AMONG the many places of interest that lie within easy reach of London, there is none, if we except Windsor Castle, that can be held to vie in historic and artistic charms with the Queen's magnificent palace at Hampton Court.
Nowhere else do we meet with attractions so uncommon, and yet so varied, as those which are to be found within its precincts. There we may behold a building, which still remains, altered and restored though it has been, an almost perfect specimen of Tudor palatial architecture, side by side with the best example existing in England of the debased classic of Louis XIV., namely Wren's State Apartments. There, too, we may feel, in a more than ordinary degree, amid its red-brick courts, solemn cloisters, picturesque gables, towers, turrets, embattled parapets, and mullioned and latticed windows, that indescribable charm which invests all ancient and historic places. While walking through Wolsey's courts we may recall the splendour and wealth of the mighty Cardinal; and while standing in Henry VI.'s chapel, or his gorgeous Gothic hall, ponder on the many thrilling events within the palace in the days of the Tudors and Stuarts — the birth of Edward VI. and the death of Jane Seymour; the marriages of Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr; the honeymoons of Philip of Spain and Mary Tudor, and of Charles II. and Catherine of Braganza; James I.'s conference with the Puritans; and Cromwell's sojourn here in almost regal splendour. And while passing through William III.'s splendid suite of rooms, with their painted ceilings, carved cornices, tapestried and oak-panelled walls, we may mentally people them again with the kings and queens, and statesmen and courtiers, who thronged them in the last century. Moreover, by the aid of an unbroken series of historical pictures and portraits, illustrative of three centuries of English history, we may recall the past with a vividness that no books can ever excite.
And then, when satiated with art and archaeology, we can relax the mind by wandering beneath the shade of Queen Anne's stately avenues of chestnut and lime; strolling in the ever delightful gardens where Wolsey paced in anxious meditation a few weeks before his fall; where Henry VIII. made love to Anne Boleyn and to Catherine Howard; along the paths where Queen Elizabeth took her daily morning walk; past the tennis-court where Charles I. played his last game on the day he escaped from the palace; beneath the bower where Queen Mary sat at needlework with her maids of honour; along the terrace to the bowling-green and pavilions where George II. made love to Mrs. Howard and Mary Bellenden; under the lime-groves which sheltered from the sun Pope and Hervey, Swift and Addison, Walpole and Bolingbroke.
Yet, strange to say, though Hampton Court is so rich in historic associations, it has found no writer to investigate and chronicle its past. Anyone curious as to its history must make researches for himself, or be content with the scanty and often misleading information supplied in old country histories and topographical works.
In the same way its architecture, which is particularly characteristic of the Tudor period, and in many points most unique and instructive to the student of ancient manners, has to a great extent been overlooked in books where these topics are treated of.
The whole domain, consisting now of about 1,900 acres, has been divided, probably ever since Saxon times, into two parts by the highway from Kingston and Hampton Wick to Hampton, which passes in front of the garden gates, within 250 yards of the palace. To the north of this road lies Bushey Park, which, with its appurtenances, is fringed on its western, northern, and eastern sides by the districts of Hampton, Teddington, and Hampton Wick; while to the south of the Kingston road lies the House or Home Park, bounded on its three sides by the Thames and the palace, with its various subsidiary buildings, courtyards, gardens, and grounds.
The natural features of the country in which Hampton Court is situated, are not particularly striking. The ground is flat, with scarcely an undulation rising more than twenty feet above the dead level, and the soil, though light and gravelly, supports very little indigenous timber. Indeed, in primeval times, the whole district of Hampton appears to have been an open track, forming part of the famous Hounslow Heath, to which it immediately adjoins; and the thorns in Bushey Park, with a few ancient gigantic elms and oaks in the Home Park, are the still surviving remnants or traces of its original state. One of the oaks, which is believed to be the largest in England, is as much as thirty-seven feet in girth at the waist; and there is a magnificent elm, of which the smallest girth is twenty-three feet, and which is known as "The Two Sisters," or "King Charles's Swing."
Nevertheless, the surrounding prospect must, from the earliest times, have been not unpleasing. The stretch of the river opposite Hampton Court — studded with eyots, and bordered with luxuriant meadows fringed with willows — is one of the prettiest in the lower Thames; and the stream, which is particularly clear and swift at this point, is always lively with boats and barges. When we add, that the view from the palace extends, across the river, over a wide expanse of "Meads forever crowned with flowers," clusters of trees, flowery hedgerows, and broad undulating heath-clad commons, — "To Claremont's terraced height and Esher's groves. By the soft windings of the silent Mole," and that in the distance can be traced the dim blue outline of the Surrey hills; while on another side appear the crowded gables and the picturesque old church-tower of Kingston, we have enumerated all the natural and local amenities of Hampton Court.
Several motives probably weighed with Wolsey in fixing on Hampton Court as a residence. In the first place, he was in need of a secluded country place, within easy access of London, whither he could withdraw occasionally for rest and quiet, without being too far from the centre of affairs — as he would certainly have been, had he retired to his diocesan palaces of York, Lincoln, or Durham. At the same time he was anxious to select a place where his health, which suffered much from the fogs and smoke of London, might be recruited in fresh and pure air. We may presume, too, that he was not regardless of the advantage attaching to a site on the banks of the Thames, in days when, on account of the badness and danger of the roads, no route was so safe, convenient and expeditious as the "silent highway" of a river. Indeed it would take Wolsey scarcely more time to be rowed down, by eight stout oarsmen from Hampton Court to the stairs of his palace at Whitehall, than it now takes one to go up to Waterloo Station by the South Western trains.
Wolsey had no sooner entered into possession of Hampton Court, than he began with characteristic energy to plan the erection of a vast and sumptuous edifice, commensurate with the dignity and wealth he had just attained to. He was then on the threshold of his career of greatness, and already receiving enormous revenues.
The old manor-house already stood in the midst of an extensive domain of pasture land, consisting of some two thousand acres. All this he proceeded to convert into two parks, fencing them partly with paling, and partly enclosing them with a stout red-brick buttressed wall, a great part of which remains to this day, and may be identified by its deep crimson colour, toned here and there with chequered lines of black, burnt bricks. There may be found, too, inserted in this wall of Wolsey's, in the Kingston road near the Paddock, a curious device of these black bricks, disposed in the form of a cross evidently an allusion to his ecclesiastical character; and similar crosses may be observed on an old tower, standing near a piece of ground which was formerly the Cardinal's orchard, and on one of the turrets in the Clock Court. At the same time he surrounded the house and gardens with a great moat — a precaution which is noticeable as the mediaeval custom of so defending dwelling-places had generally died out, since the Wars of the Roses, and Wolsey's moat here must have been one of the last made. It remained as a prominent feature in front of the palace till the time of William III., and traces of it still exist on the north side of the palace.
His gardens, also, were to be an appanage in every way worthy of the princely residence he was projecting.
The general plan and scope of the building were, no doubt, determined by the Cardinal himself, whose style was so distinct, both in this palace and in his other edifices, from the ordmary ecclesiastical Gothic, as to be often designated by the term, "The Wolsey Architecture."
The material selected was red brick, stone being employed for the windows, the doorways, the copings of the parapets and turrets, the string courses, and the various ornamental details — such as pinnacles, gargoyles, and heraldic beasts, on gables and elsewhere.
The first portion taken in hand was, doubtless, the great west front of the building, which extends, with its two wings, from north to south, 400 feet. This facade, though only two stories in height, has considerable beauty about it, and the picturesque turrets at the angles of the building, the embrasured parapet, the chimneys of carved and twisted brick, the graceful gables with their gargoyles and pinnacles, and the varied mullioned windows, form an admirable specimen of Tudor domestic architecture. It still preserves much of the charm of old work, although it has frequently been subjected to repairs and alterations; but the effect is marred by the absence from the numerous turrets of the leaden cupolas (or "types" to use the correct old English term) which, with their crockets, pinnacles, and gilded vanes, formerly gave so uniquely picturesque an appearance to this part of the building.
An especially striking feature in Wolsey's west front, as in other parts of the Tudor building, is the delicately moulded forms of the chimney shafts which rise in variously grouped clusters, like slender turrets above the battlements and gables. They are all of red brick, constructed on many varieties of plan, and wrought and rubbed, with the greatest nicety, into different decorative patterns. Some are circular, some square (but set diagonally), and some octagonal; and they are grouped together in twos or fours, with their shafts sometimes carried up solid, and sometimes separate.
Another charm is the deep crimson of the bricks, approximating often to a rich purple, which contrasts favourably with the staring scarlet of modern red-brick work. This is particularly the case in the south or right-hand wing, one of the most picturesque portions of the whole palace.
By the month of May, 1516, the building had so far advanced that Wolsey was able to receive the King and Queen at dinner in his new abode. This was a time when Henry delighted to honour with his company his "awne goode Cardinall," as he termed him, at pleasant little entertainments, when he could throw off the restraints of royalty, and join in unconventional intercourse with his personal friends. During dinner or supper the minstrels usually played music, and afterwards the King and a few intimate friends took part in a masquerade or an impromptu dance. Sometimes he "would oblige the company with a song," accompanying himself on the harpsichord or lute. At other times the King would visit the Cardinal in state accompanied by his whole court.
The Clock Court, access to which is had from the First Court through the archway of the Clock Tower, formed the inner and principal part of Wolsey's original palace; but the alterations that it has undergone since his time cause it to present a very different appearance now. In the first place, the present Great Hall, which occupies the whole of its north side, though often called Wolsey's hall, was not erected by him, but, after his death, by Henry VIII., though it doubtless stands on the site of the smaller and older hall of the Cardinal's building. Then half of the east side of the court was rebuilt by George II., while the original south range is almost entirely obscured from view by the Ionic colonnade of Sir Christopher Wren. Here, however, we are in one of the most interesting corners of Hampton Court; for behind this colonnade remains the original range of buildings in which are situated the very rooms occupied by Cardinal Wolsey himself.
Attached to this corner was one of the Cardinal's galleries, in which he used to pace, meditating on his political plans, on his chances for the popedom, and on the failing favour of the King. To this, which must have been demolished by William III., and to the other long galleries in the First Court, Cavendish makes reference in his metrical life of his master:
"My galleries were fayer, both large and long
To walk in them when that it lyked me best."
On the north side of the last two mentioned courts is a long intricate range of buildings, enclosing various smaller courts, and containing kitchens and other offices and bed-rooms for the numerous members of his household. Much of this part of the building, together with the cloisters and courts to the north-east, called the Round Kitchen and Chapel Courts, seem also to have been the work of the great Cardinal. The chapel, however, was remodelled, if not entirely rebuilt, by Henry VIII., though we may assume that it occupies the same site as that of Wolsey and the ancient one of the Knights Hospitallers, whose tombs perhaps lie beneath the kitchens and other offices contiguous to the Chapel Court.
When, therefore, we take into consideration William III.'s demolitions, which included some of the Cardinal's original structure as well as Henry VIII.'s additions, we may conclude that Wolsey's palace cannot have been very much smaller than the existing one, which covers eight acres, and has a thousand rooms.Romantic Castles and Palaces, As Seen and Described by Famous Writers, Edited and Translated by Esther Singleton. 1901.
Hampton Court Palace by Ernest Law. Note: From original text; may contain OCR errors.