King Henry VIII’s astronomical clock returns home

King Henry VIII’s astronomical clock returns home

Return of the astronomical clock

Wednesday 23 April 2008

Press Release

King Henry VIII’s astronomical clock returns home to Hampton Court Palace as countdown to his 500th anniversary celebrations commences

Today (23rd April 2008) Hampton Court Palace started the one-year countdown to the 500th anniversary celebrations of Henry VIII’s accession by reinstating the King’s famous astronomical clock, 499 years and one day after Henry took the throne. The return of the famous clock, following 8-months of research and conservation work, is the first of a series of projects at the palace planned for completion in time for 2009’s historic celebrations. 

Henry VIII commissioned the Great Astronomical Clock for the central courtyard of Hampton Court Palace around 1540 and today it is one of the most significant late-medieval clocks in existence. It consisted of three elaborately painted and gilded copper dials set in a decorative stone frame, powered by a mathematically complex gearing mechanism.

Having been exposed to almost 500 years of wind and rain the dials have been painted and re-gilded many times over the centuries. However, conservation treatment revealed previously undiscovered traces of the vivid blue pigment azurite (which fell out of use around 1700) on the iron armatures of several dials. This was a colour favoured by Henry, who lavished the ceilings of Hampton Court’s Great Hall and Chapel Royal with azurite pigmented paint, the find has confirmed for our curators how spectacularly colourful many of the Tudor palace interiors and exteriors were in Henry’s day. 

The dials were last painted in 1960, following a Victorian pattern, probably based on traces of earlier historic schemes. Investigations revealed that the paintwork was beautifully detailed, but after 47 years of exposure to the elements was suffering from flaking and fading, including nearly complete loss of red paint. Conservators have retained this existing scheme, but restored its original vivid character, in keeping with Henry’s dramatic aesthetics, repainting the faded blue and red colours and cleaning and retouching the gilded symbols and astrological figures.

With the astronomical clock once again back home, the 364 day countdown to the 2009 accession anniversary has begun at King Henry’s most famous former residence. A complete representation of his Tudor palace is planned over forthcoming months that promises to bring the story of the King, his family and his Royal court to life for visitors in a way never before explored at Hampton Court Palace.


Notes to editors

For further information about the astronomical clock and Hampton Court Palace please contact Catherine Steventon or Vikki Wood in the Press Office at Historic Royal Palaces on 020 3166 6166 or email or visit our website

For images of the astronomical clock and general shots of Hampton Court Palace please visit our online photographic library at

For information about Hampton Court opening hours and admission prices, click here to go to Plan your visit.

Historic Royal Palaces

Historic Royal Palaces is the independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace.  We help everyone explore the story of how monarchs and people have shaped society, in some of the greatest palaces ever built.

We receive no funding from the Government or the Crown, so we depend on the support of our visitors, members, donors, volunteers and sponsors.

These palaces are owned by The Queen on behalf of the nation, and we manage them for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

We believe in four principles. 
giving these palaces a future as long and valuable as their past.
Discovery: encouraging people to make links with their own lives and today’s world. 
Showmanship: doing everything with panache.
Independence: having our own point of view and finding new ways to do our work.      registered charity number 1068852 

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