*Disclaimer: Contains a history lesson, do not continue if you don’t enjoy fascinating stories…you’ve been warned*
My newfound friends and I have been having a lot of fun getting to know our little borough of Twickenham, from the magic that is Poundland (basically a dollar store that sells American name-brand products) to the local pubs (for the cultural experience). On Friday, however, we decided to attempt to make out way to Hampton. So we set off, with only very general direction’s from my house mum to guide our way (she gestured to the south and said it was across a park a stone’s throw that way… not exactly a GPS). Predictably, we got very lost, wandered down several questionable alleyways, and ended up on an unfamiliar commercial street. Deciding to abandon our plans for Hampton, we explored some lovely shops where one of my friends bought Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for 2 pounds. We continued our way for another hour, when we started seeing signs for Hampton. After questioning a few townspeople, we discovered we were very close to the park we would have to cross for Hampton Court. We continued with renewed purpose, and arrived at the park to discover we would have to walk for another mile. We were visited by a herd of deer along the way, much to our excitement. My friend from New Hampshire claimed she’d seen bigger, but she couldn’t dampen our glee. At long last, we saw the gates of Hampton Court before us, and I started vibrating from the anticipation of walking the halls of Henry VIII’s castle.
Hampton Court was one of Henry VIII’s favorite residences during his reign. The sprawling grounds around the castle teemed with wildlife just waiting to prove his virility when they were struck down by the mighty king (the deer still abound today without him to kill them). He spent much of his youth here, with his then-beloved wife, Queen Katherine of Aragon, and most trusted adviser, Thomas Wolsey. Hampton Court was built by Wolsey, who intended it as a fitting palace for a man befitting his high station as Cardinal and right-hand of the King. Unfortunately for him, though, Wolsey’s great rise was swiftly followed by his equally great fall. Wolsey’s failure to grant Henry a divorce from Queen Katherine made Henry angry enough to strip Wolsey of all his titles and sentence him to death for treason. Wolsey tried to assuage Henry’s anger by offering him Hampton Court. Henry accepted, but refused to relent.
Upon visiting Hampton Court, we passed under Anne Boleyn’s gate. Many think they know Anne Boleyn’s story from the book written by Philippa Gregory and the movie based on it. But the book derives from salacious rumors invented to oust the queen from her position by jealous rivals and a king desperate for a male heir. She was an educated, ambitious woman who lived in a world where the only means of advancement was through marriage. Perhaps she was too ambitious for her own good, but she did usher in the Protestant Reformation in England, and give birth to Elizabeth I, my personal hero. She was executed to make way for a more “suitable” male heir, but gave birth to the Tudor dynasty’s longest reigning monarch. Although Anne could only achieve power through men, her daughter ruled one of the most powerful countries in the world as the Virgin Queen. She may or may not be a martyr for the Protestant Reformation, but her daughter ruled under the motto video et taceo, “I see and say nothing”. Unlike her half-siblings, she did not execute injudiciously based on religion. She would have made her mother and father proud.
Hampton Court also saw the execution of another queen; Katharine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife. A teenager forced into an incredibly precarious situation by her ambitious male relatives, she was destined for failure from the start. Admittedly, Katherine was a bit of a tart. She was raised with other distant Howard relatives by the aging matriarch of the Howard family, who made it all too easy for the girls to run around with all sorts of gentlemen unchaperoned. Given her upbringing, it is unsurprising that the adultery accusations brought against Katherine were true. She had been having an affair with a courtier named Thomas Culpepper. Her last words were, “I die a Queen, but I would rather die the wife of Culpepper”. She was arrested at Hampton Court, but it is said she broke free of her captors long enough to run down towards the King’s Chapel where Henry was praying, desperate to beg the king’s forgiveness and save her life. She was unsuccessful, but it is said her ghost still haunts the halls of Hampton Court, yelling for her life.
Overall, Friday the 13th was a brilliant day for my friends and me. We successfully navigated England, walked off six miles worth of calories, and indulged in some fascinating (at least to me) English history. I got to meet Henry VIII, or at least an actor portraying him. When he asked where we were from, I replied that we were from the New World. He complimented us on our English, seeing as we lived in the Spanish empire. I said “adios” when we moved on. Try as I might, I could not get him to say “off with your head” or “will you be my seventh wife”. Most disappointing.