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Friday, June 28, 2013


Hampton Court Palace, one of the home's of King Henry VIII at Richmond Upon Thames.           Photo by Phyllis Shess
  Flowing wine fountain in the main courtyard is one of the attractions.

AWKWARD ENCOUNTER AT BEST—Thursday morning was gray, sunless and a strong wind carried the last spits of rain from the spent clouds against our hotel windows.  Londoners told us the weather was not unexpected for early April. Tomorrow, however, would be our last day in Europe and there was no time to procrastinate if we wished to see Hampton Court, one of the famed palaces of British royalty, specifically that of Henry VIII.

Ian, our hotel concierge, mentioned the trip to Hampton Court could be done entirely by train.  He pointed out the tube from mid-London to Waterloo station would travel under the Thames River.  From Waterloo we would take the train eight miles to the very last station on the line, which would be Hampton Court, a part of the London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames.

Hampton Court, home to many English kings, is 8 miles from London
Having just traveled by first class rail to London via the train tunnel under the English Channel, the thought of adding a trip under the Thames was just the spark we needed to dash off to Hampton Court.    

We bundled warmly for the walk from the elegant Mandeville Hotel to Bond Street subway station via St. Christopher’s Street.  We looked the part: chilled tourists. 

Had we an inkling that we’d come face-to-face with a British Soverign we would have certainly dressed more smartly.

Our above ground commuter train from Waterloo to Hampton Court, could have easily doubled for a Thomas, the Train episode.  Nothing fancy—just a train built for efficiency not for white table cloth service that we enjoyed on other Euro trains from Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Brussels and now London.

Judging in hindsight from concierge Ian’s savvy smile, he knew a blind squirrel could find its way from the train station to the ticket booth at Hampton Court.  We didn’t let him down.

The builders of the medieval-estate-turned-palace, knew how to make an architectural entry.  A sweeping landscaped walkway led us to the main entrance.  Up close, the brick walls showed evidence of repair work over the ages.

The Great Hall inside Hampton Court Palace
Yes, this was the home of Henry VIII and others.  On this gray day, its dankness was evident.  This was no Versailles.  No matter we were here to visit not move in.

We avoided the extra cost to join the group tour.  If one wished, the curators offered wardrobe suggestions to don while on tour.

We stuck to our free brochure and map.  We followed the suggested guide paths in reverse to avoid the hoi polloi.  We were not there to polish our reputation as members of Court.  We being point Z to point A tourists.  As an aside, we discovered our Z to A exploration technique worked well, except Stonehenge, which is laid out in a circle.

Back at Hampton Court, things began to unfold somewhat bizzare.

The sun came out and by noon the day was stunning.  So beautiful, in fact, we decided to have tea at one of the restaurants on the north bank of the Thames.
But not before the strangeless ensued.
Tourist sits in King Henry VIII's chair inside the Great Hall

We came upon the Great Hall, where Henry VIII and other royals entertainments ranged from grand balls, events of state and other intrigues.

Needing no encouragement I sat at the King’s massive chair at the head of the table. Little did I know my view from my seat would soon take me back to the early 1530s.

Annoyed by tourists, Queen Anne Boleyn
continues her search for Lady Jane Seymour
                                     Photo by Phyllis Shess
From the deserted Great Hall, we explored down a long hallway, not in search of intellectual treasure, but for the restrooms.  I’ve been asked not to include that last sentence.  If you’re reading it, I claim it as one of my few literary victories.

When we reached a hallway that led from the grand room to the Royal Chamber, we saw a human form, a woman, dressed in 16th century garb.  She was pale made paler by the blackness of her dress.   She stared at us, as any homeowner would do at the sight of strangers in her inner sanctum.   She was not happy.

Then, as if carried by a small zepher another, younger woman also dressed as a member of the King’s court appeared and rolled her eyes as if chiding us for not bowing to her monarch.  “That was the Queen,” she whispered and pointed to the lady in black, who by now had disappeared.

I caught myself before asking “which Queen?”  Afterall, we were in the palace of one of history’s more ardent collectors of Queens.

The tourist brochure was thrust into my hand.   It read that part of the charm of visiting Hampton Court was royal re-enactors would appear willy-nilly throughout the day.  Of course, the lady in waiting was an actress.  Silly me.
Anne Boleyn by unknown

But, the young woman was not through with us.  “Have you seen, Lady Jane,” she asked.  “The Queen insists on knowing her whereabouts?”

Whereabouts, what a cool word.

As anyone with a whit of Sherlockian cunning could now deduce, we were now privy to a rather awkward scene.  Queen Anne Boleyn was asking her lady in waiting to find the whereabouts of the King’s new mistress.  Unknown to us, Queen Anne had just discovered a necklace around Lady Jane’s neck that she had recognized as previously resided among the crown jewels.   Queen Anne had obviously memorized the bedazzling inventory.

Moments earlier, Anne had ripped the jewel from Lady Jane.  To avoid an even bigger scene, Lady Jane slipped away to another part of the castle.

Perplexed monarch asks tourists for advice on
how to woo Lady Jane Seymour without
his current wife Anne Boleyn finds out.

                                                 Photo by Phyllis Shess
So, if Queen Anne was irate that means we were in Hampton Court prior to May, 1536, the date she was beheaded at the Tower of London.   Aside here: We visited the Tower the day before and stood on the small lawn, where the scaffold had been built to dispatch Queen Anne.  It is now a lovely area of the Tower, where one can sit and admire the grounds.

We left the Great Hall and soon found ourselves in a long corridor leading to one of Hampton Court’s inner courtyards.

Turning the corner, we passed from darkness to outdoors.

Standing in front of us was Henry VIII.  There was no puff of magicians smoke.

Re-enactment actor no, his majesty’s sudden appearance stunned us.

Then he spoke to us. “Have you seen the Queen?”  the vision in regal reglia asked in a voice that did not belong to a shrinking violet.  “I must know her whereabouts.” [to avoid her].

There’s that word, again.

Then, he launched into a Shakespearean monolog.  “What should I do,” he asked in our direction.

Obviously, the sight of us didn’t alarm him.  If we were now transported to 1533 or so did he see us in Tudor apparel?  Who would we have been?  Perhaps, Cardinal Woolsey and one of his courtisans?

Perplexed he grabbed his chin with his hand.  “How can I possibly convey to Lady Jane that her Friend, Servant and Soverign finds her the fairest in the land and that my heart is throbbing in my chest at the thought of being next to her.  What token,” he asked us, “would you give her to express my deepest love?”
Hans Holbein, the Younger's
portrait of Henry VIII

“Beats me,” I offered.  I received an elbow in myside, where upon Lady Shess offered, “jewels.”  Note: plural to that noun. 

Henry’s voice brightened but his face was still at odds, “That’s it, my good woman.  Yes, a jewel. But what kind of jewel?  I have no time to choose.  I must tell her straightaway of my passion.”

Here was the monarch of England asking what kind of jewel should he offer his newest mistress?  The day before we saw the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London.  Given the vastness of the treasures, it’s no wonder good king Hank couldn’t decide.

But, if the King was debating what to give Lady Jane that means we were transported away to an earlier time.  Time was bouncing around inside Hampton Court.

Obviously, Henry VIII hadn’t yet given Lady Jane the necklace.

At that point, I didn’t care what he gave her.  Our thoughts were with Queen Anne.  Tempation was immediate to run back to the Great Hall and tell Ms. Boleyn to get the heck of out the castle and runaway, runaway.  Re-enactor actor or no.  No time to take a chance. Take the next train away from Hampton Court.  Runaway.

By the way, tea later that afternoon was splendid and refreshing, especially calming after just being caught in a rather awkward situation between King Henry, his wife and his mistress.

Today, June 28 is Henry VII’s birthday [1491-1547].

For more on Hampton Court:


The following is an excerpt from author Agnes Strickland's “Lives of the Queens of England.”

“...Henry's growing passion for Jane soon awakened suspicion in the mind of queen Anne; it is said that her attention was one day attracted by a jewel which Jane Seymour wore about her neck, and she expressed a wish to look at it. Jane faltered and drew back, and the queen, noticing her hesitation, snatched it violently from her, so violently that she hurt her own hand, [Heylin. Fuller's Wothies] and found that it contained the portrait of the king, which, as she most truly guessed, had been presented by himself to her fair rival. Jane Seymour had far advanced in the same serpentine path which conducted Anne herself to a throne, ere she ventured to accept the portrait of her enamoured sovereign, and well assured must she have been of success in her ambitious views before she presumed to wear such a love token in the presence of the queen. Anne Boleyn was not of a temper to bear her wrongs patiently, but Jane Seymour's influence was in the ascendant, hers in the decline: her anger was unavailing. Jane maintained her ground triumphantly; one of the king's love-letters to his new favourite seems to have been written while the fallen queen was waiting, her doom in prison...”

The following is a letter from Henry, Rex to Jane Seymour.

"HENRY VIII. TO JANE SEYMOUR. [Halliwell; Letters of the Kings of England]
Lady Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein,
the Younger.

"My Dear Friend and Mistress,

"The bearer of these few lines from thy entirely devoted servant will deliver into thy fair hands a token of my true affection for thee, hoping you will keep it for ever in your sincere love for me. Advertising you that there is a ballad made lately of great derision against us, which if it go abroad and is seen by you; I pray you to pay no manner of regard to it. I am not at present informed who is the setter forth of this malignant writing; but if he is found out, he shall be straitly punished for it.

"For the things ye lacked, I have minded my lord to supply them to you as soon as he could buy them. Thus hoping, shortly to receive you in these arms, I end for the present,

"Your own loving servant and sovereign,
"H. R."

Henry VIII by Hans Holbein, the Younger
The two paintings in this blog of Henry VIII are by German Hans Holbein, the Younger, who by 1532 was in England working under the patronage of Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell. By 1535, he was King's Painter to King Henry VIII. In this role, he produced not only portraits and festive decorations but designs for jewelry, plate, and other precious objects. His portraits of the royal family and nobles are a record of the court in the years when Henry was asserting his supremacy.  The image of Anne Boleyn is by an unknown painter.  Hans Holbein, the Younger also painted the image of Jane Seymour.

Afternoon tea is available at the restaurant on the North side of the Thames, across the street from the entrance to Hampton Court Palace,  Richmond Upon Thames.                                                                                Photo by Phyllis Shess

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