To the visitors of cultivated taste and historic knowledge, Hampton Court abounds with subjects of reflective interest of the highest order. It is true, that, compared with some of our palaces, it can lay no claims to antiquity; but from the days of Henry VIII. to those of George III., there are few of them that have witnessed more singular or momentous events.

Overbearing despot as Wolsey [who built it] was, there is something magnificent in the sweep of his ambition, and irresistibly interesting in the greatness of his fall. He was the last of those haughty prelates in the good old Catholic times who rose up from the dust of insignificance into the most lordly and overgrown magnificence; outdoing monarchs in the number of their servants, and in the pomp of their state. Equaling the great Cardinals who have figured on the Continent, Ximenes, Richelieu, Mazarin, and De Retz, in political ability and personal ambition, he exceeded all in the wealth which he unhesitatingly seized, and the princely splendor in which he lived.

When we enter, therefore, the gates of Hampton Court, and are struck with the magnificent extent of the erection, which at that time not only, according to Rapin, "was a stately palace, and outshined all the king's houses," but was one of the most splendid structures in Europe, we can not help figuring to ourselves the proud Cardinal surveying its progress, and musing over the wonders of that career which had brought him, if not from the humble estate of the son of a butcher, yet from an origin of no great condition, or it could not have remained dubious to this period--the wealthiest man in Europe, the most potent in political influence, and the ardent aspirant to the Popedom itself….

It was only at Hampton Court that his vast train of servants and attendants, with the nobility and ambassadors who flocked about him, could be fully entertained. These, as we learn from his gentleman-usher, Cavendish, were little short of a thousand persons; for there were upon his "cheine roll" eight hundred persons belonging to his household, independent of suitors, who were all entertained in the hall. In this hall he had daily spread three tables. At the head of the first presided a priest, a steward; at that of the second a knight, as treasurer; and at the third his comptroller, who was an esquire…. Besides these, there was always a doctor, a confessor, two almoners, three marshals, three ushers of the hall, and groom. The furnishing of these tables required a proportionate kitchen; and here were two clerks, a clerk-comptroller, and surveyor of the dressers; a clerk of the spicery; two cooks, with laborers and children for assistants: turnspits a dozen; four scullery-men; two yeomen of the pastry, and two paste-layers. In his own kitchen was his master-cook, daily drest in velvet or satin, and wearing a gold chain. Under him were two other cooks and their six laborers; in the larder a yeoman and groom; in the scullery a yeoman and two grooms; in the ewry two yeomen and two grooms; in the buttery the same; in the cellar three yeomen and three pages; in the chandlery and the wafery, each two yeomen; in the wardrobe the master of the wardrobe and twenty assistants; in the laundry, yeoman, groom, thirteen pages, two yeoman-purveyors and groom-purveyor; in the bake-house, two yeomen and two grooms; in the wood-yard one yeoman and groom; in the barn a yeoman; at the gate two yeomen and two grooms; a yeoman of his barge; the master of his horse; a clerk and groom of the stables; the farrier; the yeoman of the stirrup; a maltster; and sixteen grooms, each keeping four horses.

There were the dean and sub-dean of his chapel; the repeater of the choir; the gospeler, the epistler, or the singing priest; the master of the singers, with his men and children. In the vestry were a yeoman and two grooms. In the procession were commonly seen forty priests, all in rich copes and other vestments of white satin, or scarlet, or crimson. The altar was covered with massy plate, and blazed with jewels and precious stones. But if such were his general establishment, not less was the array of those who attended on his person. In his privy chamber he had his chief chamberlain, vice-chamberlain, and two gentlemen-ushers. Six gentlemen-waiters and twelve yeomen; and at their head nine or ten lords to attend on him, each with their two or three servants, and some more, to wait on them, the Earl of Derby having five. Three gentlemen-cupbearers, gentlemen-carvers, and servers to the amount of forty in the great and the privy chamber; six gentlemen-ushers and eight grooms. Attending on his table were twelve doctors and chaplains, clerk of the closet, two clerks of the signet, four counsellors learned in the law, and two secretaries.

He had his riding-clerk; clerk of the crown; clerk of the hamper and chaffer; clerk of the cheque for the chaplains; clerk for the yeomen of the chamber; and "fourteen footmen garnished with rich running-coates, whensoever he had any journey;" besides these, a herald-at-arms, sergeant-at-arms, a physician, an apothecary, four minstrels, a keeper of the tents, an armorer; an instructor of his wards in chancery; "an instructor of his wardrop of roabes;" a keeper of his chamber; a surveyor of York, and clerk of the green cloth….

I am afraid the story of Henry VIII. coming to see this splendid palace on its first being built, and saying in a jealous surprize, "My Lord Cardinal, is this a dwelling for a subject?" and the courtly Cardinal replying, "My gracious liege, it is not intended for a subject; it is meant only for the greatest and most bounteous king in Christendom," is too good to be true; for altho Wolsey did give up this favorite palace to his royal master, it was long afterward, and only on the palpable outbreak of his displeasure, as a most persuasive peace-offering; an offering which, tho especially acceptable, failed nevertheless to ensure lasting peace. The sun of the great Cardinal was already in its decline….

Henry VIII. used to keep his court here frequently in great state, and here he used to celebrate Christmas in all its ancient festivity. Here he lost his third wife, Jane Seymour, a few days after the birth of his son Edward VI., and felt or affected much grief on that account, perhaps because he had not had the pleasure of cutting off her head. Here he married his sixth wife, Lady Catherine Parr, widow of Neville, Lord Latimer, and sister of the Marquis of Northampton. This lady, who had the hardihood to marry this royal Bluebeard, after he had divorced two wives and chopped off the heads of two others, narrowly escaped the fate she so rashly hazarded. The very warrant for her committal to the Tower, whence she was only to be brought forth to be burned at the stake for heresy, was signed, and on the point of execution, when she accidentally became aware of it, and managed to soothe the ferocious tyrant by the most artful submission to his conceit of his theological learning, and by rubbing his ulcerated leg.

Here, as we have said, Edward VI. was born; and three days after he was baptized in the king's chapel in the palace in great state--Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury, and the Duke of Norfolk, being god-fathers. Hampton Court was appropriated by the guardians of Edward as his residence, and he was residing here when the council rose against the authority of the Protector Somerset, and was removed by him hence to Windsor Castle, lest the council should obtain possession of his person. Here Bloody Mary, and her husband, Philip of Spain, passed their honeymoon in great retirement; and here--when they were desirous of effacing from the mind of their sister, the Princess Elizabeth, the recollection of her imprisonment at Woodstock, and the vain attempts of their arch-rascal priest Stephen Gardiner, Lord Chancellor and Bishop of Winchester, to coerce her into popery, or to convict her of heresy, and probably bring her to the flaming stake--they invited her to spend some time with them, and set on foot banquets, maskings, and all sorts of revelries.

Here they kept Christmas with her as royally as the father, Henry VIII., had kept it in his day; Elizabeth being seated at the royal table with their majesties, next the cloth of state, and, at the removal of the dishes, served with a perfumed napkin and plate of confect by the Lord Paget. Here, too, during her stay, they gave a grand tournament, wherein two hundred spears were broken by contending knights. Here Elizabeth also, when she was become the potent queen instead of the jealously-watched sister, continued occasionally to assemble her brilliant court, and to hold merry Christmas, as Mary, Edward, and her father had done before. Here also the especial festivals of the Christmases of 1572 and 1593 were kept by her….

The entrance to the portion of the palace built by Wolsey is by a sort of outer court of great extent, the gates of which have their pillars surmounted by a large lion and unicorn as supporters of the crown royal, and each of the side gates by a military trophy. Along the left side of the area are barracks and such offices; the greater part of the right side is open toward the river, and there stand nine as lofty and noble elms, in a row, as perhaps any part of England can match. Two gateways are before you; the one to the left leading to the kitchen-court, the center one to the first quadrangle. This chief gateway has been restored, in excellent keeping with the old building, and has a noble aspect as you approach it, being flanked with octagon towers, pierced with a fine pointed arch, over which are cut, in rich relief, the royal arms, and above them projects a large and handsome bay-window, framed of stone.

You now enter by a Gothic archway the first of the courts of Wolsey remaining. These two are said to have been the meanest then in the palace. There were originally five; the three finest of which were pulled down to make way for William III.'s great square mass of brickwork. The writers who saw it in its glory, describe it in entireness as the most splendid palace in Europe. Grotius says, "other palaces are residences of kings, but this is of the gods." Hentzner, who saw it in Elizabeth's time, speaks of it with astonishment, and says, "the rooms being very numerous, are adorned with tapestry of gold, silver, and velvet, in some of which were woven history pieces; in other Turkish and Armenian dresses, all extremely natural. In one chamber are several excessively rich tapestries, which are hung up when the queen gives audience to foreign ambassadors. All the walls of the palace shine with gold and silver. Here is likewise a certain cabinet called Paradise, where, besides that every thing glitters so with silver, gold, and jewels, as to dazzle one's eyes, there is a musical instrument made all of glass except the strings."

It was, indeed, a Dutch taste which leveled all these stately buildings to the ground, to erect the great square mass which replaced them. A glorious view, if old drawings are to be believed, must all that vast and picturesque variety of towers, battlements, tall mullioned windows, cupolas and pinnacles, have made, as they stood under the clear heaven glittering in the sun….

The hall, the chapel, the withdrawing-room, are all splendid specimens of Gothic grandeur, and possess many historic associations. In the hall, Surrey wrote on a pane of glass some of his verses to Geraldine; and there, too, it is said, the play of Henry VIII., exhibiting the fall of Wolsey in the very creation of his former glory, was once acted, Shakespeare himself being one of the performers!

[35] From "Visits to Remarkable Places."