Henry VIII at Hampton Court: Suzannah Lipscomb and Tom Betteridge Preview Plans to Mark the 500th Anniversary of Henry VIII's Accession

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During the reign of Henry VIII, the court was a place of danger as well as possibility. One had to be able to perform one's role, following the King's lead, switching quickly from piety to ribaldry. For the first time, visitors to Hampton Court Palace in 2009 will also be invited to play their part in the life of the court.

For in this year, Historic Royal Palaces will be marking the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII's accession to the English throne, on April 22nd, 1509. It will celebrate the quincentenary. at Hampton Court Palace by utterly transforming the visitor experience of the Tudor State Apartments, presenting an exhibition of unusual portraits and objects, and hosting a fascinating programme of events. This is the exciting culmination of a four-year project, which has already seen Historic Royal Palaces re-present Henry's Great Kitchens and unveil the Young Henry VIII exhibition.

For 2009 the Palace is being given a facelift. Base Court, which was originally set with cobbles and only grassed over in the Victorian period, is being re-set, and the opportunity to dig under the existing surface has produced extraordinary new archaeological discoveries, including evidence of a medieval wooden structure, which takes archaeologists' knowledge of the site back a further 200 years.

The visitor experience is also undergoing change. Whilst the Tudor State Apartments are magnificent--with the Great Hall's spectacular hammer-beam roof (left) and the Great Watching Chamber's gold-leafed ceiling, and the walls in both decorated with sumptuous sixteenth-century tapestries--they currently give visitors little sense of what it was actually like to be present at Henry VIII's court.

From April 10th, 2009, when visitors arrive at Hampton Court Palace, they will become courtiers to Henry, VIII on one special day, his wedding day--specifically, his sixth wedding to Katherine Parr, which took place in the Queen's Closet at Hampton Court on July 12th, 1543.

There will be every, opportunity to get involved: visitors will have a chance to wear Tudor gowns, and see State Apartment Warders in a colourful new uniform inspired by the red livery of Henry VIII's servants; the Great Hall will be set up for Henry and Katherine's wedding feast; and the Great Watching Chamber will be a place to pass time in games and luxury. The corridors along which the king processed will be re-dressed in rich fabric, and for the first time Henry VIII's Council Chamber--where his Privy Council often met in the late 1530s and 1540s--will be open to the public after years as the workshop for the Royal Collection. …