The lake was still and so were the trees. The air was chilly and the sky an eternal, gloomy grey. It was only the brick-red colour of the turrets that had some cheer to it. The Hampton Court Palace had been on my list for a while. I’d wanted to walk through 16th century Tudor history ever since I’d read about King Henry VIII and his six wives, and there I was. The palace itself didn’t seem too big or grand, but it was really the stories within its walls that I was there for.
It was just a short walk away from the Hampton Court Train Station. I walked through the gates, bought my ticket and headed straight to the Great Hall known for its decorated hammer-beam roof. It’s supposedly among the last such grand halls ever to be built. The ceiling was ornate and the hall colossal, but my eyes were searching for Anne Boleyn’s presence in the room. With the help of the audio guide, I found her initial ‘A’ entwined with her king’s—‘H’.
They say King Henry VIII had the builders remove Anne’s initial from all the decorations just before he married his third wife Jane Seymour. But they had missed a few, and I was very glad they had. Anne was one of the few queen consorts to have wielded their power shrewdly. When a besotted Henry asked Anne—then a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine—to be his mistress, she declined saying she’d only ever be a lawful wife, nothing less. Anne’s refusal of the king’s advances triggered some of the most transformational events in England’s history. Henry demanded for his marriage to his first queen, Catherine of Aragon, be annulled. When the Pope declined, stating that a king’s marriage to his queen is holy and can never be undone, Henry separated the Church of England from Rome and declared himself the ‘Supreme Head of the Church of England’.
Later, Henry annulled his marriage to Catherine and took Anne for his wife and queen. Shortly before their wedding, he had raised Anne to the title of Marquess of Pembroke, the first hereditary peerage ever to be granted to a woman. After seven years of courtship, the daughter of a mere English diplomat (later made an earl), had not only risen in status, but had become the Queen of England.