A Reconstruction of Thomas Wolsey's Great Hall at Hampton Court Palace

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  • SAHGB Publications Limited

    A Reconstruction of Thomas Wolsey's Great Hall at Hampton Court PalaceAuthor(s): Jonathan FoyleSource: Architectural History, Vol. 45 (2002), pp. 128-158Published by: SAHGB Publications LimitedStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1568780 .Accessed: 12/06/2014 15:56

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  • A Reconstruction of Thomas

    Wolsey's Great Hall at

    Hampton Court Palace by JONATHAN FOYLE

    Buyldynge royally Theyr Mansions curiously With turrettes and with toures With halles and with boures Stretchynge to the sterres With glasse wyndowes and barres

    (John Skelton, Collyn Clout, c. 1522, lines 934-39)

    Of buildings large, I could rehearse a row That by mischance this day have lost my name Whereof I do deserve the only fame

    (Thomas Churchyard [born c. 1520], The Tragedy of Cardinal Wolsey, lines 215-17)1

    Hampton Court Palace was England's most significant great house of the early Tudor

    age. From 1515-c. 1521, Thomas Wolsey transformed a medieval manor, situated thirteen miles south-west of London on the north bank of the River Thames, into a

    palace deemed remarkable - even superlative - by contemporary observers, including those cited above. Despite its acknowledged importance, little has been concluded about the form, context, and usage of Wolsey's palace in recent studies. This is mainly due to its archaeological complexity, for, only seven years after its initial

    completion, Henry VIII assumed occupancy and began a process of extensive

    remodelling which lasted at least ten years. William and Mary managed to rebuild half of this palace from 1689-94. Consequently, throughout the almost five hundred years since Wolsey's occupation, it has enjoyed a long history of development which has obscured its original form.

    Unless Wolsey's Hampton Court can be reconstructed with accuracy, its true

    significance and influence cannot be properly gauged, nor can the long sequence of its Henrician developments be reliably charted. In 1997, the present author sought to redress this problem by initiating a broad range of archaeological and historical studies, the ultimate objective of which is to gather as much evidence as possible to recover the extent, arrangement, and usage of Wolsey's palace.2

    Toward this aim, the Great Hall is an obvious subject for attention, as it is the largest and most public room of the palace, and it presents the best preserved interior of the

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  • THOMAS WOLSEY'S GREAT HALL

    palace's Tudor state apartments (Figs 1 and 2). The fact that it has not hitherto received a detailed archaeological analysis has resulted in an over-reliance on documentary evidence. The major resources are works accounts, but these are incomplete and biased; only 150 pages survive from the works of Thomas Wolsey during 1515, none of which

    explicitly refer to the Great Hall, whereas around 6,000 pages remain from the works of

    Henry VIII between 1529 and 1538, some of which specifically relate to construction work on the 'king's new hall'.3

    The unbalanced documentary evidence at first suggests a royal attribution for the

    present Great Hall, but the idea that at least some parts of it might instead be credited to Thomas Wolsey has been occasionally mooted over the last two hundred years.4 The most recent and perceptive example is Howard Colvin's History of the King's Works entry on Hampton Court, which appeared in 1983.5 Although the accompanying phased plan shows the hall as Henry VIII's own, in the text Colvin made an important addition to the comparative observations of some nineteenth-century scholars:

    One feature of Wolsey's hall may have been reused. This is the great oriel window, whose string-courses and other external features are ill-adjusted to those of the wall against which it abuts. Such discrepancies could easily have arisen if it had been taken down and re-erected as part of the new [Henrician] hall. The very close resemblance between the Hampton Court oriel and the one at Christ Church, Oxford, is also readily explained if they were the contemporary products of Wolsey's works rather than designed by different men at different dates.6

    Fig. i. Hampton Court Palace: Great Hall, exterior

    129

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  • 130 ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY 45: 2002

    *.-. ,iC f" I8; I t . .

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    i -a. I flS-_

    Fig. 2. Hampton Court Palace: Great Hall, interior (Crown copyright: Historic Royal Palaces).

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  • THOMAS WOLSEY'S GREAT HALL

    This was supported by the following footnote: The only payment in the Hampton Court accounts that relates to the stonework of the oriel is for making two 'bullyons' or pendants 'standing in the vowghte of the gret baywyndow in the kyngs new hall'. This, at a date when the hall was structurally complete, may well represent the replacement of delicate features damaged in the reconstruction.7

    This paper will explore the suggestion that Wolsey may have built a hall at Hampton Court. It is arranged in three parts. The first part presents the historical and circumstantial background to Wolsey's adoption of the site in 1514-15, and outlines some of the main issues in interpreting his requirements and intentions at that time. The second offers detailed new evidence that Wolsey chose to construct a new Great Hall as the palace's focal ceremonial space, and presents a reconstruction of it as built by c. 1521 (Figs 3 and 4). The third part then briefly accounts for the dismantling of Wolsey's Great Hall, and the alterations and reconstruction for Henry VIII in 1530-34 which developed it to its present form.8

    1. THE COMMENCEMENT OF BUILDING IN 1515 AND THE PROBLEM OF 'HALL 1'

    Wolsey's capacity to afford to build Hampton Court was boosted by his prominence in the planning of the invasion of France in 1513 and his success in the subsequent peace negotiations. France had recently made incursions into Northern Italy, and so this operation benefitted England, the Italian states, and Papal Rome.9 Wolsey's achievements won him the extremely wealthy see of Tournai from Pope Leo X, which vastly increased his personal income and consequently his capacity for domestic

    building. By the time Wolsey was awarded Toumai in 1514 he was already Bishop of Lincoln; therefore Tournai was his in commendam. The holding of multiple Church offices was an opportunity to take revenue without needing to perform duties or even, in Wolsey's case, visit a see. This practice had no precedent in late medieval England, but the concept was embraced and developed by Wolsey, and this goes a long way towards accounting for his vast fortune. The Archbishopric of York was awarded to him

    by September 1514, accompanied by the Westminster seat of York Place and the manor of Brigge Court in Battersea. It is probable that Wolsey's accession to York was the moment when he decided to redevelop Hampton Court.10 This would have given him time to assemble the team of workmen who were on site by 20 January 1515, necessarily directed to a resolved design.1

    Choosing the position of a site on the relatively sunny north bank of the Thames must have been a prime consideration for Wolsey, because the river was the best means of transport linking the places important to him. Wolsey established a presence in London with his first house at Bridewell in 1510. Neil Samman has shown that Wolsey subsequently spent much of his time chasing an audience with Henry VIII between palaces, the principal ones being the royal and episcopal palaces of London and Westminster.12 Richmond Palace was five miles downriver; upriver lay Windsor and Oxford, where Wolsey had studied and retained links. Hampton Court was therefore centrally situated and, most importantly, it was to be not an urban palace but a palace for entertaining in the country at a leisurely remove from the metropolis.

    131

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  • ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY 45: 2002

    Fig. 3. Hampton Court Palace: reconstruction of the Great Hall c. 1525, exteriorfrom the inner court (J. Foyle)

    Fig. 4. Hampton Court