I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been to Hampton Court – my sister used to work there so we could get free entry, and it’s a good place to take visitors. It might not immediately jump out to you as a musical location (you can’t help but think first of Henry VIII and his numerous wives, then some Georgian royals, and then perhaps a documentary with Lucy Worsley), but with some basic archaeology we can follow in some musical footsteps.
First, the Chapel Royal: a whole host of English composers have associations here. Thomas Tallis worked at the Royal Court under Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth – he was organist and composer. With William Byrd, Tallis was given a monopoly to import and print music by Queen Elizabeth, and the two shared the role of organist as Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal.
Orlando Gibbons was also an organist in the Chapel in the 1600s, and later that century Henry Purcell was appointed to the role when only 23. The organ in the chapel is sometimes called “Purcell’s pipes” after him.
It’s also thought that Handel played the organ in the chapel in the eighteenth century and he famously had a role in the Georgian Royal court – he composed four anthems for George II’s Coronation at Westminster Abbey, including Zadok the Priest.
It’s unsurprising that somewhere with esteemed royal connections has so many musical associations. George II’s son Frederick (who lived for parts of his life at Hampton Court) was a keen cellist and played every day. Masques were performed for royal audiences in the great hall, with the adjoining Great Watching Chamber used as a dressing room.
And musical members of the Royal Court performed here and at other royal palaces, at the request of the Kings and Queens.
One such musician was John Blanke, the trumpeter. He was brought to England as one of the African attendants of Katherine of Aragon, and was one of the first recorded black people in England after the Roman period. There are many references in royal accounts of payments made to “John Blanke, the blacke trumpeter” for his musical services.
Hampton Court is a short train ride out of London Waterloo – it’s in zone 5 and the train takes around 30mins (the stop is conveniently called “Hampton Court” so you really can’t go wrong). It’s a beautiful place to visit in the winter and the summer, and as with all heritage places in the UK, serves excellent cake.
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