ of Hampton Court Palace’s history.

May Bank Holiday ‘Time Quake’

Over the May Bank Holiday weekend, a ‘Time Quake’ quest will be held for families, inviting visitors to travel back in time and meet some of the key characters who have shaped the Hampton Court’s history. Specially written for the anniversary year by author Damien Dibben, an exciting reward will await those who complete the journey.


Summer garden parties

The summer will see two large garden parties staged, celebrating a ‘palace of two halves’ and giving visitors the opportunity to explore great moments from Hampton Court’s past. Bringing the Tudor palace to life, King Henry VIII will put on a show to impress the ambassadors, with a magnificent Tudor joust, dancing in the Elizabethan knot garden, and the Tudor Kitchens cooking up a storm. Meanwhile, in a special Baroque themed weekend, masques, music and merriment will ring out across the palace’s beautiful formal gardens.

Summer Magic Garden

In the summer, the Magic Garden, a new adventure playground inspired by history, heraldry and featuring ‘royal beasts’ including lions, dragons and unicorns will open for children of all ages. Within the walls of Henry VIII’s historic tiltyard, where his daughter Queen Elizabeth watched courtiers jousting for her favour, the garden will have the extravagant King’s famous wine fountain recreated and flowing at its heart.

Year-round movie making workshops

And throughout the year, young people and families will also be recruited to help the Palace create a ‘new history’ of Hampton Court – in film! A year of ‘movie making’ activities and workshops will culminate in the creation of a film by Aardman Productions, telling the story of Hampton Court using the words of the visitors in 2015.

Find more info about the Palace and book tickets here.

Related articles

Inside Britain’s Palaces
Treasures from The Queen’s Palaces
Photos of the week: Hampton Court Palace
Henry VIII: King of England

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