Tudor Christmas


Tudor Christmas Tree at Hampton Court Palace 2014


Hampton Court Palace

27 Dec. 2014 - 04 Jan.


A Feature by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!


If ever a Hall beckoned to be decked with holly and, as young Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and his late Queen, Anne Boleyn, (Elizabeth was declared illegitimate after her parent’s marriage was annulled prior to her mother’s execution), suggests, ivy, it is the Great Hall at Hampton Court, the oldest and grandest of its kind in all of England, with its’ highceiling, tapestries and stained glass. On the day after Boxing Day, opening day of Tudor Christmas, we joined merry throngs making their way, not only back to winter, 1546 and ailing King Henry’s 37th and last royal holiday season, but re-enactments of some of the year’s events, featuring typical examples of reigning court protocol and proceedings. Small trees and topiary shrubs decked with white flowers and beads glistened in Palace corridors as Elizabeth and her step-mother Katherine Parr made plans for the upcoming festivities.

‘Christmas is cancelled’ was the greeting we were met with initially from the Master of Revels proclaiming it, who suggested, as an alternative, a replaying of the year’s events at Henry’s court. Although there is banter among the players regarding the dire state of Henry’s health, it is seen as treasonous to expound on the topic, so the subject is dropped. Dividing the large crowd into two smaller groups, we are lead down the atmospheric back byways of Hampton Court Palace, as the Master of Revels explains the machinations of everyone we see and overhear in passing, in as conversational a tone as though we were all part of his circle of confidants.


Master of the Revels - Tudor Christmas at Hampton Court Palace

Photo by John Couzens


We move on at an amiable pace past Henry VIII’s Kitchens, outside of which two servants quarrel, on through to an entranceway leading to a grand staircase, past an even grander Christmas tree, trimmed with white flowers, crowned with peacock feathers. In the spectacular Grand Hall, we are taught to bow and when the King enters, we become part of the re-enactment to a visit to the court of King Henry VIII.

Intrigues and speculation in Henry’s court abounded in the final days of his life, particularly in relation to who might ‘advise’ his nine year old son, Prince Edward on his father’s passing and what the contents of the King’s will, (revised December 30th, 1546) might be. Contrasting sides of Henry’s character are in evidence here, via a display of tenderness towards his young son and heir, Edward, and his roaring command to take a formerly trusted advisor to the Tower! The argument of the day in this time of Reformation was ever, Catholic versus Protestant, from the perspective of, depending on which side you viewed the debate from, heretic or realist, and it was intriguing to overhear such atypical, oft heated engagements through the viewpoints of servants and courtly participants alike.


King Henry VIII's Court - Tudor Christmas at Hampton Court Palace

Photo by John Couzens


The bearded actor playing Henry, who exudes a potent presence, is recognisably portly, but nowhere near as large as the then dying King would and been, and he and those surrounding him, familial or courtly, each attired in authentic Tudor garb in keeping with their stations, are never out of character throughout the day’s non-stop re-enactments, concluding with the Jester’s open air performance in Clock Court, the final entertainment of this festive pageant. The swish of rich brocades and velvets trimmed in pearls and lace form an undertone to interactions as ladies of Court pass, trailing trains. As we followed the players and their stories from place to place, we became increasingly captivated by the fantasy court they’d recreated, so much so that we eagerly awaited our next encounter/episode, among other groups of curious, sometimes, fascinated, steadily shifting visitors enjoying the many historical and architectural wonders of Hampton Court Palace.


Katherine Parr and Elizabeth, Mary and Prince Edward- Tudor Christmas at Hampton Court Palace

Photo by John Couzens


Timely music performed by skilled musicians on wooden, period fashioned instruments like lutes, hand drums and recorders embellishes courtly encounters, heightening mood for those engaging with this enchanted world, lending Tudor flavour to the proceedings as we retrace Henry’s history.


Musicians - Tudor Christmas at Hampton Court Palace

Photo by John Couzens


The Palace alone would make for an absorbing visit, as there is so much to see and admire there, so much so that the hours fairly fly and it seems time to go far too soon after one arrives! The Grand Hall, Chapel Royal with its’ stunning recreation of Henry’s heavily jewelled crown and the sheer ambiance of the Palace and grounds give visitors the feeling of being in an altogether different place and time then they are used to, heightening interest in historical goings on there.


The Great Hall - Tudor Christmas at Hampton Court Palace

Photo by John Couzens


Henry VIII’s Kitchens for example, were absolutely throbbing with activity, as Tudor costumed cooks and spit turners busied themselves with preparations for the King’s feast, and as it was noted, upwards of six hundred people a day would have dined in the Palace during Henry’s reign, each eating twice a day! To say the Kitchens, which included large areas designated for the preparation of meats, (veggies were for paupers), and an oven clad bakery, a floor above a barrel filled wine cellar, the mind boggles at the thought of the intenseness of the precision and focus required to fulfil their tasks!


Fire in Henry VIII's Kitchens - Tudor Christmas at Hampton Court Palace

Photo by John Couzens


Capping the historical richness the Palace has to offer, is art, of great stature in the new Cumberland Gallery housing masterworks collected by Kings and Queens through the years, beginning with Charles I who established the Royal Collection. Among its’ many highlights are paintings by Caravaggio, Rembrandt, van Dyck and Gainsborough to name a few, and a room filled with a dozen exquisite Venetian waterscapes by Canaletto, collected by George III, who’d never visited there, hung more or less at eye level, enabling full contemplation and appreciation of their detail and beauty. Most famous of all perhaps, in the context of Hampton Court Palace and Tudor Christmas, are works by Henry’s favoured painter, Hans Holbein the younger, whose large, seminal portrait of the King is on splendorous show in a corridor on the way to the Great Hall, where Henry held court.

It would be unfair to simply review such an evocative pageant, but I highly recommend you make the journey to participate in Tudor Christmas yourself, as it’s sure to add colourful memories to your holiday season and in so doing, elevate your view of Hampton Court Palace, inspiring future visits. It would be impossible to take in all that this esteemed Palace has to offer in one visit alone and, given the wide range of events set for 2015, there is much more ahead that you wouldn’t want to miss.


Henry VIII's Kitchens - Tudor Christmas at Hampton Court Palace

Photo by John Couzens



Winter Opening Times: Mon – Sun – 10AM – 4:30PM
Hampton Court Palace
Tel: 0844 482 7777