Travel – Hampton Court (Part Two)

Hampton Court - main entrance 1

Hampton Court Palace is located beside the River Thames and in 1998 my son and I traveled there by boat on a special tour for a day trip, departing in the morning from London and then returning in the late afternoon by railway.  In this post, Part Two, of the three part series I will explore the Tudor side of Hampton Court.  Previously, in Part One I discussed the history of Hampton Court which was originally built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and later became the primary home of King Henry VIII.  In Part Three I will give a detailed tour of the Stuart side of Hampton Court with suggestions for the things to see and do when planning a visit to the palace.

Hampton Court Palace is sometimes considered two palaces combined to form one large royal estate.  As previously mentioned, the original section is a Gothic style palace built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey during the Tudor period.  King Henry VIII later claimed the palace for his own use after the Cardinal had fallen out of favor and the King went on to create a grand residence truly fit for royalty.  Several centuries later King William III and Queen Mary II, who ruled England jointly during the Stuart period, completely renovated Hampton Court and built two Baroque style additions creating the King and Queen’s State Apartment.  The photos below illustrate the contrast in architectural styles.

Hampton Court - Tudor style    Hampton Court - King's Apartment exterior

Today, great care has been taken to restore the exterior and interior of the large palace building and also to return the grounds of the royal estate back to their original appearance. The State Apartments were completely restored with furniture, paintings, tapestries and other decorations to create the suite of rooms as they would have appeared during the Stuart period. Other areas of Hampton Court, such as the Great Hall, were fully restored to reflect the palace at the time during King Henry VIII’s reign in the Tudor period.  Visitors have access to the palace through a designated tour route and there are additional displays in various areas of the palace which explain the history of the buildings throughout the centuries.  A “living history” element is also added to the program of activities which includes characters dressed in period costumes that give visitors a feeling of how life was back in the Tudor period of England.

Special Note: When visiting Hampton Court, be sure to keep your eyes open because there are so many architecture features that convey hidden meanings or messages. 

A tour of Hampton Court

Trophy Gate / the Great Gatehouse

Most visitors enter Hampton Court from the Main Entrance on the west side adjacent to the parking lot or by walking a short distance from the Hampton Court Railway Station entering the estate through the Trophy Gate.  In past centuries, most visitors arrived by boat traveling along the River Thames.  Visitors would then proceed across a short bridge, which at one time crossed over a moat, to enter Hampton Court through the Great Gatehouse.   After King Henry VIII acquired Hampton Court from Cardinal Wolsey he commissioned ten statues that were placed on pillars long either side of the bridge.  These statues are known as the King’s Beasts and represent the ancestry of King Henry and his third wife Jane Seymour.  The statues are the lion of England, the Seymour lion, the Royal dragon, the black bull of Clarence, the yale (a mystical creature) of Beaufort, the white lion of Mortimer, the White Greyhound of Richmond, the Tudor dragon, the Seymour panther and the Seymour unicorn.

Hampton Court with the King's Beasts
Hampton Court - King's Beasts 3    Hampton Court - King's Beasts 2

Special note:  Before walking through the Gatehouse, be sure to look up to see a carved panel  with the coat of arms of King Henry VIII.

Hampton Court - King Henry VIII coat of armsSpecial Note: When walking through the Great Gatehouse, be sure to look up at the magnificent ceiling which features the Royal Arms that has been used by English Sovereigns since 1837 placed in the center.  Other emblems represent a cardinal’s hat with ornamental tassels, the entwined initials of Thomas Wolsey, the archbishop mitre representing Wolsey’s position as Archbishop of York, a Tudor Rose, Queen Victoria’s Cypher, a Tudor Crown and Wolsey’s Pallium & Processional Cross.

Great Gatehouse ceiling

Base Court / Ann Boleyn Gatehouse

After passing through the Gatehouse, visitors entered an area called the Base Court which features a reproduction wine fountain that once stood there in the Tudor period.  Looking forward on the far side is the Anne Boleyn Gatehouse which was built to honor King Henry’s second wife (of course that was before he had her imprisoned in the Tower of London and executed for adultery!).

Hampton Court - Base Courtyard

Special note: When walking through the Anne Boleyn Gatehouse, be sure to look up at the lovely ceiling with the Tudor Rose positioned at the center!

Ceiling of the Anne Boleyn Gatehouse

Travel Tip: Before progressing further into the palace of Hampton Court, be sure to see the introductory film featuring the lives of King Henry and his six wives which is shown in the Buttery to the left of the Boleyn Gatehouse before starting the tour into the main areas of the palace.

Clock Court / Astronomical Clock

After viewing the film, proceed through the Boleyn Gatehouse and enter the area called the Clock Court, be sure to turn around and look behind and above the Boleyn Gatehouse entrance you just passed through to see the coat of arms of Cardinal Wolsey.

Hampton Court - Cardinal Wolsey coat of arms

Then, look to the far side of the courtyard and the top of the Clock Tower to see the famous Astronomical Clock commissioned by King Henry and installed in 1540.  The clock not only marks the time of day but also indicates the current month and day of the year, the phases of the moon, position of the sun and twelve signs of the zodiac.  The clock also indicated tide and the high water mark at London Bridge, this was very important since Hampton Court is located on the Thames River and during the Tudor period boat travel was still considered the preferred method of transportation.

Hampton Court - Clock Tower 1    Hampton Court  - Astronomical Clock

The Clock Court of Hampton Court is also where the architecture style of the Tudor period of Wolsey and King Henry blend with the style of the Stuart period of King William III and Queen Mary II.  To the left of the courtyard is the majestic Gothic style Great Hall which was built by King Henry and to the right is the elegant Baroque style colonnade which leads into the State Apartments created by Sir Christopher Wren for William and Mary and also the later Georgian additions of the Cumberland Suite added during the time of King George II.

This is the part of the tour which separates to enter the Tudor buildings on the left and the Stuart / Georgian buildings to the right.  I would recommend starting to the left and touring this section of the palace since in the timeline of the history of England the Tudor period of Wolsey and King Henry preceded the Stuart period of William and Mary.

The Great Hall

In 1529, when King Henry acquired Hampton Court from Cardinal Wolsey by dubious circumstances, one of the first things he did was to renovate the Great Hall.  Visitors today will see one of the lasting remaining and considered to be the greatest of the medieval halls of England.  In the continuing process of change within the history of the palace, it is fortunate that this section was saved from complete destruction and demolished during the reign of William and Mary.  Both time and the lack of financing were a factor in saving both the Great Hall and the Chapel Royal but unfortunately the original State Apartments of King Henry, which were located to the right side of the Clock Court, were lost during the renovations and subsequent new additions built by Wren.

Hampton Court - the Great Hall - interior

The Great Hall is the largest room in the palace and measures 108 feet long by 40 feet wide with an extravagantly decorated hammer-beam roof soaring to the height of 60 feet.  The walls are decorated with beautiful Brussels tapestries from the early 16th century depicting the biblical story of Abraham.  The room is also decorated with beautiful stained-glass windows showing various emblems and an intricately carved minstrel’s gallery.  In Great Hall, King Henry sat at a table positioned on a raised dais and he would dine on a large meal over the course of several hours.

Special Note:  When King Henry suddenly dismissed his second wife, Anne Boleyn, (remember she was imprisoned and executed) all traces of her existence were removed from Hampton Court with the exception of a small carving on a ceiling beam in the Great Hall that was overlooked.  Try and find the intertwined initials of HA representing Henry and Anne which still remain hidden high in the ceiling of the Great Hall)

Hampton Court - Great Hall - HA entwined initals of Henry and Anne Boleyn

Special Note:  Another item of interest hidden in the ceiling of the Great Hall are several unique carvings of “eavesdroppers” placed to warn visitors to the court of King Henry that there were no secrets because someone would always be watching and listening!!

Hampton Court - Great Hall evesdroppers

Special Note: In a room on the left, before entering the Great Hall, there is a door at the top of the stairs that holds a long forgotten but lasting memory to King Henry and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.  Above the door is a stone arch decorated with Tudor Roses the right for King Henry and Spanish pomegranates on the left for Catherine.

Catherine of Aragon - Spanish pomegranets    King Henry VIII - Tudor Roses

After leaving the Great Hall, visitors can continue a tour of the Tudor section of Hampton Court passing through rooms such as the Horn Room, the Great Watching Chamber and the Haunted Gallery (where it is said that Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of King Henry, went screaming and running through the room shortly after she was accused of adultery.  She was put under house arrest prior to her imprisonment at the Tower of London and ultimately she was executed)

The Chapel Royal

The next major room on the tour of the Tudor section of Hampton Court is the beautiful Chapel Royal which has been in continuous use for over 450 years.  Cardinal Wolsey built the current Chapel on the exact site of the former thirteenth century chapel of the Knights Hopitaller of St. John of Jerusalem.  When King Henry acquired the property from Wolsey he had recently broken ties with the Catholic Church and as a result most of the religious decorations defined as being connected to Catholic faith were removed and replaced.  Since that time, each subsequent British monarch has altered the interior appearance of the chapel according to their personal style.

The chapel’s most impressive feature, which has remained throughout the centuries, is the wooden and plaster ceiling commissioned by King Henry and constructed during the 1530s by master carvers and carpenters with the oak acquired from Windsor Forest.  The main color of the ceiling is a lovely shade of Tudor blue and gold with the pendants accented with red and white paint.  The ceiling has been repaired and restored several times over the past centuries.

Hampton Court - Royal Chapel ceiling

The Royal Pew section of the Chapel Royal was reserved exclusively for the use of the reigning monarch and the decorations reflect this with beautiful oak paneling and pillars designed by Sir Christopher Wren and created by Gringling Gibbons.  Between each of the windows in the chapel is a panel painted by Thomas Highmore in 1710.  Each panel is topped with a pair of gilded cherubs and designed with the same elements; the star of the Order of the Garter at the top, a cross of St. George in the center and at the bottom is the Royal Crown.  The central plaque of each corresponding pair of matching panels that positioned across either side of the chapel are different; the first pair shows the plants of the kingdom – the rose for England, the thistle for Scotland and the shamrock for Ireland, the second pair is the Royal cypher of Anna Regina, the third is same Royal coat of arms featured in the Royal Pew, the fourth a lion with the Royal crown and the fifth and final pair between the last window is a heraldic badge of the Tudor Rose and the Spanish pomegranate to honor King Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

The Altar in the Chapel Royal is a carved oak table designed by Sir Christopher Wren and the oak reredos behind the altar were carved by Gringling Gibbons.  In 1537, Jane Seymour, the third wife of King Henry, died soon after the birth of their son, Edward and it is said that her heart is buried beneath the altar.

Hampton Court - Chapel Royal altar

Henry VIII’s Tudor Kitchens

One of the most interesting places in Hampton Court is the Tudor Kitchens that can be found in the basement below the Great Hall and can be accessed through a door in the Clock Courtyard.  At the time that Cardinal Wolsey built Hampton Court, the kitchens were equipped to feed his household of 600 people.  When King Henry took over Hampton Court, the kitchens provided to be too small for his court of over a thousand people.  The kitchens were greatly expanded at this time to over fifty rooms covering almost 36,000 square feet in the palace where the food was prepared by a large kitchen staff to provide twice daily meals for the King and his court using approximately 760 calves, 2,330 deer, 8,200 sheep, 1,870 pigs and 53 wild boar annually and consumed with 600,000 gallons of beer.

Hampton Court - kitchen 1

When the Hampton Court was no longer used as a residence for the British monarch in the mid-18th century, the kitchens of the palace were converted into “grace and favour apartments”.  Then, in 1991 the kitchens were restored in appearance and function to represent how they looked and were used in the Tudor times.  The various areas in this section have interesting sounding names such as: the Boiling House, the Fish Court, the Great Kitchens, the Dressers, the Serving Place and North Cloister and the Cellars.

Travel Tip:  If you are lucky during a visit to Hampton Court, the docents will be available to discuss the Tudor Kitchens and give specific information regarding menu and meal preparations.

The Royal Tennis Court

The first tennis court at Hampton Court was built by Cardinal Wolsey between 1526 and 1529.  Tennis games had been created as an excellent form of exercise to keep the body strong and healthy.  Keeping this in mind, a young and virile King Henry would thoroughly enjoy playing a good game of tennis on the court of the palace.  Since that time there has always been one at Hampton Court and there currently is an active private tennis club that uses the facilities.

Hampton Court- Tennis Court exterior

On a tour of the Royal Tennis Courts is included in the admission to Hampton Court.  Visitors can expect to view interactive displays explaining how that the tennis game was played during the Tudor period and features handmade tennis balls and custom made racquets.  The external wall to the right of the viewing gallery was part of the original Wolsey building and the other three walls date back to the 17th century.

Hampton Court- Tennis Court interior

Listed below are two additional displays relating to King Henry that visitors should see during a visit to Hampton Court.

The Young King Henry VIII exhibition

The Young King Henry VIII exhibition at Hampton Court is a fascinating permanent exhibit which explains the life story of a young Prince Henry, Katherine of Aragon and Thomas Wolsey.  Hopefully, visitors will come away from the exhibit with a better understanding of how the young and handsome Henry turned into the old obese and tyrant of a man that broke ties with the Catholic Church to divorce Katherine and marry five more times!

King Henry VIII Crown exhibit

On display in the Royal Pew at Hampton Court is a re-creation of King Henry VIII’s crown which was later used at the coronations of each of his three children.  Unfortunately, during the time of the Commonwealth period of England, Oliver Cromwell had many outward symbols of the British monarchy, such as the original crown, destroyed and melted down.  From the King’s own written record describing the crown in detail and how it was constructed, along with painting depicting the crown, a fairly accurate replica was created.  The original crown was made from 84 ounces of gold and decorated with 344 rubies, sapphires, emeralds, diamonds and pearls.

 Hampton Court - King Henry VIII crown recreation

This would conclude the tour of the Tudor portion of Hampton Court.  Part Three of the series will give a tour of the Stuart section of the palace, please click on the link to view.  For more information about the history and the building of Hampton Court throughout the centuries, please click on the link to Part One of the three part series.

Travel – Hampton Court (Part One)

Hampton Court - vintage engraving 1

Hampton Court Palace located beside River Thames in Surrey is approximately 14 miles from Buckingham Palace in London, England.  In Part One of this three part series I will discuss the history of Hampton Court which was built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and later became the primary home of King Henry VIII.  In Part Two I will give a detailed tour of the Tudor side of Hampton Court and in Part Three I will give a tour of the Stuart side as well as giving suggestions on things to see and do when planning a visit to this grand royal palace.

The History of Hampton Court

In 1514 Thomas Wolsey, the Archbishop of York, acquired the site at Hampton Court that was previously the property used by the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem.  They had held the land since 1236 and used it mainly as a grange (a farm building, sometimes a barn used for produce storage, belonging to a monastery) as part of their agricultural estates.

Cardinal Wolsey

The location of Hampton Court was ideal for the ambitious Cardinal Wolsey because it was not far from London.  Wolsey was newly appointed to the position of Chief Minister for the newly crowned King Henry VIII.  Since Wolsey would be entertaining Royal guests he made plans to turned the simple manor house into a large and impressive cardinal’s palace.  It took over seven years to complete the project which included luxurious accommodates not only for Wolsey’s private use but also three suites of rooms that were built specifically as State Apartments for the use of King Henry VIII and his family.

Hampton Court - Wosley Hall

Wolsey was frequently criticized for his extravagant lifestyle but this was not to bring about his fall from the grace with King Henry VIII.  By the late 1520s, King Henry had decided to seek a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, to marry Anne Boleyn to achieve his quest for a male heir.  (This is despite the fact that Catherine had given birth to a healthy daughter, Mary)  Wolsey failed to persuade the Pope in Rome to grant the request and this lead to King Henry breaking from the Catholic Church to eventually create the Church of England.  By 1529, Wolsey was accused of treason and arrested, he was stripped of his government position and his properties including Hampton Court were seized by the crown.  In 1530, Wolsey fell ill and died on route to London just before his scheduled imprisonment and execution.

King Henry VIII

With the dubious acquisition of Hampton Court, King Henry quickly decided to make the property his primary residence when he was not in London.  Extensive renovations and building additions were required to modify Hampton Court to accommodate the large court of King Henry which consisted of over one thousand people.  The new expansion which almost quadrupled the size of the original building retained the Gothic-inspired architecture set previously by Wolsey and would remain unchanged for nearly a century.  The Great Hall, with a carved hammer-beam roof, was completed in 1535 and quickly became one of the most important rooms of the palace; this is where King Henry would sit at a table positioned on a raised dais to dine on an elaborate meal prepared in the palace’s massive kitchens.

King Henry VII had a large astronomical clock added to the inner courtyard gatehouse tower in 1540.  The clock not only marks the time of day but also indicates the current month and date of the year, the phases of the moon, position of the sun and twelve signs of the zodiac.  The clock also indicated tide and the high water mark at London Bridge, this was very important since Hampton Court is located on the Thames River and during the Tudor period boat travel was still considered the preferred method of transportation.

Hampton Court - Clock Tower

Hampton Court became the preferred royal residence of King Henry VIII and all of his six wives and his three children lived there at various times throughout his reign.  The palace also provided accommodations for the royal court numerous courtiers and servants and was a place for lavish entertainment of visiting dignitaries such as the French ambassador in 1546.  Hampton Court was also the site for many British historical events, such as: In 1537, King Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour, gave birth to his only son, Prince Edward.  The child was christened in a ceremony at the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court.  Sadly, Jane died shortly after the christening due to complications from the birth.  In 1541, King Henry’s divorced his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, signing the papers at the palace and shortly after the King married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard.  In 1543, King Henry marries his sixth and final wife, Katherine Parr, in the Chapel Royal.

King Henry died in January 1547 and his son succeeded him, King Edward VI (reigned from 1547 to 1553) then followed by his sisters, Queen Mary I (1553 to 1558) and Queen Elizabeth 1 (1558 to 1603).  The siblings made no significant changes to Hampton Court, although Queen Elizabeth I did add a small kitchen in the eastern section of the palace.

After Queen Elizabeth I death in 1603, there was no immediate heir to the throne since she was unmarried and had no children.  So, as a result a distant cousin of the queen King James VI of Scotland traveled south to become King James I of England (reigned from 1603 to 1625) thus beginning the Stuart period in the history of Great Britain.  King James enjoyed the excellent hunting provided in the park of Hampton Court.  He also used the palace for entertaining, holding banquets, dances, masque balls and plays, it is said that William Shakespeare was a royal guest at Hampton Court during this time.  King James used the royal palace sporadically, made no significant changes but continued to maintain the buildings and the surrounding grounds.

After the death of King James I, his son succeeded him, King Charles I (reigned 1625 to 1649) and unfortunately Hampton Court became not only his palace but also his prison.  The King’s main residence was the Palace of Whitehall located in central London and he used Hampton Court as a country retreat making minor renovations and he had built a new tennis court.  King Charles was an art collector and added several pieces including a significant acquisition in 1630, the Mantegna “Triumphs of Caesar” still hangs within Hampton Court.

King Charles I’s reign ended in 1647 during the Civil War when he was removed from office suddenly and forcefully.  Hampton Court became his prison where he was held for three months, briefly escaped then recaptured but was tragically executed in 1649.

The next 10 years where known as the Commonwealth period (1653 – 1659) in British history when no monarch ruled.  Instead Oliver Cromwell, a military and political leader, became Lord Protector of the Commonwealth (1653 – 1658) and then followed by his son, Richard (1658 – 1659).  During this period of time Hampton Court had been seized by parliamentary troops and an inventory of the royal possessions was made and eventually sold with many lavish items and decorations being removed from the palace.  Cromwell visited Hampton Court as his weekend retreat using the property for hunting and entertaining.  Also during this time his daughter, Mary, was married in the Chapel Royal.

In 1660, the monarchy was restored and King Charles II, the son of King Charles I who had been living in exile, ascended to the British throne (reigned 1660 to 1685) and thus began a period known as the Restoration.  King Charles II preferred to make Windsor Castle his primary residence when he was not in London and only went to Hampton Court infrequently.  He did not make any major changes to the palace but did have some outbuildings built on the property.  His successor, King James II (reigned from 1685 – 1688), felt that Hampton Court was too old fashioned and not up to the standards of other European courts such as the one in France and very rarely took up residence or entertained at the palace.

Then, after the death of King James II, the throne of England was occupied jointly by his daughter, Queen Mary II and her husband William of Orange who became known as King William III.  (Their reign began in 1689 and when Queen Mary died in 1694 King William continued to reign until 1702)  It was during this period that Hampton Court would undergo almost a complete renovation changing the architecture of the building, both exterior and interior, from a Gothic style to a Baroque style that was in keeping with the rival French court of King Louis XIV which had recently taken up permanent residence in the impressive Palace of Versailles.

King William and Queen Mary

Within months of their accession, the Royal couple had commissioned Sir Christopher Wren.  His original plans had intended that the Tudor palace of King Henry VIII would be entirely demolished, retaining only the Great Hall, and then replaced with a more modern palace.  The problem was that funds were not available to finance the ambitious project and Wren eventually altered his plan to include two additional sections of the palace to accommodate the new State Apartments for the King and Queen.  The King and Queen’s suite of rooms were accessed by a grand staircase, the King’s Apartments face the Privy Gardens on the south side and the Queen’s face the Fountain garden on the east side.  Both the King and Queen Apartments are linked by a grand gallery running the length of the building between the two sections inspired by the design of the Galerie des Glaces at Versailles.

Hampton Court - 1816 Queen's Bedroom    Hampton Court - 1818

Work on the massive construction project began in 1689 and continued until 1694 when Queen Mary died.  A devastated King William called a halt to the construction leaving just an empty brick shell with bare walls and floors.  When Whitehall Palace, the British monarch’s main residence in London, burned down in 1686 King William hired Wren’s assistant, William Talman, to complete the project at Hampton Court to become a more permanent residence.  The King was very pleased when Talman finished construction under the original projected budget.  Unfortunately, King William was never able to live in the newly renovated Hampton Court for very long because he died in 1702 at Kensington Palace while he was recuperating from a fall from a horse he had when riding through the parks at Hampton Court.

When the project was finally completed the Tudor building and towers of King Henry VIII former state apartments where replaced with the more elegant and grand building of the new wings.  The interior of the additions were equally impressive with beautiful facades and elegant furnishings designed by Daniel Marot, carved fireplaces and architectural mouldings designed by Grinling Gibbons and beautiful painted frescos on the ceilings by Antonio Verrio.  Despite the fact that the original Tudor style sections of the building would greatly contrasted with the Baroque style of the new additions, somehow the design of the new state apartment wings blended beautifully together with the existing sections to create a cohesive appearance.

Also during this time, the grounds of Hampton Court were completely landscaped to include formal gardens filled with Queen Mary’s collection of exotic plants from around the world and enclosed with a lovely gilded wrought-iron fencing designed by Jean Tijou.  King William had also commissioned George London and Henry Wise in 1700 to design an intriguing trapezoid-shaped puzzle Maze which covers a third on an acre on the grounds of Hampton Court and was originally created using hornbeam plants, it is currently England’s oldest surviving hedge maze.

Hampton Court - Lions Gate

After the death of King William his sister-in-law, Queen Anne succeeded him. (she reigned briefly from 1702 to 1707).  Just to clarify the line of succession, Queen Anne was the younger sister of Queen Mary who was the wife of King William)   Queen Anne contributions to Hampton Court were very minor during her short reign and she continued the decoration of the interior and oversaw the completion of the State Apartments already begun by her predecessor.

With the death of Queen Anne in 1714 and the accession of King George I (reigned 1714 to 1727); it marked the end of the Stuart period and the beginning of the Hanoverian period in the history of England.  King George, being from Germany and unable to speak English, was a generally shy man and he rarely entertained and infrequently visited Hampton Court.  The Prince and Princesses of Wales (the future King George II and Queen Caroline) were delighted with the palace and quickly took up residence in the Queen’s Apartment.

Eventually King George I became more comfortable in his role as King of England and briefly during 1718 he brought the full court to the palace and held several balls and other entertainment events.  This was short-lived and the King returned to the official residence in London at. St. James Palace, with occasional visits to the monarch’s private residence of Windsor Castle, and he was never to return to Hampton Court.  King George I died in 1727.

After the death of the King, his son became King George II (reigned 1727 to 1760).  The King would be the last monarch to make Hampton Court a royal residence.  During this time, the Queen’s Staircase was completed by William Kent and a new wing was added to the east side of the Clock Court in 1732 and was occupied by the King’s second son, the Duke of Cumberland and today this area of the palace is known as the Cumberland Suite.

1737 was to be the last year that the royal family would use the entire palace as a semi-permanent residence since Queen Caroline had died toward the end of the year.  The family returned to London and lived full-time St. James Palace.  The King never visited Hampton Court again and the estate was eventually divided into “Grace and Favour” apartments which were granted as rent-free accommodation to people because they had given exceptional service to the British monarchy or country.  The occupants lived, often with their own small households of servants in the other rooms of the palace and not the State Apartments.

Then many years later in 1838, Queen Victoria (reigned 1837 to 1901) ordered that Hampton Court’s public rooms be opened for the people to view without restrictions.  Prior to this time, only people of high social standing had been allowed a brief tour of the State Apartments, Great Hall and other rooms of the palace.  Later, as a result of the renewed public interest in Hampton Court, between 1838 to 1851 renovations were made to restore the grandeur of the royal estate.  Eventually the State Apartments, Great Hall, Main Gatehouse and the entire west front of the palace were returned to their previous Tudor style appearance.

In the following years, only minor repairs were made at Hampton Court and generally the palace retained the public rooms for visitor tours and the private areas as “Grace and Favour” housing.  Then, in 1986 a fire severely damaged a large portion of the King’s Apartments which eventually took six long years to repair.  Great care was taken to restore the suite of rooms to their original appearance at the time of King William and Queen Mary.  Furniture, paintings, tapestries and other decorations that had been removed back in the 18th century were subsequently returned to the palace as part of the large restoration project.  (This restoration process was very similar to the early 1960s in Washington, D.C. when First Lady Jackie Kennedy headed a committee to painstakingly renovate the public rooms of the White House) After the work was completed, plans were made to further renovate the Queen’s Apartment in a similar manner.  At this time changes were also made to both the exterior and interior areas of Hampton Court to more historically accurate to reflect both the Tudor period of Cardinal Wosley and King Henry VIII and the Stuart period of King William and Queen Mary.   Visitors would also have access to the palace through a designated tour route and later a “living history” element was added to the program with characters dressed in period costumes thus giving visitors a feeling of how life was back in the Tudor period of England.

For more information on Hampton Court, please click on the link for the additional posts in the series, Hampton Court Part Two for a tour of the Tudor section and Part Three for a tour of the Stuart section.

Travel – Sandringham in Norfolk, England


Sandringham House is privately owned by Queen Elizabeth II and sits on the 20,000 acre royal Sandringham Estate located in Norfolk, England.  The house has been used for over 150 years by four generations of the British Royal Family; most notably it was home to the young Prince Albert (the future King Edward VII). Sandringham House has witnessed many historical events and was the location of the deaths of three Kings; King Edward VII in 1901, King George V in 1935 and King George VI in 1952.  Sandringham House was also the site of the first ever Christmas message given by a British monarch via radio broadcast by King George V in 1932.

The history of Sandringham

Long ago, at the time of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, a smaller house called Sandringham Hall was first built on this site in Norfolk by the architect Cornish Henley.  Later, when the house was owned by Charles Spencer Cowper during the 19th century an elaborate porch and conservatory designed by architect Samuel Sanders Teulon were added to the house.  Then in 1862 Sandringham was purchased for Queen Victoria’s eldest son, Prince Albert the Prince of Wales.  After Prince Albert married Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863 and it became their new country home.  (For more information on the wedding of this popular royal couple, please click on the following post – Royal Weddings Part Two)

The royal couple quickly made many changes to the Sandringham estate with renovations to the main house, rebuilding cottages and construction of new roads on the property.  When the Prince found the house too small for his growing family and the existing house was demolished and replaced by the current Jacobean style red brick house in 1869 which was designed by architect A.J. Humbert.  After it was finally completed the new house included beautiful bay windows to bring light into the interior and a new wing with a grand ball room for when the royal couple entertained.  The newly renovated house also included some modern amenities; such as gas lighting and bathrooms with running water, flushing toilets and an early version of a shower.  The property also saw improvements done to the landscaping and a new garden wall was built incorporating the now famous Norwich Gate which is an impressive ironwork gate designed by Thomas Jekyll and was given to the royal couple as a wedding gift from the people of Norfolk and Norwich.

Sandringham Norwich Gates

Sandringham was the place for intimate royal family gatherings and visits by important guests such as Prince Albert’s nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany and Prussia.  While in residence at Sandringham, the Prince thoroughly enjoyed the grounds of the estate, riding and hunting were two of his favorite outdoor activities.  Because of his love and passion for shooting, he devised a plan to make the most of the daylight hours during the winter months and for this reason clocks at Sandringham were set forward by a half an hour to allow more time for his favorite sport.  Some say that another reason for setting the clock back was because, much to King Edward’s annoyance, Queen Alexandra was constantly late.  Regardless of the reason, this custom became known as “Sandringham Time” on the estate and remained in effect even after King Edward VII death in 1910.  (Special note: King Edward VII’s son, King George V, honored the tradition set by his father and throughout his reign “Sandringham Time” stayed in effect until his own death in 1936.  At that time his son, King Edward VIII, set the clocks back to the correct time in defiance of his overbearing father)

Edward VII    King Edward VII shooting at Sandringham 1

Throughout the years the relationship between Queen Victoria and her son, Prince Albert, was very strained due to the fact that she blamed him for the untimely death of her husband which she believed Prince Albert caused inadvertently.  The Queen also disapproved of her son’s pursuit of self-indulgent pleasures of drinking, gambling and his frequent associations with married women.  For these reasons she stayed away from Sandringham and never visited during her extended period of mourning for her beloved husband and her self-imposed seclusion from public life and strong aversion of her royal duties in London.  But when Prince Albert was diagnosed with typhoid fever, the same illness that took her husband, the Queen quickly went to Sandringham fearing the worst.  Fortunately the Prince survived and a grateful Queen and in fact the entire nation celebrated that the life of the popular Prince of Wales was spared.

Prince ALbert later King Edward VII family

In 1892, more difficult times came to Sandringham when the eldest son of the Prince and Princess of Wales, known as Prince Albert the Duke of Clarence, suddenly became ill with influenza and sadly he died within a short period of time.  Queen Victoria was very fond of his fiancée, Princess Mark of Teck, and after a brief period of mourning she encouraged her to marry the brother, Prince George, who was now second in line to the throne.  So, it seems despite the tragic death of Prince Albert there was a happy ending when the Duke and Duchess of York were married in 1893.  The royal couple later moved into a smaller house on the Sandringham Estate where they lived together with their growing family for the next 30 years.   (For more information on the grand wedding of this royal couple, please click on the following post – Royal Weddings Part Two)

With the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, the new King Edward VII was required to be in London and he spent less time at his beloved Sandringham. He tried to visit Norfolk whenever he could and continued to make improvements on the estate.  Unfortunately his reign was very brief and lasted less than ten years.  Some say that his over indulgent lifestyle of eating, drinking and smoking ultimately lead to his poor health.  Over his last years, he suffered from severe bronchitis and towards the end a series of heart attacks.  He died on May 6, 1910 and is buried in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.  After his father’s death, the new King George V and Queen Mary were very gracious when they allowed his mother, Queen Alexandra, to remain living in Sandringham House until her death in 1925.  The royal couple continued to live in their smaller house on the estate which eventually became known as the York Cottage.

York Cottage - Sandringham

During World War I, the Sanringham estate workers and men of the small villages of Norfolk formed the 5th Norfolk Regiment which was led by Captain Frank Beck, the King’s estate land agent.  The Sandringham Company was eventually sent to fight the war in Europe and sadly the entire battalion was killed in the Battle of Gallipoli in August 1915.  Some historians state that the men were killed in the battle or perished in a deadly fire cause by an exploded shell and other historians believe that some men died in the battle while the other men were executed afterwards by the Turks who took no prisoners.  To honor these fallen heroes of “The Lost Battalion” a memorial was erected near the Church of St. Magdalene located on the Sandringham Estate and was dedicated in 1920 by King George V with Queen Mary and Queen Alexandra in attendance.  (Special Note: “All the King’s Men”, which tells the story of the Sandringham Company, is a novel written by Robert Penn Warren that was first published in 1946.  The book later adapted for film in 1947 and then again in 2006)

Sandringham Company WWI memorial

Sandringham was the setting of a very sad story that involved one member of the royal family.  Prince John (born: July 12, 1905) was the fifth son and youngest child of King George V and Queen Mary.  He was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of four years old and he also suffered from an intellectual disability which was later identified as a form of autism.  As his condition continued to deteriorate he was sent to live with his governess in a small cottage on the Sandringham Estate.  He eventually became almost completely isolated from members of his family with only infrequent visits by his mother and older brother.  Sadly he died at the age of thirteen on January 18, 1919 after a severe seizure and is buried in the cemetery at St. Mary Magdalene located on the estate.  Information about his condition was only released to the public after his death and there has been much controversy about his seemingly unsympathetic treatment and disappearance from the royal family but in reality he received excellent care from his loving governess and enjoyed a pleasant but quiet life living on the Sandringham Estate.   (Special note: The touching story of the short life of Prince John was made into a BBC movie in 2003.  “The Lost Prince” was written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff and is currently available on DVD)

Children of King George V and Queen Mary

After King George V died at Sandringham on January 20, 1936, the estate passed to his eldest son who became King Edward VIII.  Less than a year after his accession and his unexpected abdication, a problem developed when the former King Edward VII still held the rights to the Sandringham and Balmoral estates.  Both estates had been purchased as private properties during the reign of Queen Victoria and were not included as part of the British Royal Crown.  Fortunately the matter was resolved when a financial settlement was quickly reached and the ownership of the both properties was transferred to his brother, the new King George VI.  (Special note:  Today, both Sandringham and Balmoral remain the private estates of Queen Elizabeth II who inherited them from her father when he died)

King George VI was born in 1895 in York Cottage located on the Sandringham estate. He had many fond childhood memories spent there with his grandfather and father.  Throughout the years he continued to traditionally spent the Christmas holidays there with his wife, Queen Elizabeth, and their two daughters Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret.  Sadly, King George VI died in his sleep at Sandringham House on the night of February 6, 1952.  It has been said that the stress of his brother’s abdication, his accession and duties as King during World War II along with his daily smoking habit caused his health to deteriorate over time and he died at a relatively young age of 56 years old.  His coffin was laid in St. Mary Magdalene church for two days before it was taken by train to London then a funeral service and burial in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

Queen Elizabeth II, the current monarch of England, also loves Sandringham and enjoys the seclusion of the English countryside.  She first visited there for Christmas 1926 when she was just eight months old.  She returned often and made regular visits with her parents to see her grandparents, King George V and Queen Mary.  During World War II King George VI sent Princess Elizabeth and her sister, Princess Margaret,  to Windsor Caslte and they also spent extended periods of time at Sandringham staying at Appleton House to avoid the frequent and very dangerous German bombings of London.

Appleton House - Sandringham

Queen Elizabeth has customarily spent the anniversary of her father’s death and her subsequent accession quietly and privately with her immediate family at Sandringham House.  She will arrive just before Christmas and remain there for the entire month of February.  She enjoys spending time there with her children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren.  (For more information on how the Royal Family spends Christmas at Sandringham and their holiday traditions, please click on the link)

There are several additional houses and cottages located on the Sandringham Estate and some of these have been mentioned already in this post.  Listed below are a few more buildings:

St. Mary Magdalene Church –

St, Mary Magdalene Church is a relatively small parish church located on the Sandringham Estate just a short distance from the Sandringham House.  The building dates back to the 19th century and a beautiful chancel, the space around the altar in the sanctuary, features carved angels on either side of the silver altar were a gift from Queen Alexandra to pay tribute to her husband, King Edward II.  Other notable features in the church include a silver pulpit, a 17th century Spanish silver cross and a Florentine marble font.

The church is of great historical interest since it has been used since the time of Queen Victoria and there are many memorials dedicated to members of the Royal Family.  As previously mentioned, Prince John, the son of King George VI, is buried in the adjacent cemetery and after his death in 1952 King George VI laid in state in the church for two days prior to his funeral and burial at Windsor.  The church is still used frequently by the Royal Family whenever they are in residence at the Sandringham Estate which is usually during the Christmas season every year.

Sandringham Christmas - St Mary Magdalene church    Sandringham Christmas - St Mary Magdalene church - interior

Park House –

Park House is located just west of Sandringham House.  When Prince Albert (later King Edward VII) acquired the property in 1862 he had several additional houses, including Park House, built to accommodate his numerous guests.  Then, in the 1930s, King George V leased Park House his friend Edmund Roche, the 4th Baron of Fermoy.  Edmund’s daughter Frances was born there in 1936.  Frances later married John Spencer, Viscount Althorp, in 1954.  Their daughter Diana, the future Princess of Wales, was born there in 1961.  Park House was Diana’s childhood home and Viscount Spencer continued leasing the house until 1975 when he became the Earl Spencer and the family moved to Althorp.  (Special note:  In 1983, Queen Elizabeth offered Park House to the Leonard Cheshire Disability organization to use as a hotel for disabled people and is now is specially designed and equipped to accommodate their needs)

Park House - Sandringham

Anmer Hall –

Anmer Hall is a Georgian-style country house built in the 18th century and is located just east of Sandringham.  Several years after Sandringham was bought by Queen Victoria for her son, Prince Albert (later King Edward VII), Anmer Hall and the surrounding land was added to the estate in 1898.  The south side of the red brick house features thirteen bays topped with stone pediments and a porch with two Tuscan-style columns while the north side of the house features a covered porch entrance.  Throughout the years the house has been a private residence for various occupants associated with the Royal Family, such as the Duke and Duchess of Kent who used it as their country house from 1972 to 1990. Recently, after the wedding of Queen Elizabeth’s grandson Prince William to Kate, the house was given to the young Royal couple.  The new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have hired Charles Morris, the architect who previously worked on Prince Charles’ Highgrove House, to design extensive renovations to Anmer Hall which should be completed in time for Christmas 2014.

Anmer Hall - Sandringham

Tourist information for visiting Sandringham

As previously mentioned, the 20,000 acre Sandringham Estate is privately owned by Queen Elizabeth II and is located in Norfolk, England.  The house has been used for over 150 years by four generations of the British Royal Family.  The gardens of Sandringham were first opened to the public by King Edward VII in 1908, later the Sandringham Museum was opened by King George V in 1930 and Sandringham House was opened to the public by Queen Elizabeth II in 1977.

Guests should start their visit to the Sandringham Estate at the Visitor Center.  The recommended time of a typical visit is 3 to 4 hours for guests to tour Sandringham House, visit the museum, walk through the beautiful gardens, shop in the gift shop and even have something to eat at the restaurant.  For specific information regardes dates and hours of operation, prices and additional tour information please check their website at

Travel – Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace 1    Kensington Palace 2

When we visited London in 1998, my son and I took a short walk to Kensington Palace from where we were staying in Notting Hill.  I was very excited to see the palace especially after reading so many books about two of its former occupants, Queen Victoria and Diana, the Princess of Wales.  Currently, the palace is now the official residence of Prince William and his family, Prince Harry and several other members of the royal family.  In this post, I will discuss the history and the architecture of this historic building.

A brief history of Kensington Palace

In 1605, Sir George Coppin built a two-story Jacobean mansion in the Kensington area of London.  Then, in 1619, the 1st Earl of Nottingham purchased the house and it became known as Nottingham House.  70 years later, after William and Mary became joint monarchs of England; they purchased the house from the 2nd Earl of Nottingham.

Kensingston Palace etching

In 1689, William and Mary commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to design an expansion on Nottingham House.  Wren kept the original structure but created a new entrance that now faced west and two additional wings were built; one to the south-east for the King and another to the north-west that was the Queen’s Apartments.  The building and the surrounding grounds became known as Kensington Palace and beautiful manicured lawns and formal gardens were also created on the estate.  Later, two more extensions were added, the King’s Gallery and the Queen’s Gallery, for William and Mary’s extensive picture collection.

After the death of Queen Mary in 1694 and King William in 1702, Queen Anne became the principal resident of the palace.  During her reign, she had 30 acres of beautiful gardens added to the property and she also commissioned the addition of an Orangery that was built in 1704.  Queen Anne occupied the palace for a short ten years and she died there in 1714.

In 1722, during the reign of King George I, three lavish state rooms were painted with trompe l’oeil ceilings and walls.  The relatively unknown architect, William Kent, designed the Cupola Room which was an octagonal room with a domed ceiling painted with the Star of the Order of the Garter.  He also designed two additional rooms, the Privy Chamber and the Withdrawing Room.  Kent had the original King’s Grand Staircase repainted with a mural that depicted 45 Georgian court figures.

The last reigning monarch to occupy Kensington Palace was King George II.  He made no interior changes to the building but his wife, Queen Caroline, had the royal gardener completely redesign the gardens.  The features that were added to the design can still be seen today, they are the areas known as The Serpentine, the basin called the Round Pond and the Broad Walk.

After King George II died in 1760, Kensington Palace was only used by minor members of the royal family.  The fourth son of King George III family, Prince Edward (Duke of Kent), was the most notable.  His daughter, Alexandrina Victoria, was born at the palace on May 24, 1819 and her christening took place in the Cupola Room.  Sadly, the Duke of Kent died nine months after the birth and the Duchess of Kent and her daughter continued to live at the palace.  The Duchess proved to be an extremely protective mother and the Princess was isolated from other children and made to adhere a strict set of rules.

Then, in 1837, Princess Alexandrina Victoria, was awakened in the early morning after her uncle, King William IV, had died at Windsor Castle and she was told that she now the Queen.  The petite young girl, she was 18 years old, held her first privy council in the Red Saloon at Kensington Palace.  During the meeting she took the name of Queen Victoria and one of her first royal decisions was that she would move to Buckingham Palace as a means of distancing herself from her over protective mother.  From this time forward, Buckingham Palace became the permanent official residence of the British monarch.  (For more information regarding the life and reign of Queen Victoria, please click on the link.  As if you are interested in the history of Buckingham Palace, please check out the travel post from August 2013)

Kensington Palace - Queen Victoria

Later, the Duke and Duchess of Teck, who were relatives of Queen Victoria, lived at the Kensington Palace.  Their daughter (Princess Victoria Mary, later Queen Mary and the grandmother of the current Queen) was born there in 1867.  Queen Victoria had been very fond of Princess Mary who eventually married her grandson, Prince George (later King George V).  For more information about their wedding, please click on the following link, British Royal Weddings – Part Two.

During World War I, Kensington Palace was used to house Irish soldiers temporarily home from the front and ration restrictions were in effect not only for the soldiers but also for the royal residents.  Then, in World War II, the palace was severely damaged during The Blitz in 1940.  Anti-craft guns, sandbags and trenches were dug on the grounds of the palace and repairs to the palace were delayed for several years.

In 1960, after the wedding of Princess Margaret to Antony Armstrong-Jones, the sister of Queen Elizabeth II moved to Kensington Palace.  The newly married couple temporarily took up residence in Apartment 10 while extensive renovations were made on the much larger Apartment 1A.  By 1962, the remodeling was completed and the apartment had 20 rooms on four floors, consisting of several large reception rooms, 3 bedrooms and bathrooms, a nursery, 9 staff bedrooms and bathrooms, kitchen, laundry and even a dark room for Lord Snowdon, Princess Margaret’s husband who was a photographer.   After their divorce in 1978, the Princess continued to live in the palace until her death in 2002.

Kensington Palace - Princess Margaret

Other recent notables to live at Kensington Palace are the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester (the current Queen’s first cousin) who moved into Apartment 1 after their married in 1972 and the Prince and Princess Michael of Kent (another cousin of the Queen) who moved into Apartment 10 after they married in 1978 and the Duke and Duchess of Kent (another cousin of the Queen) moved into Wren House on the grounds of Kensington Palace in 1996.

One of the most famous member of the royal family to live at Kensington Palace was the Princess of Wales.  After her wedding to Prince Charles in 1981, they moved into a part of the palace that was formerly Apartments 8 and 9.  The two apartments were combined, renovated and redecorated to accommodate the new royal couple and their growing family.  Sadly, Prince Charles and Diana’s formal separation was announced in 1992 and later the divorce became official in 1996.  Diana and her two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, continued to live at Kensington until her death in 1997.  After Diana’s tragic death in a car crash in Paris, the area at the gates to Kensington Palace became a spontaneous memorial with thousands and thousands of flowers, pictures and personal notes left there in tribute as the public mourned the death of the well-loved “People’s Princess.  Prince William and Prince Harry eventually left Kensington Palace to live with their father, Prince Charles, in Clarence House.

Kensington Palace - Princess Diana    Kensington Palace after Diana's death

Following the wedding of Prince William to Catherine (Kate) Middleton in 2011, it was announced that the newly named Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would move into a temporary home in Nottingham Cottage which is located on the grounds of Kensington Palace while repairs and renovations were being made their permanent home in Apartment 1A, the former residence of Princess Margaret.  Finally after 18 months, the work was completed and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge along with their newborn son, Prince George, moved into their official residence in late 2013.  Their new accommodations has become their official residence and includes five reception rooms, three bedrooms and bathrooms, a two room nursery with adjoin bedroom for a nanny, and one kitchen for the family and two for the staff.  During the renovations, the heating, water and electrical systems were updated and dangerous asbestos was removed.  After the Prince William and his family moved, his brother, Prince Harry moved from Clarence House into Nottingham Cottage.

Information for planning a visit to Kensington Palace

Just in time for the Queen II Diamond Jubilee in 2012, the Kensington Palace State Rooms had a $19 million two-year renovation.  Visitors to the palace can now choose several different tours and there are also several interesting exhibits and interactive displays.  Some of the special presentations currently happening at the palace are: The Glorious Georges exhibit which is a multi-media exhibit that covers the reigns of Kings George I through IV.  The Fashion Rules exhibit which features a collection of dresses from Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret and Diana, the Princess of Wales ranging in time from the 1950s to 1980s. The Victoria Revealed exhibit takes visitors to the room where the young Queen held her first Privy Council and also on display are several items of her clothing ranging from a dress with the small 18 inch waist that she wore to that first Council meeting to one of her undergarments with a 50 inch waist that she wore later in her reign.

The King’s Apartments in Kensington Palace are entered by climbing the King’s Staircase which is painted with a grand mural that depicts 45 Georgian figures from the court of King George I. (be sure to look for the king and the mural artist, William Kent, dressed in a turban!)  The tour continues into the King’s Apartments, which includes the Privy Chambers, the Drawing Room and the Cupola Room.  The Cupola Room is where Princess Alexandria Victoria, the future Queen Victoria, was christened.  The largest room is the King’s Gallery where George I originally displayed an extensive collection of  paintings, look for the famous Van Dyck portrait of Charles I on horseback.  Also displayed in the room over the fireplace is a clock which was commissioned by King William III, surprisingly it still works!  In the Queen’s Apartments, accessed by the less grand Queen’s Staircase, is the Queen’s Gallery which was once filled with priceless treasures such as Turkish carpets and Oriental porcelain.

Kensington Palace - the King's Staircase    Kensington Palace - King's Gallery 2
Kensington Palace - the Cupola Room 2

After touring the rooms of Kensington Palace, be sure to take some time to walk the grounds to see the various gardens.  The Sunken Garden was originally planted in 1908 and features terraced flower beds and a pond with a fountain.  During the spring, the garden is filled with tulips and pansies in bloom and in the summer there are geraniums and begonias.  The formal gardens, designed during the time of Queen Caroline, features the Board Walk with a round pond and the Serpentine.

Kensington Palace gardens 1

For information regarding Kensington Palace hours, prices and more details about the various tours and exhibits, please see

Travel – Tower of London (Part One)

Tower of London - panorama

One of the most memorable sites we visited during our visit to London in 1998 was the historic Tower of London.  There are so many interesting and dramatic stories about this well-known royal palace, military fortress and former prison.  In this post I will discuss the origins of the Tower including the different buildings located within the Tower walls and their varied history over the past centuries.  In the second post, Tower of London – Part Two, I will discuss the history of the Jewel House which holds the famous Crown Jewels of England, the legend of Tower ravens and the duties of the Yeoman Warders.

A brief history of the Tower of London

The Tower of London, officially known as Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress, is located on the north bank of the River Thames near central London, England.  The Tower has been an important location and was originally intended as the royal palace for the reigning monarch and was built as a fortress against invading forces.  During the centuries the Tower functioned as a treasury and Royal Mint, an armory, a public records office and a secure place for the Crown Jewels of England.  The Tower of London was also used as a prison and according to historic records it is said that some of the prisoners were very important and high ranking people, such as Sir Walter Raleigh and Princess Elizabeth who would later become Queen Elizabeth I.  The Tower was also the site of many executions; some of those people executed were Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey but the most recent execution was during World War II when the German spy Josef Jakobs was killed by a firing squad.

In 1066, the site of the current Tower of London was founded during the Norman Conquest by the aptly named William the Conqueror.  William set out to build several castles and fortresses throughout England as a line defense from invading forces.  In 1078, the construction of the White Tower was started and when it was completed 20 years later the vast size and height of the castle dominated the surrounding city of London and for this reason it became known as the Tower of London.

Currently, the Tower of London covers 12 acres and is laid out in a series of three enclosures or wards with an additional 6 acres surrounding the area outside the walls.  The inner ward was built during the reign of King Richard the Lionheart and it is the area where the main buildings, such as the White Tower, are located.  The outer ward that surrounds the entire castle was built during the reign of King Edward I and the layout of the grounds has basically remained the same since that time with very little changes.  These multiple enclosures of the castle were meant to protect the Tower in the case of an attack and it proved a formidable line of defense.  In addition to those fortifications, a ditch was dug and filled with water to create a moat and 21 additional towers were added over time to provide increased protection.

Surprisingly, the Tower has also been the home of some very interesting animals.  During the reign of King Henry III, there was a Royal Menagerie that included exotic animals such as an elephant, lions, leopards and a polar bear that attracted the public’s attention when it would occasionally be released to go “fishing” in the Thames.  By the late 1800s, before the animals were relocated, the Tower held over 280 animals of 60 different species.  One of the most famous animals associated with the Tower are the large black ravens and for more information about the legend of how they came to be held there, please see the Tower of London – Part Two post.

Tower of London - map

Things to see and do at the Tower of London

The White Tower –

The White Tower was one of the strongest of the Norman fortresses and measured 118 feet by 105 feet at the base and rose to a height of 90 feet, not including the corner towers.  In the traditional style of a Norman keep, the White Tower’s northern side was built into an existing mound and the building entrance was accessed from a wooden staircase that could be removed in the event of an enemy attack.  On the west corners of the building there are square towers, on the north corner there is a round tower with a spiral staircase that ascends to the upper floors and on the south corner there is a large semi-circular section where the St. John’s Chapel is located.   Since the castle was meant to be a royal residence with additional comforts “fit for a king”, four fireplaces were added to provide warmth and latrines were built into the walls.

     White Tower

St. John’s Chapel (located in the White Tower) –

The St. John’s Chapel is located in the southern section of the White Tower on the second floor.  The chapel is a wonderful example of Norman architecture constructed with imported stone from France, there is a vaulted nave and round piers that support simple arches with carved scallop and leaf designs and behind the altar are beautiful stained glass windows that depict the Virgin Mary and the Holy Trinity.  Much later, in a windowless recess in the chapel crypt in the north wall, there was a secured room designed for the safekeeping of the royal treasures and important documents.  Today the St. John’s Chapel is still used for various services held throughout the year.

Tower of London - St. John's Chapel

Line of Kings Exhibit (located in the White Tower) –

For over 400 years, visitors to the Tower of London have come to see a wonderful display called the Line of Kings Exhibit which features royal armor and arms with full-sized wooden horses and the figures representing the Kings of England over the past centuries. The display has been changed several times since it was first put on exhibit after the Restoration.

Today, many of the wooden horses on display are over 325 years old and the exhibit shows the armors of several kings, including those of King Charles I and King James II.  An interesting display case shows two contrasting suits of armor, one of a “giant” and the other a “dwarf”.  But the centerpiece of the Line of King exhibit is the impressive armor of King Henry VIII.

Armor of King Henry VIII    Line of Kings exhibtion

St. Thomas Tower –

The function of the St. Thomas Tower has changed over the past centuries; it was originally intended as a royal residence for King Edward I but it was also used later as a place to hold prisoners.   The St. Thomas Tower was built in the late 1270s and is known as the Medieval Palace of the Tower.  Now, when visitors come to tour the Tower they will see a recreation of the bedchamber of King Edward I.  During the process of researching the recreation of the room design, historians tried to be as accurate as possible.  King Edward was known to travel across the country from one palace to another, so for his comfort the bedroom was made to travel with him.  The large four-poster bed, required because he was an unusually tall man for that time at 6 ft. 2 in., could be taken apart and re-assembled at the different locations.  In addition to the bed, the raised platform or dais, the curtains and other furnishings could easily be transported by cart from place to place.

St Thomas Tower    King Edward I bedchamber

Located below the St. Thomas Tower is a stone archway with a double gate that became known as the Traitor’s Gate.  This is the famous entrance from the River Thames into the Tower and it was the place that many prisoners were brought through when they were incarcerated within the Tower.

Tower of London - Traitor's Gate 1

The Bloody Tower –

At the time that this Tower was built by King Henry II in the mid-1200s it was originally intended as another line of defense for the castle and it was named the Garden Tower since the views from the upper floors looked out onto a garden area.  During the centuries the purpose of the building was changed and it later used to hold prisoners and because of the cruel events that are believed to have occurred there it was given the name of the Bloody Tower.

Bloody Tower

One of the earliest prisoners to this tower was Sir Walter Raleigh, he was held here during his long imprisonment and the lower portion of the tower is currently furnished as it would have appeared during that time.  On the upper floors there is a display telling the story of the two “Little Princes” of the Tower and their mysterious disappearance and possible murder.  After the death of King Edward IV, the next in line to the throne was the 12 year old Prince Edward.  Since he was too young to rule, he and his brother, 9 year old Prince Richard, were put under the “protection” of their uncle the Duke of Gloucester.  Sadly, the two princes were last seen in June 1483 at the Tower of London and been speculated that they were murdered by suffocation.  Coincidently(?) their uncle went on to become King Richard III but it is widely thought that he was ultimately responsible for the death of the two young princes.

Tower Green  –

Tower Green was said to be the historic site of the execution of two queen consorts of England, they were Anne Boleyn the second wife of Henry VIII and Catherine Howard the fifth wife of Henry VIII. Normally executions were performed outside the Tower of London on the nearby Tower Hill so as to accommodate large crowds.  The “privilege” of being beheaded in the privacy of Tower Green was in accordance with a higher ranking person so as to avoid the insults of the crowds and to die with dignity.  At the time of our visit in 1998, there was only a small area in the middle of the Green paved with granite bricks as ordered by Queen Victoria to mark the place of the execution scaffold and a small plaque that was added later with the names of the people who had died on or near the spot.  In 2006, a new contemporary memorial created by artist Bryan Catling was erected; it takes the form of a glass pillow resting on two polished disks, one disk is made of glass featuring the names of ten people (seven historically famous people and three soldiers that died on Tower Green) and the other disk is made of granite featuring a special remembrance poem.

Memorial at the scaffold site - Tower of London

TRAVEL NOTE:  When visiting the Tower of London, I would definitely recommend the free one hour tour given by a Yeoman Warder guide.  These tours are an excellent way to learn the history of the Tower, but they are also surprising entertaining and humorous despite the serious topics of imprisonment, execution and torture.

For more information, such as hours of operation and admission cost for the Tower of London, please see their website at