Discover the magnificent heart of the Tudor palace
The Great Hall sits at the very heart of the Tudor palace, towering over the surrounding buildings. It was designed to impress and to proclaim Henry VIII’s power and magnificence.
Even today the size and grandeur of the Great Hall will take your breath away.
Discovered by antiques expert Paul Fitzsimmons - who recognised it as the symbol of Anne Boleyn - the blackened oak carving of a crowned falcon atop a tree stump flowering with Tudor roses was covered in centuries of soot, grime and wax.
Following conservation, which saw the removal of a layer of black paint to reveal the original colouring of white, gold and red, it was brought to the attention of Tracy Borman, Joint Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, and taken to Hampton Court Palace for further investigation.
Curators at Historic Royal palaces examined the piece to find it revealed an incredible likeness in both size and design to the 43 surviving falcon badges decorating the ‘frieze’ above the windows and hammer beams in the Great Hall, leading them to believe that the carving is an element of the room’s original Tudor scheme.
By the time that Henry VIII's carpenters began working on the huge timber roof of the Great Hall in 1533, the King had divorced his first wife Katherine of Aragon and was married to his second, Anne Boleyn.
To celebrate Henry and Anne's marriage, the carpenters added Anne's coat-of-arms to the roof and carved the entwined letters H and A on the wooden screen at the end of the Great Hall. These poignant reminders of Anne's time as Queen can still be seen today.
Also featured in the roof is Anne's falcon badge, and the initials AR for Anna Regina — see if you can spot them from the ground floor.
As you look up at the roof consider the great skill of the craftsmen who made it.
Henry VIII chose the nostalgic hammerbeam style to evoke the great halls of his medieval predecessors. Henry was attracted by tales of their chivalric deeds and modelled himself and his palace on them.
Look out for the 'Eavesdroppers' – the carved and painted heads that decorate the roof of the Great Hall.
On the walls of the Great Hall hang a series of tapestries showing scenes from the life of the patriarch Abraham from the Book of Genesis.
These tapestries were probably commissioned by Henry VIII and were certainly first hung in the Great Hall in 1546. They were woven in Brussels from wool, silk, and gold and silver thread.
When the Royal Collection was valued after the execution of Charles I in 1649 the Abraham tapestries were priced at £8,260. This was a phenomenal amount of money and made them the most valuable items in the collection.
Find out how we care for these 500-year-old tapestries as our Conservation team re-hang them in this short film.
Masons and bricklayers began work on this Great Hall in 1532. They replaced a smaller hall that had been built between 1495-1514 and had later been remodelled by Henry VIII's chief minister Thomas Wolsey.
Wolsey had died in disgrace in 1530 having failed to secure the annulment of Henry VIII's marriage to Katherine of Aragon. By this time, Henry had taken over Wolsey's palace at Hampton Court.
Great halls were places for eating and for entertaining. On a day-to-day basis, this Great Hall acted as a large refectory for the lower-ranking members of the royal household and servants.
Meals cooked in the nearby great kitchens were served here twice a day. Sittings for dinner started at 10 o'clock in the morning and for supper at 4 o'clock in the afternoon.
On special occasions the Great Hall was used for plays, dances, and masques. James I's court spent Christmas and New Year 1603-4 at Hampton Court to escape an outbreak of plague in London.
During the festive celebrations William Shakespeare and his company of players performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Great Hall.
By the early 1700s the Great Hall had stopped being used for dining and instead a permanent theatre was built into the space. It included a stage with a proscenium arch, and tiers of raked seating for the audience.
The theatre was removed in 1800 by the architect James Wyatt who attempted to restore the Great Hall to its Tudor glory. A second restoration was undertaken in the 1840s by Edward Jesse.
It was during Jesse's works that the stained-glass windows were added. The colourful glass displays the genealogy of Henry VIII, his six wives, and his chief minister Thomas Wolsey.