I took so many beautiful pictures of what I saw but unfortunately the website will not let me upload anything above 2MB! When I edited and fixed all my pictures they were all about 5MB, so please excuse the lack of original pictures. Many of them I had to find online as mine would not upload!
This last Sunday I journeyed to Hampton Court to see for myself where Henry VIII set up his court during the early part of his reign. During the 1700’s a huge part of his original castle was demolished because the monarchs at the time wanted a baroque style court. I curse them today because so little is left of Henry’s original design. That being said, a little is left and the parts of the Tudor castle that are present are very relevant, as a history buff, I find these parts of Hampton court to be important and I myself can see Anne very much at home there during its glory days.
Upon my arrival I dedicated myself to asking the curators specifically about Anne Boleyn. This was my second time at Hampton Court so I didn’t feel shackled to the tourist aspect of the grounds, but rather committed myself to talking to a few strangers about Anne Boleyn. The first and most obvious part of Hampton I want to talk about is Henry VIII’s great dining hall. The dining hall was used rarely, as Henry and his Queen would have eaten in their private chambers. It was mostly used to entertain high profile guests and to celebrate Holidays. The space itself is pretty grand, but the most notable thing to take into account is the tapestries that Henry VIII had made specifically for the walls of the dining Hall at Hampton Court.
At the time, Henry’s tapestries (which detail the biblical story of Abraham) were the richest tapestries in existence. Indeed the picture you will note below, now thread bare, was originally mostly silver and gold thread. By silver and gold I mean the precious metals, not the colors 🙂 These tapestries cost more than the ones displayed in the Vatican. By decorating these walls with these extravagant furnishings of gold and silver Henry was sending a distinct message to Rome. He was simply not to be messed with. Obviously it was in his divine right and power to be able to afford and display such emblems of power, and if his allowance money was greater than the pope’s then certainly his word would take greater precedent than the Pope’s any day. Some would argue that this is inferring too much on the behalf of some threads, but I disagree wholly because of what we know about the idea of hem monarch in the Tudor period.
The monarch was a supreme human chosen by god to lead nations. In the Tudor era (according to the gentleman curator who I asked about Anne Boleyn) Henry’s servants were fed meat twice a day, when in other European courts the likes of were simply unheard of. That in and of itself shows the grandeur that was Henry’s court. The cloak of Abraham contains more silver threads in one tapestry then in all the tapestries in the Vatican combined, which would have been quite controversial. Not only was the material of the tapestry sending a blatant message but Henry through the story of Abraham was detailing his own life to everyone who was lucky enough to enter the great Hall. Henry of course was parallel to Abraham, the father of Israel who is bent to god’s will. Abraham essentially starts a new life over due to God’s bidding. His wife Sarah becomes pregnant with a son at an old age and therefore provides for the land of Israel an heir apparent who is begotten of divine will.
An excerpt from Hebrews 11:8-12 details:
It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God. It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed that God would keep his promise. And so a whole nation came from this one man who was as good as dead—a nation with so many people that, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them.
Through his choice of biblical story we can see that Henry VIII was supposing himself to be the will of god. He was hinting at the birth of a new empire. He wanted an England independent of outside influence as well as absolute obedience and respect to his name, and he did it by using biblical influences. Perhaps he was foreshadowing his marriage to Anne in the tapestries as being willed by a higher power. Because this is an Anne Boleyn blog, let’s just assume that at the time Henry hung the tapestries he was enamored of her. In any case, one of the biggest fallacies about Anne is that she was a great deal younger than Henry. Although Sarah was exponentially older than Anne in the tapestries, to many Anne was no spring chicken. She was courted by Henry through the last years of her twenties and was not crowned until she hit her thirties.Even if Sarah does not allude specifically to Anne Boleyn, and alludes more specifically to Catherine of Aragon we can quite plainly see that Henry was hinting at greater forces controlling the birth of a male heir, including the timing of the birth of his much anticipated prince. He was trying to console himself and his people and wanted everyone to know a prince was coming; somehow, someway he would leave an empire behind.
In any case we can see what a sensitive subject not having a male heir was to the very masculine Henry.
The Hall itself is not exceedingly large, so I found it incredible that there were two H’s entertwined with A’s that people just missed after Anne’s death. To me they were very obvious, and it’s hard to think Henry never noticed them when he was out and about. The curator who was speaking to me about Anne just seemed to think they were overlooked, but to me the placement is so obvious that I have a difficult time understanding how these monograms went unnoticed. Anne is literally in the woodwork of the great hall, and her mark is apparent. When one considers her tragic death and the women that came after her it is unthinkable that they could have not noticed Henry and Anne’s initials sewn together in the woodwork of the Hall. What must they have thought being in the face of the man who was behind his wife’s own execution? How could they have brought themselves to sit in the chairs in which she sat, and eat off the plates she did, knowing of what ill Henry had done her? Having those initials glare at me from down the hall would have given me chills as I was courted by Henry after the fact.
I was lucky enough to talk with my new friend the Curator for about a half hour after he pointed out the woodwork. I am always thrilled to be able to talk to people who are passionate about history. He said he wasn’t as sympathetic as I towards Anne, although he did admit there were many people in court out to get her. He really opened my eyes to the idea of Henry as king and just how highly he regarded himself as being the supreme being of the land. From what I got from my conversation with him, he felt that Anne’s allure for Henry was simply in her refusal. Anne from his perspective completely flat out refused the king at all costs. She held out to get the ultimate prize of being wed and crowned. I got that he felt that king was merely lusting after her and as result really played the fool. I threw into the pile that I thought Henry really did love Anne due to the fact that he ripped his country open for her and executed people who defied the act of supremacy, especially his lifelong friend sir Thomas More. More ,Henry went out of his way to acquire and possess Anne. He made her a special title, showered her with precious gifts, and gifted her estates. Henry was seemingly a perfect gentleman. For someone who hated writing he wrote to her beautiful letters, he seemed to go out of his way to make her his equal, and that in and of itself was rare for the time and indicative of just how much he treasured her. I then proceeded to utter my discontent and horror to the curator that he dispatched of her so quickly. Its always a sensitive subject, and seeing the monogram made me want to debrief!
The curator agreed to a certain extent but then added in that Henry was taught to take what he wanted. At a certain point Henry believed that it was in god’s will for him to wed and impregnate Anne Boleyn, whether this was because of the love her bore her, or because he believed her to be fertile, or because he thought she conducted herself worthily of becoming his equal we will never know.
I for one feel that although Henry did love her, once he broke with the Catholic Church it became a question of his own honor. Was he man enough to see this separation in his life through? Would he finally be able to claim the prize of Anne’s sex and claim his rightful kingdom? Would he be able to forsake Catherine to raise Anne up? Of course he had convinced himself thus, and being the stubborn, passionate man I envision him to be he was going to have his way one way or another.
The curator pointed out the concept that Anne fell out of Divine favor. Once her virginity was relinquished she was unable to produce a son, and Henry’s biggest nightmare came true, he had broken apart a nation to be with a woman who was only producing daughters. When the charges came up against her it is possible that Henry felt that the divine was giving him a way out, so he rolled with it. In his mind, Henry could do no wrong and instead the other people in his life who were failing him were the ones that needed to vacate a seat for those that could perform the godful duties of being a ruler. The curator added that Anne was extremely prone to tempers. He talked about an account of her dog, Purkoy, being killed, and nobody wanting to tell her for fear of upsetting her. He felt this of itself showed what rages she was capable of, and he felt if people were scared of her she was obviously doing something wrong.
When I pointed out that no one should have laid a finger on her dog in the first place he agreed, but then focused more on how a woman in the Tudor period should not have behaved the way Anne did. When I thought about his claim everything started to make sense. The example he gave was here all the English women were walking around court with their heads covered in modesty and her comes the lady Anne showing off her beautiful waist length hair. That is a quick way to make enemies. People were trying to dispatch of her as soon as she stepped into Henry’s court, so her violent fall was not exactly unpredictable, and although it was swift it was meant to be so. What happened to poor Anne Boleyn was not an accident. But perhaps at the time it was seen as a fit punishment for a woman prone to quick tempers and for daring to flaunt her sexuality in public.
In the words of the curator “She was playing a dangerous game, and she lost.” When he asked me what I thought about her, I brought up that there was always going to be a feminist view on her. He replied something to the effect of, “Ah, but you see there were no feminists at the time. Had she lived today she would be accepted, but for her times she just was not acceptable.” Which I felt was an extremely valid point. Indeed, if Queen Anne Boleyn would have been an acceptable lady for her time she would not have been the first Queen to lose her head.
I was surprised to learn that the curator had not heard the new theories about Henry being Kell positive, so when I whipped out that evidence from the new book I’m reading he seemed intrigued. Personally I find that explanation for King Henry VIII’s madness to be very convincing, when you mix that with the curator’s description of Henry’s mentality as King it makes so much sense, add in a jousting accident and you are right on the money for figuring how he went from showering Anne with gifts one day to ordering her death the next. Those three incidents are what allow me to sleep at night and not ponder why true love can turn into hatred so quickly.
Philosophical questions like that are the bane of my life.
Anyway sorry for the side note. Moving onto Anne Boleyn’s Gateway at Hampton. I did not enter Anne’s apartments because they are not open to visitors but say the outside of the apartments where Henry set up Anne’s household for her before they were wed. Below is a picture of the outside. Her apartments themselves would have been very convenient for her to see exactly who was coming and going at Hampton Court. I wonder if she requested this specifically to keep an eye on Henry? It’s hard to say, but in any case, Henry’s private chambers and her apartments are not a far walk apart at all.
The ceiling of Anne Boleyn’s gateway has several Henry and Anne monograms as well as her falcon crests everywhere! It is hard not to get teary eyed with romance as you glance up and look at it. Once again a beautiful example of the love between them both that was so ill fated.
Although this is more of an abstract idea, I felt that the gardens at Hampton Court were really full of old Tudor energy. From Cardinal Wolsey’s old rooms you have a clear look at what he would have seen and where he would have walked, and if he walked there then I’m sure Henry and Anne would have at some point too. Walking the grounds themselves is what gave me the clearest idea of the romance between Henry and Anne. When strolling the gardens and parts of the palace it is easy to imagine them sneaking off to have a private moment, or to imagine Anne walking the gardens and admiring the flowers with her ladies. To walk where she would have been was a really heartwarming experience, in a way I felt that perhaps I was walking some of the better years of her life, when her star was rising, and when she was falling deeply in the love with the king.
I also really felt a connection in the rose Garden in Hampton Court. I don’t know whether or not it was around in the mid 1500’s or not, but when I was walking around smelling the roses, all of the sudden I felt this calm and peace rush over me. For the first time during that day I was not concerned about finding out the facts about Anne, or telling people what I thought about her story, I just enjoyed being amongst the roses and for a split second I thought, ‘everything is beautiful.’ From someone who is doom and gloom all the time I can assure you this is rare, and then I related it back to Anne because her motto was ‘the most happy,’ and if she had any kind of gorgeous flowers to waltz by at Hampton and had the promise of being crowned queen, I can see why. The gardens both elated me and refreshed me so I felt willing to continue on my stretch of palace.
Beside the garden the other place I felt the most Anne presence was in King Henry’s Royal chapel by his private apartments, in the Queen’s Pew. I felt chills down my back as I stood where the queen’s pew would have been and immediately asked a curator if the chapel was in use when Anne was Queen. He said it was and she indeed would have been to mass there quite frequently. He said she would have been the first queen to have attended mass in the chapel since by the time it was built Catherine had already left Hampton. I smiled immediately when he said that because I attributed the shiver down my spine to being in the same place Anne had stood in the chapel. He started laughing and said “so I take it, it all begins and ends with Anne Boleyn for you?” to which I nodded excitedly. I couldn’t get any pictures of the chapel because it is still a place of worship but I urge anyone who goes to Hampton court to take 30 minutes and visit it. It is one of the most beautiful historical things I’ve ever seen, it is so true to the period and any Tudor fan will immediately transcend the ages and feel the history in the paint and woodwork. I felt blessed to for a second have felt so connected to the court of that time.
All in all my day visit to Hampton was extremely eye opening. My conversation with Curator gave me a completely different perspective on what people generally think about Anne Boleyn. Although I could have sat and talked to him for days, I was happy to have a first hand experience of whatever is left of Anne at Hampton Court. I was delighted to find that if you look for her, she is still there waiting for someone to judge her story correctly.
I came out of my visit with a more general understanding of the times and by the time I left, I truly felt like I had experienced something that made me want to continue learning about Anne and the Tudors,
Who knows maybe one day I’ll discover a stone not yet over turned?
Goodnight lovely Queen Anne Boleyn followers.
Thanks for reading!