A history lesson in homes…

The Life of the Wife of Henry VIII

Novelist Elizabeth Fremantle, author of “Queen’s Gambit,” offers a snapshot of Katherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII, and her life at Hampton Court Palace.

Elizabeth Fremantle | Wall Street Journal | August 1, 2013 | link


Getty ImagesRoyal Wedding: Hampton Court Palace in West London, where Henry VIII married Katherine Parr, in 1543.

When I first considered writing a novel about Henry VIII’s last wife Katherine Parr, I spent months reading about her. But it wasn’t until one gloomy English afternoon, I arrived at Hampton Court Palace, the site of Katherine’s third wedding—the one that ensured her place in history as the wife who survived—that she began to come alive in my imagination.

Hampton Court was originally built in 1514 by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey to demonstrate his wealth and position, but passed to Henry VIII on Wolsey’s fall from grace. The symmetrical plan, grand, first-floor staterooms and red brickwork were an innovative blend of Northern Gothic with Italian Renaissance—the perfect statement of aesthetic sophistication for the young Tudor monarch. It became one of his favorite residences.

[image]A portrait of Katherine Parr.

When plague was raging in London, the Tudor court would abandon its main residence, Whitehall Palace, for one of the many palaces along the Thames where the air was cleaner. Hampton Court, just 12 miles up river, was a favorite of Henry VIII’s, where he would hunt, hawk and even play tennis on the courts he had built there. The palace was popular, too, with later generations of English monarchy, but it ceased being a royal residence in the 18th century and is now open to the public.

The place was deserted as I walked toward the crenelated facade, its turrets and brick chimneys, twisted like Christmas candy, silhouetted against a leaden sky. Entering through the gatehouse arch I found myself in the vast space of the palace’s Base Court, a perfect square surrounded by the two-story buildings that once housed the favored courtiers. Perhaps it was the absence of people that day that allowed me to imagine the place teeming with life: the clatter of hoofs on the cobblestones, the chink of bridles, the earthy stench of dung and the grooms calling out to one another as they helped people from their horses.

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