When I left you, I was just about to tour the state apartments at Windsor Castle. This part of the grounds is closed to visitors when the Queen is actually staying there, but she was away when I visited. The state apartments are vast, a maze of drawing rooms and reception rooms, ballrooms and dining rooms, queen’s and king’s bedchambers. Some of the rooms are used more than others; for example, it was hard to picture Elizabeth II settling in for the night in the museum exhibit bedrooms we saw, but the Waterloo Room, a grand hall at the entrance to the apartments, is used regularly for formal state dinners and events. Another dining room, a circular room with an incredible view of the town and countryside, is still used for the royal family’s private dining.
My favorite part of the state apartments was the beautiful and impressive art collection. I didn’t expect to find a small art museum in the Queen’s house, but the rooms are filled with portraits by Rembrandt, I really liked van Dyck’s portrait of Charles I’s five eldest children, all younger than 10 and gathered around a huge bull mastiff, who sits patiently with the eldest child’s hand on its large doggy head.
Once I’d finished wandering around Windsor, I left the castle and crossed the Thames into Eton territory. I saw a bit of the campus, as well as some Etonians wearing their funny uniforms, which include pinstriped trousers and a coat and tails. See a very young Prince William at Eton below.
I was also very amused by this poster I found on the Eton Societies notice board. That very night, the Eton Debating Society would be impersonating Republican Primary Candidates and debating the issues as though Eton had just become the 51st state. Too bad I had to get on the train and couldn’t stay to see what the Etonians made of the absurdities in American politics.
Another sunny day dawned and I rode the train to Hampton Court, which was inhabited at various times by Henry VIII, Queen Mary I, James I, Charles I, Charles II, William III and Mary II, and George II. The castle was originally Tudor, as reflected by what is now the front half. In the late 1600s, William and Mary commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to rebuild the palace in a Baroque style, which is now the back half of the complex. The original intention was to tear down all of the Tudor palace, but funds were short and the mix of architectures is all the more interesting!
A few sections of the newer half of the palace were closed for setting up a new exhibit, but I did enjoy exploring the Georgian Apartments. I spent most of my time in Henry VIII’s palace, however. He’s the kind of historical character who’s so disturbingly fascinating you can’t look away (even though, to be honest, he’s not nice to look at).
For example, I started out my exploration of his castle in the vast kitchens, housed in the castle’s basement. Always one to make a Harry Potter connection, I thought of the Hogwarts kitchens, but no house elves were to be found. I’d like to believe that the Hogwarts community eats more sustainably than Henry VIII did. As you might surmise from the picture, about seventy percent of the royal diet was meat in Henry’s time. And the tradition of courts moving from one castle to the next at various points in the year? It all started because the king would eat up all the resources in one area and the court would have to move to allow the community to replenish itself.
As everyone knows, Henry VIII went through wives about as quickly as he went through local livestock, so after touring his kitchens I headed to the courtyard to hear the latest gossip about his upcoming marriage. Henry VIII’s niece Lady Jane and his son Edward’s nurse met in the courtyard to “speculate” about who the sixth queen might be. As they led us through the palace and into the Great Hall, we learned all about the previous five wives and how their fates might affect Henry’s next choice. Lady Jane showed us a picture of one Elizabeth Brook, a young beauty from a well-connected family who she was sure would be the next queen. Lady Frances reminded Lady Jane that Henry’s most recent young wife, Catherine Howard, had been unfaithful to him, so he would be unlikely to choose another young bride. She expected Henry to take back his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. The lively pair invited the audience to place bets as to whose speculation might be correct.
Eventually, Henry VIII himself came along to put a stop to the gossip. Neither of the ladies were correct, as Henry had already chosen to ask Catherine Parr for her hand. She is the only bride of Henry VIII’s to “survive” being married to him. The first and fourth wives, Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves were divorced, the second (Anne Boleyn) and fifth (Catherine Howard) executed, and Jane Seymour, the third, died after giving birth to Edward.
Once that matter was settled, I spend some time touring the grounds of Hampton Court. It was a gorgeous day to wander around the Palace Gardens and get slightly lost in the maze, one of the oldest mazes in Britain. My strongest association with a hedge maze is the mammoth one built for the final Triwizard task in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, so the experience was just a tad creepy. Luckily I found the maze centre and my way out without using a Portkey or running into Voldemort, a sphinx or a Blast-Ended Skrewt.
All in all, I had a delightful time in London! I’ll be returning to see more of the city itself in a little over a week’s time; but more about my spring break plans tomorrow!