Hampton Court Palace is a royal palace in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, Greater London, in the historic county of Middlesex, and within the postal town East Molesey, Surrey; it has not been inhabited by the British Royal Family since the 18th century.
Today, the palace is open to the public, and is a major tourist attraction, easily reached by train from Waterloo Station in central London and served by Hampton Court railway station in East Molesey, in Transport for London’s Zone 6.
The palace is cared for by an independent charity, Historic Royal Palaces, which receives no funding from the Government or the Crown. In building his palace, Wolsey was attempting to create a Renaissance cardinal’s palace of a rectilinear symmetrical plan with grand apartments on a raised piano nobile, all rendered with classical detailing.
The historian Jonathan Foyle has suggested that it is likely that Wolsey had been inspired by Paolo Cortese’s De Cardinalatu, a manual for cardinals that included advice on palatial architecture, published in 1510.
The architectural historian Sir John Summerson asserts that the palace shows “the essence of Wolsey the plain English churchman who nevertheless made his sovereign the arbiter of Europe and who built and furnished Hampton Court to show foreign embassies that Henry VIII’s chief minister knew how to live as graciously as any cardinal in Rome.”
Whatever the concepts were, the architecture is an excellent and rare example of a thirty-year era when English architecture was in a harmonious transition from domestic Tudor, strongly influenced by perpendicular Gothic, to the Italian Renaissance classical style. Perpendicular Gothic owed nothing historically to the Renaissance style, yet harmonized well with it.
The gatehouse to the second, inner court was adorned in 1540 with the Hampton Court astronomical clock, an early example of a pre-Copernican astronomical clock. Still functioning, the clock shows the time of day, the phases of the moon, the month, the quarter of the year, the date, the sun and star sign, and high water at London Bridge.
The latter information was of great importance to those visiting this Thames-side palace from London, as the preferred method of transport at the time was by barge, and at low water London Bridge created dangerous rapids.
This gatehouse is also known today as Anne Boleyn’s gate, after Henry’s second wife. Work was still underway on Anne Boleyn’s apartments above the gate when the King, who had become tired of her, had her executed.
By 1529, the king had begun a process of rebuilding and remodelling which lasted at least ten years. As the Cardinal fell from favour and died, Henry transformed Wolsey’s palace beyond recognition.
Then William III and Mary II managed to rebuild half of the Tudor palace from 1689-94. Consequently, throughout the almost 500 years since Wolsey’s occupation, it has enjoyed a long history of development which has heavily obscured its original form.
Historians had little idea as to how much of Wolsey’s original palace survived amongst Henry VIII’s renovations, and so Wolsey’s Hampton Court became the missing link of English architectural history.
Since the 19th-century, the famous Great Hall, which is the best surviving room of the Tudor state apartments, has been explained as the last medieval great hall of the English monarchy, one of Henry VIII’s upgrades which suited the ultimate magnificence of a royal palace.