Oldie goldies like me will remember the pop song lyrics that made Herman’s Hermits famous: “I’m Hen-er-y the Eighth, I am.” Well, I’ve discovered that Henry, the lusty, mad-for-an-heir, bloodletting monarch from the 16th century, certainly knew how to live well. If Hampton Court palace is a model for the good life, I am ready to live like a king at any time!
Admittedly, the palace was limited by the styles of the times: the furniture doesn’t look quite as comfortable as the pieces we have today, but kings and queens weren’t given the freedom to lounge about that we have, so perhaps it’s not of great consequence.
There certainly was an army of people on hand to see to their every need! The kitchen staff alone numbered in the hundreds, cooking for the king’s entourage and any guests he might be entertaining.
In fact, as the Royals travelled around the country, their staff and accoutrements travelled along! Think of a parade of carriages for the people and wagons for the equipment moving throughout Britain. Quite a spectacle in its day, I’m sure.
Hampton Court has a spectacular chapel, designed for Henry VIII, but updated by Christopher Wren of St. Paul’s fame during the reign of William and Mary. Unfortunately, photos aren’t allowed, so I can’t show you the stunning ceiling decoration – a turquoise colour edged in gilt — or the lavish wood carving that adorned the walls. Nor could we take photos of Henry’s jewel-encrusted crown, which is actually a lavish reproduction, since Oliver Cromwell had the original destroyed during the days of Roundhead rule.
As much as I loved the elegant rooms, it was the grounds that really gave me palace envy. If this is how the rich and famous landscape their properties, I’m all in! I think I need to cozy up to a duke or two for an invitation to a weekend at an estate of this scale.
Wow! Brilliantly coloured plantings, fountains, manicured lawns, shade trees clipped to resemble topiary – it is all overwhelming in scale and beauty. There’s even a hedge maze in which you can get turned around and lost, but we managed to blunder our way out.
Even the common folk can enjoy the grounds today; part of it is parkland open to the public, although that area is largely grass and trees. Lack of admission fees translates to a dearth of flowers, apparently. However, it was lovely to see local children playing and families picnicking in the abundant green space.
No wonder Henry’s six wives were tempted; handsome fellow or not, if the marriage gave them access to this beautiful property, perhaps it was worth the gamble!