Hampton Court Palace was England's most significant palace of the Tudor age. From 1515-c.1521, the Lord Chancellor of England and soon-to-be Cardinal, Thomas Wolsey, transformed a medieval manor (situated 13 miles southwest of London on the north bank of the River Thames) into a palace deemed superlative by contemporary observers.
'By 1529, the king had begun a process of rebuilding and remodelling which lasted at least ten years.'
The poet John Skelton knew it well and wrote that 'the king's court should have the excellence... But Hampton Court hath pre-eminence!' Skelton offers us a tantalising first-hand glimpse of the magnificence of Wolsey's new palace, for there are no drawings of it and few written records of its construction remain. What's more, only four years after its initial completion, Henry VIII assumed occupancy.
By 1529, the king had begun a process of rebuilding and remodelling which lasted at least ten years. As the Cardinal fell from favour and died, Henry transformed Wolsey's palace beyond recognition. Then William III and Mary II managed to rebuild half of the Tudor palace from 1689-94. Consequently, throughout the almost 500 years since Wolsey's occupation, it has enjoyed a long history of development which has heavily obscured its original form.
Until recently, historians had little idea as to how much of Wolsey's original palace survived amongst Henry VIII's renovations, and so Wolsey's Hampton Court became the missing link of English architectural history. Since the 19th-century, the famous Great Hall, which is the best surviving room of the Tudor state apartments, has been explained as the last medieval great hall of the English monarchy, one of Henry VIII's upgrades which suited the ultimate magnificence of a royal palace. But this modern view doesn't agree with Skelton's impression that it was 'pre-eminent' in Wolsey's day. So, what did Wolsey's palace look like? Was it as extraordinary as its contemporaries tell us? And was it England's last 'medieval' palace?