Say hello to Hampton Court, (one of the many) home(s) of Henry VIII! Beautiful little (I lie) (half-)Tudor castle snuggled in the countryside. Enter up a long drive, and the first thing we see is...scaffolding. Lots and lots of scaffolding. Because the Olympics are coming, and so everything in England is being cleaned. Italics=intensely so. Like the tube--you have to check before you leave to make sure they aren't working on part of the tube that's essential to your journey before leaving. Or Chatsworth; that was being cleaned, too. Everywhere we've gone, they're cleaning everything to make it sleek and shiny when the world shows up in a year to dirty it all up again. :)
Anyway, back to the Tudors:
So Henry had this place built and had it remodeled multiple times. 'Cause hey, who wants to sleep in the old wife's room? Yeah, not any of the new ones. So that's at least 5 extra rooms right there...Plus every other room he happens to want. Not to mention the part where you have to take down all the random insignias from the old wife, too. (He actually missed some of Catherine of Aragon's pomegranates, but they're pretty well hidden in the woodwork.) I started off by wandering through the kitchen complex. The kitchens are huge! The biggest house I've lived in doesn't take up that much space! Which, when you consider the number of people served, the fact that there were rooms for cooking pasties, making stews, roasting whole anything-but-pork (cheap, peasant meat), and then more to plate it all, rooms for washing and even a room for a guy to keep track of all the food coming in and going out, it begins to make sense. Oh, also, they had a 70% meat diet. At least. It may have been 80. But according to one of the guys there, roasted meat is the best--far superior to any other type. Makes me want to rig up a spit and try it out.
After emerging from the labyrinth that was the kitchen complex, I went up to the main castle. They had a whole scenario going on setting it up as the time of Henry's last marriage to Catherine Parr. They had a Catherine, a Henry, and a few advisors, adjuncts, and others wandering about garbed up. (That's a job that would be fun.) I saw Henry while he was talking to a group of schoolchildren--all of whom were wearing robes because you can't present yourself to the king in those clothes! *eyes mundane outfit skeptically* I had an audio tour that took me through the great hall hung with some really pretty unfortunately very faded tapestries, through the pages' room, and a few other places along the way. There was one room behind the great hall where there were blankets, pillows, and games. Nine-man's-morris! Whee! I played Sara and won, but I had the advantage of knowing what I was doing. We then played Fox-and-geese and I lost by a lot. Because I'm bad at strategy.
After emerging from that room, we saw the marriage ceremony through an open door where it was projected on the wall. There were more pictures, paintings, and so on all over the walls. Including a lovely family scene with Mary on one side, Elizabeth on the other, and the happy family in the center--you know, Henry, Edward at probably 10 years old, and Jane Seymour. Because she was totally alive 10 years after she died giving birth to Edward. Yeah, painted from life, that one. The tour ended down a spiral staircase, and we then went to the chapel there. Wow. Very wow. Intricate, detailed, carved all over, and the ceiling was quite an impressive blue.
Then we went to a different exhibit. Young Henry. Because what does everyone know about Henry? He killed a whole bunch of wives. (Which, really, there's only a 1:2 chance you'd die as his queen, and less than that that he'd kill you!) So they were telling about Henry as a young man when he was charismatic, athletic, a good fighter, a bit proud, a good leader, and, well, when we saw the video (Yeah, they had the guy playing Henry show off a bit) Sara said something along the lines of "Well, no wonder he got all those girls!" But then, by the time he divorced Catherine of Aragon, he was old and fat. So I still don't know. Aside from the whole "I'm the king" bit. Speaking of Catherine, I feel really bad for her. Henry blamed everything on her eventually, and it's not that she didn't have sons. She did. Two. One was stillborn, the other died a week after his birth in the middle of celebrations honoring him. And then there were the 3 princesses who never made it. And of course Mary, who honestly just got lucky. Other things, too; she just had an awful life. Cardinal Woolsey, too. Trusted advisor of the king, then everything comes crashing down around his ears even though he's still doing just what he used to.
We followed this up with a walk through their small museum, where they had the Triumphs of Caesar by Mantegna up on a wall. Big huge parade, Caesar at the back like Santa at the Macey's parade. Everyone's excited about the whole thing, but he's the one they stay to the end to see and would feel cheated if he wasn't there. Pretty cool painting, though.
After that we went to the gardens. Them's some nice gardens. Big open lawns, trees, fountains, a little river, and that was only in part of it. Oh, and I discovered something--any swans on the Thames officially belong to the Queen. So mess not with them. I mean, really, it's a bad idea to mess with swans, anyway.
Fascinating place, all told. Go there.