A baroque palace
Soon after their accession to the English throne, King William III (r 1689-1702) and Queen Mary II (r 1689-94) commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to rebuild Hampton Court.
William liked both the pleasant site and the good hunting at Hampton court, but thought the buildings needed replacing. He decided to go ahead with improvement work, because he didn't care for the monarch's principal residence at Whitehall Palace, and needed a substitute.
Wren's original plan was to demolish the entire Tudor palace, except for the Great Hall. Neither the time nor the money proved available for this ambitious undertaking. Wren had to be content with rebuilding the king's and queen's main apartments on the south and east sides of the palace, on the site of the old Tudor lodgings.
Work began in May 1689. William wanted rapid results, but in December, because of the excessive speed of building and the poor quality of the mortar used, a large section of the south range collapsed, killing two workmen and injuring eleven.
The subsequent inquiry deteriorated into bitter squabbles. It soon became apparent that the real cause was the speed of the work. When building was resumed, it proceeded with less haste and more care. Between April 1689 and March 1694, £113,000 was spent on the new apartments.
A bit late, but under budget
William was devastated in late 1694 when Mary died. Work stopped, leaving the new buildings as an empty brick shell with bare walls and floors. No further construction was undertaken until 1697. William’s European wars had ended by then, and he could once more devote his thoughts and money to palace building.
As Whitehall Palace burned down in 1698, William stepped up his efforts to finish the new palace. Instead of accepting Wren’s estimate for finishing the work, however, the king appointed Wren’s deputy. William Talman, who had offered a lower price, eventually finished William’s new King’s Apartments under budget.
A palace transformed
Wren and Talman completely transformed the east and south facades of Hampton Court, replacing Tudor towers and chimneys with the grand and elegant baroque exteriors that dominate the formal gardens today.
Inside, Grinling Gibbons carved elegant fireplaces and architectural mouldings and Antonio Verrio painted triumphant and colourful ceilings.
Outside, the gardens were also dug up and re-landscaped. They were filled with new plants, including Queen Mary’s own collection of exotic plants from around the world, and bordered by gilded wrought-iron screens by Jean Tijou, and a new Banqueting House by the river, again decorated by Verrio.
Ironically, the King who did more than any other to shape Hampton Court as it is today did not live to enjoy his new palace.
William died at Kensington Palace from complications after a bad fall from his horse in Hampton Court Park in 1702. During his reign he spent £131,000 on the palace.