Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Building of the Week: Hampton Court Palace, the East Molesey, Greater London

Originally built circa 1514 for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, The Archbishop of York , Chief Minister and a favorite of King Henry VIII, Hampton Court Palace was intended to show foreign visitors that British cardinals wielded just as much prestige and power as those of the Catholic Church in Rome.

The palace was initially built in an unusual combination of styles which reflected the transition of architectural preferences that defined the reign of Henry VIII. Predominantly domestic Tudor in style, the palace—as originally built—contained many perpendicular Gothic features along with some unexpected Classical detailing. Wolsey oversaw the completion of the palace, but only managed to live there for a few years before he realized that he’d been increasingly falling out of favor with Henry VIII. In order to pacify the king, Wolsey made a gift of the palace to him. The cardinal then died the following year.

The Tudor Entrance
King Henry VIII rather liked the palace and wanted to make it the central residence of his court. However, his court—when fully assembled—contained about one thousand people. The palace as it was, could not hold all of them at once, and furthermore the kitchens were certainly not big enough to feed Henry, let alone his entire court. Under Henry VIII’s direction, the kitchens were quadrupled in size in 1529. Henry also commissioned the famous Great Hall as well as the tennis courts.
Meanwhile, Henry VIII was having some marital difficulties—wives were cheating, dying, being killed and generally irritating him. Some of this must have distracted him because the palace had several years where it was not altered. After the king’s death, his eldest daughter, Queen Mary I succeeded him—for a bit—and she was replaced with Queen Elizabeth I who lived at the Palace and added yet another kitchen.

In 1603, the Tudor Period ended with the death of Elizabeth I. The monarchy was taken over by the Stuart Dynasty, initially led by James I, and then his son, Charles I. There was some much publicized trouble with Charles I, but we won’t get into that now. We’ll just say that Charles II became King, and he was followed by James II—neither of them cared much for Hampton Court Palace and it went into a long period of disuse.
That all changed when joint monarchs, William of Orange and Queen Mary II (daughter of James II) ascended to the throne(s) in their rather peculiar arrangement. They enlisted Sir Christopher Wren—the top architect of the day, to demolish the Tudor palace bit-by-bit and replace it with a new Baroque palace so as not to be outdone by those pesky French with their Versailles. They did, however, intend to leave Henry VIII’s great hall intact.

And, so, a long period of construction began to make Hampton Court Palace look more like Versailles—which it did, in parts. But, the job was never finished because Mary died and William lost interest, and then fell off of his horse and died, too. So, what remains is a essentially a Tudor palace on one side and a Baroque palace on the other. Fortunately, they’re unified in color by the use of rosy bricks. Many courtiers found the new round windows with pointed pediments to be “startling” as if the new courtyard was simply a line of wondering eyes. Others felt that the improvements to the structure rivaled Versailles grandeur.

The Baroque Facade
After the end of the Stuart Dynasty, only George I and George II used the palace as a residence. In 1838, Queen Victoria ordered that the palace be restored. Victoria intended for the palace to house much of the artifacts in the Royal Collection. For most of the Twentieth Century, Hampton Court Palace has been open to the public so that all can enjoy the art and architecture of one of the world’s most intriguing and unusual palaces.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This was one narrative tour and history that didn't generate a yawn. Nicely done.