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Research trip: Hampton Court Palace

One of the fun things about writing historical fantasy is that it’s a great excuse to visit (or revisit) historic locations. Sadly, most of the Tudor palaces that appear in the Night’s Masque trilogy are long gone, but one of the best—Hampton Court—survives, albeit with some 18th-century modifications. Hampton Court Palace makes only a brief appearance in The Merchant of Dreams but I wanted to make it as authentic as possible, and since I hadn’t been in at least fifteen years I thought another visit was in order.

The anteroom to Henry VIII's Great Hall, where food was brought up from the nearby kitchens
The anteroom to Henry VIII's Great Hall, where food was brought up from the nearby kitchens

Rather than do the tourist thing of following itineraries, my main aim was to orient myself within the sprawling palace complex and try to imagine where my characters might have found themselves. I therefore wandered around taking lots of not-very-artistic photos, designed more to jog my memory than to show off the palaces’s finer features. Unfortunately my camera battery, which had appeared to be half-charged when I left home, decided to conk out after a handful of photos, so I had to take the rest with my phone.

 

A Tudor rose garden
A Tudor rose garden

Although a fair amount of Henry VIII’s palace remains intact, particularly the public places, most of the private apartments were pulled down and rebuilt by William III and Mary II, and the gardens were extensively remodelled. However the Tudor gardens have been recreated in miniature in Chapel Court, complete with heraldic beasts on striped poles. Old-fashioned red and white roses fill half the garden, whilst the other half is given over to herbs: mint, thyme, marigolds and a number of others I had trouble identifying. All the beds were edged round with heirloom strawberry plants, and the temptation to pick and eat one of the tiny fruits was almost overwhelming!

 

No visit to a historic location would be complete without souvenirs, but so much of what is sold is cheap tat aimed at tourists. I searched the kitchen shop for a book on Tudor cooking to no avail, which seems a dreadful oversight given that Henry VIII’s kitchens are a major exhibit. In the end I selected a more general book—the heavily-illustrated official history of the palace, in the same series as the Tower of London history I bought last year—and a rather handsome pewter cup (right). The latter is pleasingly plain, with just a simple inscription around the base: “Make goode cheere who wyshes: Faicte bonne chere quy vouldra”. I look forward to drinking wine from it whilst working on the final book in the trilogy!