Sightseeing Fit for a King

Hampton Court Palace commemorates the 500th Anniversary of King Henry VIII’s ascension to the throne

By: By Monica Poling

The Details

Hours: Through Oct. 24, Hampton Court Palace is open 10 a.m. to 6 pm. From Oct. 25 through Mar. 27, 2010 the palace observes winter hours and closes at 4:30 p.m.

Admission: Approximately $23 for adults, $11.50 for children under 16, and about $18 for full-time students and seniors over 60. Commissions are not offered, but group and travel trade rates are available.

Getting There: Hampton Court Palace is walking distance from the South West Trains Hampton Court stop. South West Trains service takes 35 minutes from London’s Waterloo Station. The service also stops at Wimbledon Station, where the London Underground District Line begins.

Hampton Court Palace


Hampton Court celebrates the 500th anniversary of King Henry VIII's ascension to the throne // (c) Monica Poling 2009

Hampton Court

Sometimes, I feel like we Americans just can’t give the Brits a break. No matter how many times they release comedies in the vein of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” or “Fawlty Towers,” some of us still think life in the U.K. is, well, a bit stuffy. And when it comes to one of their icons, King Henry VIII, many Americans can only imagine a larger-than-life ruler who dispatched wives quicker than he could say “another turkey drumstick, please.”

This year, however, the Hampton Court Palace is doing its best to set the record straight. Located just southwest of London, Hampton Court —one of Henry VIII’s favorite palaces — is commemorating the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s ascension to the throne. Upon the heels of a major renovation, the palace is attempting to bring history to life in a series of interactive, hands-on exhibits and re-enactments designed to both entertain and inform.

Hampton Court Palace celebrates the 500th anniversary of King Henry VIII's ascension to the throne // (c) Monica Poling 2009

Hampton Court Palace was recently renovated
and now celebrates the 500th anniverary of
King Henry VIII's ascension to the throne.

Visitors get the royal treatment from the start as they are welcomed by costumed docents in the palace’s Base Court (the same courtyard where guests of the king were ceremoniously received 500 years ago). Soon after, clients are brought inside and encouraged to sit at long tables in the banquet hall or on replicas of the throw pillows used by ladies in waiting. All the while, docents give historical anecdotes, answer questions and point clients in the direction of the other on-site exhibits and re-enactments.

What’s proving to be a particularly popular program is the daily re-enactment of Henry VIII’s wedding to his sixth wife, Kateryn Parr, which took place in Hampton Court Palace’s Chapel Royal in 1543. Visitors can meet the king, queen and members of the court, as well as participate in traditional 16th-century games and feasting. Brave guests can even don traditional Tudor costumes and accompany the royal couple on walks around the palace. Those willing can also play the role of a servant working in the royal household or dress up like one of Henry’s trusted courtiers.

Around every Palace corner, another surprise awaits guests, who are encouraged to touch, listen, interact and watch near-Hollywood quality movies about Henry VIII. A couple of stand-out exhibits include the story of the early years of Henry’s reign in the “Young Henry” exhibit and the “Tudor Kitchens” exhibit, which gives visitors a sense of the resources it takes to feed around 600 courtiers twice a day.

Last month, King Henry’s Council Chamber became a virtual, multimedia debating chamber. The hands-on activity helps clients grasp the gravity of making and influencing world-changing decisions in the 16th century. Heated topics range from religion to the king’s possible successors to Henry VIII’s marriage to Kateryn Parr. The chamber, one of the first rooms Henry VIII built at Hampton Court, and was open to the public for the first time ever this past April.

Much of the Palace’s interactive programming is due to the efforts of research curator Dr. Suzannah Lipscomb, who is turning 16th century education on its ear. Lipscomb is the teacher that all students wish they could have — energetic, innovative and passionate about bringing Henry VIII’s history to life. Lucky guests who are fortunate enough to be visiting the palace while Dr. Lipscomb is presenting/performing/educating should be sure to take advantage of the opportunity. Even the most reluctant museumgoer can come away with a new-found love for 16th century history.

Activities commemorating the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s ascension to the throne are happening through January 2010.