Visting Hampton Court Palace

For my last day in London I decided to take a visit to Hampton Court Palace, where King Henry VIII spent much of his reign, in addition to  other royalty. Having read many of Philippa Gregory’s historical fiction books pertaining to King Henry VIII’s court with Ann Boleyn and company, I was thrilled to see the real location where these infamous stories took place.

The palace was a ball – ticket entry included a free audio guide and entrance to the gardens and maze. Most of the palace is focused on the most interesting and scandalous reign of King Henry the VIII, with tours of Young Henry’s life, Henry VIII’s apartments, and the court’s kitchens.

It was actually really interesting learning about the kitchens, and how they managed to prepare such huge amounts of rich and fine foods for the court. It was also interesting to learn about their diet – loads and loads of meat, since meat was a sign of wealth. They also never drank water since it was considered alike to drinking poison (remember, they just tossed their poo and what not into the street, so the city’s water was extremley polluted.) Instead, they drank beer in exchange for water. Even babies and little children! I don’t understand how they didn’t get dehydrated.

It was also interesting to learn that Hampton Court Palace has what they call “food historians” who go to great lengths to reproduce the meals, furniture and cooking utensils they would have used in the times of King Henry. I also learned the difference between restoration and reproduction- restoration is the original piece restored, while reproduction involved trying to make the item with the same supplies and in the same manner in which it was originally made. The food historians made a good point that reproduction makes sense in trying to experience what life would have been like during King Henry’s time- after all, the kitchen wooden table wouldn’t be from thousands of years ago in their time, it would have bee fairly recent.

It was amazing to hear about how the great lengths they go to in order to reproduce things accurately – for example, hiring someone to make the pewter dishware by hand proved quite the project. The only manufacturer they could find that did hand made pewter dishes had fulfilled an order of 50 items, which was their largest order. Hampton Court Palace asked for 200!

My favorite thing about Hampton Court Palace though was the character actors. Being the ridiculous nerd I am, seeing King Henry, Anne Boleyn, her brother George, and Lady Essex walk about the grounds was akin to spotting celebrities in LA.

At specific times marked in the Hampton Court Palace guide, the actors would assemble and play out scenes, in which guests could participate. It was a real ball! I was a bit annoyed at all the children though. Obviously Hampton Court Palace is a great family activity, because the kids love interacting and running errands with the characters. The thing that irritated me was that they didn’t even understand the historical significance of the characters, whereas I did!

Maybe I wanted to talk to George about his possible incestous relationship with his sister. Maybe I wanted to warn Anne that her ambitions might get her in trouble. I would have liked to chat with King Henry about his dissolving marriage to Katherine – after all they had been through, how could he abandon her? Didn’t he still love her? It was obvious these character actors were hard core and it would have been fun to chat with them more, but there time was of course monopolized by little children. I know, what a Grinch I am! How dare they let history come to life for these little gremlins! I just felt like I had such a personal connection with the characters through the books I had read, it would have been nice to have more one-on-one time with them. Still, it was so cool to go through and see the great dining hall, the functioning palace chapel, and the lounging room where courtiers would gossip and play games while waiting for the King.

Every now and then King Henry would come marching through the halls, and swarms of tourists would part for him. Once I bowed to him as he passed and he said, “Thank you Mylady, your reverence is duly noted.” Shaweet!

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