Wednesday, 22 October 2008

New insight into Hampton Court Palace’s medieval past

by Kathryn Hadley

At the end of last week, excavations at Hampton Court Palace carried out by Historic Royal Palaces, as part of a project to represent one of Henry VIII’s Tudor courtyards for the 500th anniversary of his accession to the throne in 2009, unearthed the earliest surviving building ever discovered at the palace. The thirteenth and fourteenth century remains predate previous finds by almost 200 years and include the stone foundations and walls of the largest medieval building constructed at the site (other than the Great Hall itself).

The building was approximately 10m wide and 25m long and originally dates from the mid fourteenth century. It was rebuilt during the fifteenth century and forms part of a complex including two other buildings. It is believed that this larger and earlier structure may have been a barn, a hall or a residential building that was part of the large manor of Hampton Court when it belonged to the Knights Hospitallers, an order of military monks.

The theory that it was a residential building is in line with a story of the visit of Edward III to Hampton Court in 1353 when he was allegedly responsible for a fire which broke out in the building. He subsequently financed the reconstruction of the building. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of a fire which may indeed have been the fire caused by Edward III in the fourteenth century.

The excavations also revealed a later group of buildings which are believed to have been part of the estate of Giles Daubeney, Lord Chamberlain and a favorite of Henry VII and veteran of the Battle of Bosworth Field, who acquired the manor in the 1490s. The buildings appear to have been once lavishly decorated thus suggesting that they may have formed the residential wing of Daubeney’s house where guests would have stayed and been entertained.

Lastly, the excavations uncovered a third mystery: a medieval water fountain complete with 500 year old lead plumbing which remains in situ.

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