A Haunted Tudor Palace on the bank of the River Thames
I had always been attracted to Hampton Court Palace. Out of all the London Royal Palaces, I had fallen in love with this one – the red brick and beautifully designed chimneys, had caught my imagination.
It’s so different from any other Palace, due to its original purpose – it was the home of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, but gifted to Henry VIII when the clergyman knew his future was in danger, having been unable to have secured the king’s divorce from Queen Katharine of Aragon.
Henry VIII, King of England
I wanted to visit the palace near the end of Henry VIII’s s reign, in order to experience his large banquets and spend the night searching for Katharine Howard’s ghost! She was his 5th wife!
It was March 1544, and I arrived at Hampton Court Palace by river boat, the London Taxi of the river. A mist lay across the Thames as we drew alongside the bank so I could alight from the boatman’s wherry.
Through this white blanket I could hear the foreboding ‘scream’ of the peacocks known to inhabit the grounds of Hampton Court.
The Ill-fated Katherine Howard
I could only imagine, the sense of desolation and premonition this atmosphere created in Katherine Howard’s mind as a teenage girl, taken from here early one morning to Syon Abbey for imprisonment to await her awful future. I gave the Lighterman half his money knowing he would return the following day. One of the newly licensed men given Royal Assent by the king, and allowed to ply for trade legally on the river and a member of the Worshipful Company of Watermen and Lightermen.
I walked to the entrance of the Palace and entered without challenge from the guards on the door. As soon as I entered the building I was met with the a cacophony of business and bustle, carts being unloaded with grain, flour and barrels of wine. Large cow, deer and sheep carcasses hanging from butchers hooks around the entrance square before taken away by the cooks to start the preparation for the Banquet to take place that day.
Henry VIII’s Kitchens
When you visit Hampton Court Palace, one of the unusual things you see, not seen at any other Palace, is how the ‘downstairs’ staff lived and worked, particularly the kitchens. Even today when you enter the cooks domain a large fire burns in the hearth, and a member of the palace turns the spit on an enormous piece of meat to show visitors how food was cooked. This is pale in comparison to the real thing.
Henry’s banquets were enormous! Wherever he went he would have an entourage of maybe 150-200, who had to be fed and watered too, so instead of the one piece of meat being turned there would be 15-20 lumps being moved up and down the racks over the fire.
Incidentally, the slab of meat you see being cooked when you visit still gets eaten! The staff have a lottery at the end of day and the winner takes the prize piece of meat home to feed his or her family, and probably the rest of the street he lives in looking at the size of them!
The wine fountain in the middle of the square was being made ready. Yes you read that correctly, you don’t need to go back and reread it! A wine fountain! Imagine that! In fact you don’t have to, because lying at its base today is a statue of a drunken oaf, having too much of his fill of the nectar of the Gods. In the far corner against the wall, there’s a young miscreant giving back what he has probably unlawfully taken, and it serves him right too!
The Tudor Great Hall
The next place I wanted to see, was the Great Hall! The ceiling was magnificent and can be seen today whenever you visit, but what attracted me was the noise and hubbub of the servants making ready the tables for the upcoming feast!
It was by now 9 ‘o’ clock in the morning, and you would think they would have plenty of time, but dinner started at 10am and Supper was at 4pm! Yes two sittings! A constant flow of food, wine, song, dance and general gluttony, lechery and even lasciviousness!
Oh yes, lots of lechery and lasciviousness. It was here that Henry’s spies would watch, look and listen to all the antics going on, and feed back to the king information that he would later use to ensure the faithfulness of his subjects, with a bit of lascivious leverage you could get a lot done! Look up at the ceiling, look for the eavesdroppers looking down, a warning to all those below!
I spent much of the day wandering through the Palace, and ventured out into the gardens too, including the incredible maze (which you can still enjoy today!). Those baroque buildings you see today from the more recent reign of William III and Mary II were nowhere to be seen, and the gorgeous line of Wolsey’s chimneys and red brick work was a wondrous sight.
His Majesty’s State Rooms
I returned later in the day to the State Rooms, the banquet was still in full flow with the 2nd sitting well under way. The music flowed through the halls, the laughter and gaiety of the moment was not lost on me as I made my way to the ‘haunted gallery’ – a large corridor between two of the state rooms where Katherine Howard’s Ghost supposedly appeared.
I settled myself quietly behind the window boards ensuring I wasn’t seen and made myself comfortable. Daylight was passing and lengthy shadows appeared along the corridor. I wrapped my cloak around me and waited. Servants, lords and ladies passed by without seeing me, my eyelids became heavy and I constantly waned between that period of wakefulness and full sleep, until suddenly something brushed by me and caused me to wake up fully.!
I sat up startled, and stared into the eyes of a young girl who appeared just as startled to see me as I her. ‘Have you seen the king she said, I must see the king.” She ran off down the corridor before I could answer, and ran through into the room at the end. I sat there frozen!
Had I just seen the ghost of Katherine? No I thought, this was just a fancy of mine and my mind was playing tricks.
I’ve seen a Ghost!
It wasn’t until the next morning when I was down by the banks of the River Thames awaiting my Wherry to return, that I realised the young girl had run into the room at the end of the corridor, she just hadn’t opened the door to do so! A shiver ran down my spine, “There’s a chill in the air this morning isn’t there sir?”, said the waterman as he came alongside me at the riverbank. “you have no idea!” I replied, stepping into the Wherry, curled my cloak around me and let the boat take me home.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Hampton Court Palace, ghosts included!
I shall return with another time travelling visit to one of my favourite tourist spots – see you soon!
You can request Mark as your Guide on Black Cab Heritage Tour’s Customised Day Excursion https://blackcabheritagetours.com/excursions/black-cab-customised-day-excursion/