So today we went to tour the Hampton Court Palace and gardens, best known as the summer home and preferred residence of the infamous – and nearly unavoidable these last few weeks – King Henry VIII. It was originally built for Cardinal Woolsey, but Henry later took it for himself when he broke with the Catholic Church. Much of the attractions of the place are based on King Henry’s continued popular appeal and fascination; as such, it features various theatrical aspects – from an audio tour that is in large part a radio drama to an interactive-theater game involving a reenactment of one of his conflicts with his wives (I didn’t catch which but I suspect it was Anne Boleyn), complete with a fairly good Henry VIII impersonator, who apparently flirted with several of my classmates.
However, what I found more interesting was the later sections of the palace, added in a completely different Baroque style by Christopher Wren (of St. Paul’s Cathedral fame) for William III and Mary II over a century later. This is an era of British history that – due to coinciding with the British Colonial period in America – is often skipped over lightly in American education, and as such I found it particularly interesting to explore. The history behind this section involves William III, who took the throne jointly with his wife Mary after overthrowing her father James II with the help of Parliament and the Dutch navy, wanting to upgrade the palace to the style of the time, then defined by the extravagant Versailles palace created by King Louis XIV of France, but being unable to afford to do so (in part due to his ongoing role as a general in wars with Catholic France, and in part due to Parliament now having more control over the nation’s finances).
Creepily, King William kept a portrait of his uncle/grandfather-in-law Charles I in one of his chambers opposite the throne – the king who’d been deposed and executed by Cromwell’s Parliamentarian forces, as apparently a reminder to be humble and cooperate with Parliament (who, after all, had made him king). This whole section was, for me, fairly eye-opening about the role of a palace in the life of a monarch (lots of rooms for people of varying importance), and I enjoyed it.