A tour of Eliza Rose’s Hampton Court
A lovely spring day at Hampton Court yesterday so out I went with my camera to make a photo tour for you. These are the real places and real things that inspired me when I was writing my story set at the palace, ELIZA ROSE. (Short commercial break warning: you can get your copy here!) People have been asking me what age group it’s suitable for: it’s for all readers over the age of eleven.
The story’s about some Maids of Honour at the court of King Henry VIII. The Maids of Honour are girls, sent to court to serve the Queen, to find husbands, and generally to look pretty and make the court a more glamorous place to be. They have a supervisor in the royal household, and in my story she’s the (made-up) Countess of Malpas. I gave my Countess this particular chamber – the one with the bay window – over what’s now called Anne Boleyn’s gateway. It has windows that look in both directions across both main
courtyards so that the Countess – as she says in the story – can keep an eye on the comings and goings of her girls. She didn’t watch carefully enough, though, to notice though that Katherine Howard was getting right under the king’s skin! She was as surprised as anyone when the engagement was announced.
Each morning, the Maids of Honour like Katherine have to go ‘on duty’, which means standing around in the Great Watching Chamber until the king and queen should choose to make an appearance. The Maids weren’t supposed to say very much, just look pretty and wear splendid jewels. They all quickly realised that this was pretty boring, and would go on duty as late as possible!
This is the little doorway out of which they would pop when the palace bush telegraph gave them wind that the king was on the move – they could run down the Countess’s stairs, and out the little door, and then up the other stairs to get into position just in time.
Oh look! Here’s a crowd of Tudor courtiers who just happened to rush by as we were standing there. Look how excited the little boy is on the right hand side! They were all performing their song which kicks off one of our plays we have on every day at Hampton Court, called Encounters with the Past. You can learn more about them here.
In the Great Watching Chamber, then, the hours could go VERY slowly while everyone was waiting for the king. Yes, this is the door to the King’s private lodgings, and everyone would stand there … watching … waiting for it to open and for the king to come out. Yes, this could be very tedious!
My favourite Maid of Honour, Eliza Rose (the book’s really about her) would try to amuse herself in these dull moments by looking closely at this tapestry of an elephant. In fact, the elephant inspired a dance that the Maids of Honour performed at court: the Dance of the Nine Graces. Eliza, who had clumpy feet, hated this dance at first when she was taught it, but gradually came to appreciate the artistry and beauty involved in dancing well. It’s just one of the things that her life at court will teach her.
When the girls first arrive at Court, they accidentally wander into the Great Hall, where the male lower courtiers and servants were eating and drinking and making a noise. Eliza and Katherine quickly realised that they weren’t supposed to eat in the main staff canteen, which is essentially what the Great Hall was. Instead, they would have their meals in their own private rooms, or with the king and queen and the top courtiers if it was the night for a banquet of a feast. Anyway, it was quite lucky that they ended up in the Great Hall that first night, because that’s where they met Ned Barsby. Young Ned, with his messy hair, might not look like it at first, but he is in fact OUR HERO. So your hearts should beat a little louder as he makes his entrance!
Beyond the Great Hall is a gallery which is today known as the Haunted Gallery – and who is the ghost? It’s Katherine Howard herself, and her ghostly self takes the form of the young queen running along the gallery to beg Henry VIII for her life after she was accused for adultery. You’ll have to read the whole story to find out how all this came about.
Once Eliza and Ned have finally realised that they like each other (it takes a bit of time!) they need to find a private place to meet up to talk about the problems of court life where no one can hear. That’s more difficult than it sounds, because although there are hundreds of rooms in the palace, there are also hundreds of servants, all listening and ear-wigging and eavesdropping upon everything that takes place.
Because Ned has access to all the keys, he suggests that they have a rendezvous one winter’s evening in the Banqueting House in the garden, a room only used in summer. Here it is – imagine Eliza going excited, frightened, worried and a little bit happy all at the same time, going quietly through that garden to go to see Ned…