Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Finding Henry at Hampton Court Palace

Henry VIII became king in 1509 (I learned this from a mug in the gift shop).  That was more than 500 years ago but he is still so present in the tapestry of historical London.  We want to know how he thought, what he looked like when he was young, what he ate, how fat he really was.  He obviously craved power and made strategic moves to increase his power.  But what is equally fascinating (or perhaps more fascinating) was how driven by human personal pursuits he was.  At least, that is what is portrayed in plays, movies, and TV drama series.  And now at Hampton Court Palace, our FSU group got close and personal to his homelife.

Hampton Court does a great job of bringing visitors into the stories of the palace.  As part of the admission price, you can carry around an audioguide that gives you a dramatic explanation of the different chambers and the events that occurred inside.  There are also signs on the walls that provide insight into the lives of the former occupents.  If you are really lucky, you will even be able to talk to Henry or one of his many wives.  There are actors walking around in period costume, playing different characters.  Equally delightful are the gardens.  Truly a beautiful place to find the perfect shot of flowers.  There were interior courtyards for plants and expansive acres outside of the walls.

Over the centuries, many changes have occurred in Kensington Palace.  Spiral staircases and windows have been covered over, walls have been whitewashed, architect Christopher Wren came in and built additions, and some parts have been torn down.  But through the paintings on the walls and the clever museum displays all the scandalous stories don't seem that far away.  In the section of the Palace that explains Henry VIII's young life, there are three high-backed modern chairs that represent Henry, Katherine of Aragon, and Cardinal Woolsey.  As you go through the rooms, the chairs are in different positions to represent the relationships between the three people.  There are also quotes taken from correspondence that are painted on the interior walls of these rooms, bringing the emotions to life.

The Great Hall of Kensington Palace is still impressive with its ornate ceiling and tapestries.  There are long wooden tables set up where visitors can sit and enjoy the ambiance.  A touching reminder of the past is still evident in one corner of the room where an intertwined H and A (representing Henry and Ann Boleyn) in the woodwork has survived Henry's order to get rid of all traces of Ann.  This is a very dark picture, but you might be able to see the letters:

Walking to and from Hampton Court Palace, I glimpsed the nearby town buildings longingly.  That also looks like a nice area to visit.  If only we had more time to explore!  We just have one more full day before it is time to fly away from London and one more multimedia project to complete.

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