Fit for a King
Denise Marshall writes for the Daily Express, 18.4.2009, on the documentary 'Inside the Body of Henry VIII' for HISTORY (TM)
Henry VIII's favourite palace was, like the king himself, huge, complex and full of intrigue. A new documentary explores the 1,300 rooms and labyrinth of tunnels at Hampton Court.
Five hundred years ago this Tuesday Henry VIII came to the throne aged just 17. Notorious for accumlating six wives in his bid for a male heir, Henry was a monarch of excess during his 38-year reign and nowhere is this more apparent than in the design of his favourite residence, Hampton Court Palace in south west London.
The History Channel documentary, Inside the World of Henry VIII, illustrates how this sprawling building is testament to such a forward-thinking figure.
'Henry is our biggest king in every sense', says Dr Lucy Worsley, chief curator at Hampton Court. 'His life was such a soap opera. There was drama, romance and turbulence in addition to breakthroughs in arts and culture and the invention of battleships.
'He also created the idea of a luxury royal palace as opposed to a heavily fortified castle.'
Hampton Court Palace has over 1,300 rooms, 15 courtyards and a warren of underground passages after several extension by Henry.
'All rooms were lavish', explains Lucy. 'It's hard for us to imagine how bright Tudor interiors were when we look at faded tapestries today, but you can in paintings they were incredibly opulent with gold gilding. Henry was particularly fond of Italian craftsmanship.'
Six hundred people lived in the palace with 200 of those working below stairs. It is well known that courtiers constantly surrounded Henry, even when he slept. Servants cost him the equivalent of ten million pounds per year and the court food bill reached a staggering six million pounds per year, including 2,000 red deer and 8,000 sheep.
A typical day for Henry began with a prayer in his private chapel. 'There were rules stating who was allowed to go in his bedroom and, over time, more and more people thought they had the right to enter', explains Lucy.
'Eventually he built himself a second secret bedroom for privacy in the 1540s.'
Lunch was the most important meal of the day at Hampton Court, but no one was allowed to sit at the table with Henry while he ate.
Apart from his wives and their ladies in waiting, the palace was very much a man's world with nobles far away from their families indulging in gambling.
While it's clear that Henry devoted more time to pleasure than politics, in 1547 he was granted his final wish to be buried next to Jane Seymour, the only one of his six wives to bear him a male heir, Edward VI.
After life in the lap of luxury Lucy reveals the King might have come to a grotesque end. 'There is a myth that his bloated infected corpse exploded in his coffin and the gunge that poured out was licked up by dogs.'
© 2013 Lucy Worsley