Today was the day of palaces. Two very different palaces, to be sure. We started the day by sleeping a little later than we have so far on the trip, which was nice. Then we got breakfast to go and walked through Green Park to Buckingham Palace. The Queen is on holiday in Scotland, so they open 19 state rooms for public tours. I thought it was a guide-led tour, as there were only a few time slots each day in which to book. But that was not the case. We were early for our “tour” and were ushered right in. It was an audio-guide tour, which was fine, too.
The Palace is quite stunning. It is definitely interesting seeing as though it is the Queen’s current residence and place of work. It’s not your typical tourist attraction because while it is old and contains a lot of history, it’s also in current use. So it was fun seeing places that the royals are in every day. Especially the Throne Room, where this happened:
(I couldn’t find the full-length photo that wasn’t blurry!)
Because we are fresh on the heels of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, there were exhibitions of her Coronation in 1953. There were videos, photos, and relics on display. Most stunning was her dress and robe. It was so intricate and beautiful. She was very small at age 25, which two older British ladies next to me noted. One of them said, “The day was very wet, do you remember?” The other: “Yes, yes I remember. My, her waist was small.” “So was mine, 60 years ago!” (laughing): “Me too, there wasn’t any junk food then!” So cute!
While the Palace was gorgeous and lavish, it didn’t knock my socks off like other things have (Notre Dame, Westminster, etc.). I don’t know if it’s the fact that it’s not “old” or what, but although I am so glad I had the opportunity to tour it, it wasn’t the highlight of my day.
Which is probably unsurprising to anyone who knows me or has been following my trip. And that is because after Buckingham Palace we got on the train to Hampton Court Palace, which is about 30 minutes outside of London. Hampton Court Palace was built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey between 1515-1521. You may know Wolsey as Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, or closest advisor. Henry never liked to be outdone, and because the palace was so remarkable, Wolsey had no choice but to gift it to the King (in a too-little-too-late gesture). It became one of Henry’s favorites. His one legitimate male heir was born here, only to have his wife, Jane Seymour die shortly thereafter. Henry always considered Jane to be his true wife because she was the only one to bear him male issue. Rumor has it that her heart is buried in the Chapel Royal. Creepy, but cool.
Henry also remodeled and added on to the palace, initially with the help of Anne Boleyn. One of the main dinner halls (ballrooms) that is on display still has Henry and Anne’s badge (the intertwining H and A). Speculation has it that while all of Anne’s badges were removed after her beheading, this one was so small and out of the way, that they forgot it was there. I was able to see it, which was very cool!
There were also little stations with the badges of each of his other wives, except Anne of Cleves. At least I couldn’t find hers, which may or may not exist, considering they were married for under a year. After we saw the dining hall, we heard a commotion in the next room. It was Henry and Anne! George Boleyn presented Henry and Anne and they reenacted Henry making Anne Marquesse of Pembroke…one of the titles Henry bestowed upon her during her long wait to become Queen. We were all courtiers. It was very fun!
The Gardens at Hampton Court are absolutely incredible. I had heard that and was looking forward to seeing them, but nothing could prepare me for their grandeur. They cover more than 60 acres and have multiple gardens within the grounds. There was the Pond Garden, the Privy Garden, the Knot Garden, and the Rose Garden, to name a few. The next was more spectacular than the first! We kept being amazed every time we turned around, it seemed. One of my favorite things was the Maze. We made our way through the World’s Oldest Hedge Maze. And in record time! My travel book said it takes visitors, on average, 20 minutes to find the center. I think we did it in under 10. But hey, we always knew we were above-average!
The Palace is currently showing an exhibition on “The Secrets of the Bedchamber.” It was a very interesting look into the old royal bedchambers and how business, politics, and personal matters were conducted. Some of the beds were quite incredible to see, if a wee bit short for our tastes. Everyone must have been very, very short back then!
I bought a couple little things in the gift shop to memorialize my trip to Henry’s Palace, but unfortunately, because we essentially closed the place down, my selection was limited. Perhaps I will have a better selection at Windsor Castle, where he is buried.
We took it easy tonight, skipping the London Eye for now. We didn’t arrive back in London until 7:00pm and it was cloudy. So we chose to wait and go up in the Eye at a better time. Plus, we were exhausted and needed some down time. Tomorrow will be an early day as we journey outside of London!