One of my favourite parts of the palace is Chapel Court. Now enclosed on all four sides, in Henry VIII’s time it was originally bounded only by the wall of the Chapel Royal and a range on the west side housing Henry’s Council Chamber.
After the birth of his heir, Prince Edward, Henry had apartments built on the north side of the courtyard to accommodate his son’s household.
The east side was the last to be enclosed when Henry built accommodation for his Master of Tennis. The east façade was altered again in the 17th century by Charles II to provide lodgings for his brother James, the then Duke of York and he of the extravagant state bed at Knole fame.
In “A history of Middlesex Volume 2” published in 1911, I came across a small engraving of Chapel Court viewed from the south-west corner. It is very much as I always knew it: part of the cobbled courtyard turned into a small garden belonging to grace and favour tenants. There was a wooden park bench where I could sit with a book or newspaper and while away many an agreeable hour or two before recommencing my perambulations of the palace. Sometimes, I would be fortunate enough to hear sacred music waft over from the Chapel Royal itself. I do recall reading something to the effect that it had once been the graveyard of the Knights Hospitaller before they had leased the site to Cardinal Wolsey. Consequently, visitors were politely asked to treat the place with due respect. I wonder now whether it was mere tradition that the Knights had buried their dead there as I have been unable to establish any recent reference to the former graveyard.
What first drew me to the Chapel Court was its sense of peace and solitude. Alas, for those very same reasons, the Hampton Court authorities determined that the courtyard was underused. They therefore decided, as yet another tribute to the 500th anniversary of Henry’s coronation, to transform the courtyard into the kind of privy gardens Henry VIII would have been familiar with. As a result, the grace and favour garden with its mature trees that are shown in my two clips (taken in different years) above have been swept away. Great care has been taken to ensure that all subsequent planting should conform to the type found in a Tudor privy garden. The white rose of York and the red rose of Lancaster, together forming the Tudor rose, take pride of place. The flower beds are enclosed within low lying railing decorated with green and white chevrons.
A series of painted and gilded oak heraldic creatures perched on posts and bound by golden chains, was also commissioned for the privy garden. The so-called ‘Kyngs beestes’ depict various animals which all have a particular relevance to Henry’s family. In keeping with the Tudor ambience, my park bench with its back rest has been replaced with a simple bench that requires me to sit upright at all times lest I topple over. I can readily accept the exchange of a rather nondescript grace and favour garden with the more colourful Tudor privy garden, but removing the original seating was not a change for the better. Going back in time is one thing. Forgetting about people’s backs at the same time is quite another.Like Queen Victoria, we are not amused.