Rare Tudor hat finds new home at Hampton Court Palace

Rare Tudor hat finds new home at Hampton Court Palace

19 January 2015

Hat linked to Henry VIII acquired by charity Historic Royal Palaces in Hampton Court’s 500th anniversary year


A rare sixteenth century hat rumoured to have once belonged to King Henry VIII is to return to his most famous residence, Hampton Court Palace, in its 500th anniversary year.  The hat, which has remained in the same family for centuries, has been acquired by Historic Royal Palaces, the charity which cares for Hampton Court Palace, and the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection.  An extraordinary survival, It will now become the oldest item of dress in the collection by almost a century.

The hat has been treasured by the direct descendants of important Tudor courtiers for generations.  Nicholas Bristowe, the most prominent member of the family, was Clerk of the Wardrobe under King Henry VIII, and continued to serve his children, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I, as Clerk of the Jewels.  According to family tradition, the hat belonged to King Henry VIII, and that Bristowe caught it after the Tudor King threw it in the air after the surrender of Boulogne in 1544. 

Although it cannot be proven, this wonderful story has ensured that the hat has been well looked after for over 450 years, and is as a result exceptionally well preserved for an item of clothing from this period.  Experts have confirmed the hat dates from the 16th or early 17th century. It certainly would have belonged to someone of a high status and considerable wealth: it is made from luxurious materials, silver and silk, with an ostrich feather and evenly positioned holes for attaching jewels. 

Whilst Nicholas and his son (or brother, the records are unclear!) were prominent Tudor courtiers, the family subsequently retired to a country estate given to the family by Henry VIII, so opportunities for them to come by a hat like this would have lessened.  The hat’s unusual design may indicate that it is foreign, and in his role as Clerk of the Wardrobe, Nicholas would have spent time at the Tower of London in addition to Hampton Court, so it is also possible that he may have inherited it from a foreign prisoner there. Records show that he inherited the clothes of the Thomas Cromwell following his execution, and that he was given gifts of clothing and textiles by the King and nobles on a number of occasions.

The hat will now become one of the most significant objects in the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, which is cared for by an expert team of curators and conservators at Hampton Court Palace.  Comprising over 10,000 items of royal and court dress, from stockings belonging to King William III, right up to pieces worn by Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales, the collection is an unparalleled resource offering insight into the story of British monarchy.  The hat will now undergo some routine conservation, and Historic Royal Palaces plans to display it at the palace in a future exhibition.

Notes for editors

For more information and images, please contact Laura Hutchinson in the Historic Royal Palaces Press Office: laura.hutchinson@hrp.org.uk/ 0203 166 6338.

Historic Royal Palaces is the independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and Hillsborough Castle. 

We help everyone explore the story of how monarchs and people have shaped society, in some of the greatest palaces ever built.

We raise all our own funds and depend on the support of our visitors, members, donors, sponsors and volunteers. 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 (with the exception of Hillsborough Castle). 

Registered charity number 1068852.  For more information, visit hrp.org.uk 

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