Part 7: England and France

After a few days of adventuring in the London, we decided to take a little trip out to the Tudor Palace of Hampton Court. It’s about 35 minutes by train outside of London from Waterloo Station. It was a fairly easy trip outside of the city. You can access it by Tube but it takes longer and may require a bus. So train it was!

Hampton Court
Hampton Court
For years, I’d seen advertisements in the Tube about spending Christmas at Hampton Court. The prior year, I told Scott that we should check it out. It turns out that Christmas at Hampton Court is from the 27th until the 1st or 2nd so it’s a small time frame. Anyway, we bought tickets and caught our train within 2 minutes of its scheduled departure. We wanted to get there early since we had to be back at the Middle Temple at 4. Lately, I’ve come to appreciate getting to museums and other places when they open. They tend to be less crowded so you get to commune with the artifacts, buildings, etc a little bit before the place is inundated. We got there early enough that the morning frost hadn’t burnt off yet.
When we entered, we made a beeline for the robes. I don’t know if this is a special thing for the holidays or a new thing but you can borrow robes to get you into the Tudor spirit. Yes, you can play dress up at a Tudor palace. Be still my heart! So we each picked out a robe; Scott wore red and I wore purple. It was also quite practical because it was rather chilly. We also got our handheld audio guides.
Our first stop was to the magnificent Great Hall. It is astonishing. Long tables line the hall and the walls are covered in beautiful tapestries. There are incredibly carved wood panels including a place where you can see a symbol for Henry and Anne Boleyn that wasn’t destroyed. We would return to the Great Hall numerous times on this visit.
We wandered through several of the rooms in the Tudor Rooms. One hall (an actual hall) in particular is known for ghost sightings. According to legend, Katherine Howard was locked in her rooms awaiting her execution but she managed to escape. She ran through the hallway to go to the Chapel to plead for her life with Henry VIII. However, guards intercepted her and dragged her screaming back to her chambers. The audio guide said that this hallway had many reports of strange happenings and a disproportionate number of faintings have occured there.
I also wandered into the private balcony in the chapel; what a beautifully ornate place! Also, they had a recreation of Henry VIII’s crown (the original was destroyed during Oliver Cromwell’s reign). So many crazy huge gem stones. Sadly, photos were not permitted.
We also wandered through the William III’s rooms. Part of the palace was renovated and had that 17th century feel. There is one spot where you can see both the Tudor/17th century combine in a strange way. I don’t love the later time period (I really like the Tudors) but it was interesting to check out the apartments Apparently, William III let people come and watch him and the rest of the royal family eat. Napkin origami was also a thing.
Then it was time for some historical reenactments. This was the real bonus of coming here at Christmastime. Starting at 11am and at the half hour until 4pm, there were little historical events for visitors to enjoy. There would be lessons on etiquette, musical happenings and more. We rushed to the first one located in the main courtyard where actors in period garb welcomed us to the Palace. It was the master of ceremonies, the fool, and a lady of the court. They were preparing for Christmas but discoered that it was cancelled due to the king’s health. So they decided to take us back in time to the prior year in recompense to the cancelled holiday.
The fool!
The fool!
So we split up into groups and they led us on a short walking tour of the palace. In the tour, we were told to watch for various personalities. We’d walk by a staircase and actors would be in the midst of a major argument. It was like looking into a keyhole to see small sections of life. These instances continued throughout the rest of the day. We’d be wandering through a room and someone would announce “The King is coming.” Everyone would flatten themselves against the walls and bow respectfully as the king walked by. 2 minutes later, it was all over. Moments like this were phenomenal. It made the palace feel alive again (beyond us tourists). At the conclusion of the tour, we all ended up in the Great Hall where we were given a short lesson on bowing to the king. Basically, we were told to bow as low as possible for as long as possible to best please the king. Shortly after instruction,  a long procession of the court wandered through while the crowd did their best to bow/courtesy. The king wandered by, grumpy and limping from old leg wounds. The general effect was wonderful.
Then Scott and I decided to check out the Henry VIII’s kitchens. As we entered the palace in the morning, we were told by a volunteer not to miss it. So we went on and found marvelous things. There were also actors putting together a feast. We talked with a guy who was sewing a pig and a goose together to make a “cockatrice”, a fantastical dish from the era. Men carried giant skewers of meat on their shoulders to bring to the giant fire. It was neat to actually smell food that was being prepared in the Tudor era style. Very well worth checking out.
Skewers of meat in the Henry VIII's kitchens
Skewers of meat in the Henry VIII’s kitchens
That’s all for now. Tomorrow I’ll talk a bit more about Hampton Court!

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