06 July 2014

Hampton Court Palace

The Tudor portion of Hampton Court Palace
The LIS class had a free day today so Lindsay, Jessica, Ashley, Kayla, and I decided to take the 30-minute train ride to Hampton Court Palace. Words cannot describe how awesome the experience was. There were so many beautiful rooms, items, and gardens that my camera battery couldn't withstand the sheer amount of pictures I felt it necessary to take. Seven hours and over 350 pictures later, I had finished one of the best experiences I've had in the UK so far.

Henry VIII's Great Hall
We started the day in Henry VIII's Great Hall, where the most impressive items were the stained glass windows showing the family trees of each of his six wives. These were closely followed by some of the largest tapestries I have ever seen that enveloped the room from wall to wall. This Tudor flair is a simpler type of grandeur than shown by later kings, but the hall has the feel of a glorified hunting lodge and completely fits Henry's personality. Unfortunately this is one of the few Tudor-era rooms that remain because William and Mary decided to renovate the palace when they came into power.

Chapel Royal ceiling
Following Henry's hall is an area covered in portraits of Henry and his family that leads into the Chapel Royal, where the king would have attended services while staying at Hampton Court. Henry's son, later King Edward VI, was baptized in this chapel in his youth. A replica of the Tudor crown worn by Henry and his descendants can be seen in the royal pew. The original crown was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell, and the reproduction was made in the early 2000s using a contemporary painting as a guide. While the crown was interesting, the chapel itself was much more stunning. I'd wager that the ceiling is one of the finest in the world and has been painstakingly preserved and restored to maintain its Tudor glory. Unfortunately cameras were not allowed in the chapel, so the photograph is from their web site (linked above).

After such an amazing start to the day, I didn't think anything else in the palace could compete with the morning. Our lunch break in the Privy Cafe quickly proved me wrong. This cafe was modified from the privy kitchens of Queen Elizabeth I, so I found myself eating a sandwich in the same place that QE1 would sit and take her private meals. This was a completely surreal experience because I have looked up to Elizabeth for many years. It could be because we share the same name or because she was the first female monarch who proved that maybe, just maybe, a woman could do a man's job.

Cutting a quill pen
After lunch, we walked through the final part of the Tudor experience called "Henry VIII's Kitchens." These rooms are reproductions of Tudor-era kitchens complete with dishes and food (some of it real) and costumed staff who are on hand to discuss Tudor cooking with tourists. One of the most surprisingly entertaining experiences was also taking place in the kitchens. A man was sitting at one of the tables carving quill pens out of goose feathers, talking visitors through the process as he worked. When he was finished, he allowed all of us to try out his creation by using it to write our names in a book. He says the books stay at Hampton Court, so we could have left our mark for hundreds of years to come.

Superior maze navigators

One of the fun outdoors attractions at Hampton Court is the hedge maze. It was one of the first mazes in the UK that didn't have just one path, so now people would encounter dead ends and potentially become lost which adds suspense and tons of fun! Naturally, this was a big hit and people came from all over England to try their luck when the maze opened to the public. The signage mentioned an average journey of 20 minutes to reach the center, but being the infinitely clever and resourceful library students that we are, we made it to the center in about 5 minutes. The signs in the center urged us to take a "Georgian selfie" with the decorative frame in the center (and of course you have to obey the signs).

The maze is right next to the gardens at the rear of the house, and those are spectacular. There are several gardens around the palace, and each has its own personality. Some are entirely green, some have an occasional pop of color, and some are a riot of hues and flowers. In this case I believe pictures would speak more eloquently than any words I could come up with to describe them, as I have a brown thumb and know nothing about horticulture.

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