The King Who Missed A Bit

If you are an Aegean Wall Lizard and a viper gets your tail in its vice like grip, there is only one course of action.

Shed your tail, and skidaddle.

One must feel bereft without one’s tail. But when there’s a viper about you don’t mess about. Ditch the tail, reptile, and vamousse.

Which explains neatly why Cardinal Wolsey handed over a fabulous Thames-side palace, built in the latest classical style to the floorplan of a Renaissance cardinal’s palace, to bluff King Hal.

Because Hal was a viper.

He was as deadly as they come: one who wields absolute power and has the power to kill on a whim.

So: when he, or his actor equivalent, came walking through the gardens of Hampton Court Palace yesterday, my children – Β a son, a daughter and a niece: – deserted their picnic and fled.

They took one look at the vast monarch and shot off past the clipped yews and ornamental lawns to become specks on the horizon.

They have had some experience of the actor who plays Henry VIII.

On a school trip, Henry tried to seduce their blonde Disney-princess of a class teacher. The children did not approve. “Miss Rush already has a boyfriend,” protested Felix indignantly, “and anyway he’s far too old and fat for her.”

So there I was with a Marie-Celeste of a picnic, as Henry approached, eyeing ghost-spaces where children should be and me with my large vat of chopped fruit in my hand.

I recollect stuffing a lot of fruit into my mouth in a very short time as an emergency measure.

“You have a strange effect on children, My Lord. They appear to have all run away,” I remarked, as he strolled past.

He nodded slightly in acknowledgement, and enquired Tudorly after my health. I was as well as could be expected, I answered. Getting into a conversation with a monarch was not necessarily something I had bargained for. I stuffed a couple of melon pieces in to join the rest of the fruit.

“Are you fit?” asked Henry, which seemed rather a liberty. “I am,my Lord, ” I retorted robustly: “and yourself?”

Well, we all know the answer to that, don’t we? We recall those early suits of armour, six-foot three tall and with tidy waistline; and then remember tales of the four unfortunate men it took to lift his sedan chair towards the end.

The prospect of being a wife of his must have changed over time: his portly form less odious to prospective brides than his tendency to chop off their heads.

Before lunch we had walked through a series of portrait-stories, an exhibition about Henry’s early dashing feats on the field of battle. We admired the young blood who led England through a series of European squabbles with Katherine of Aragon at his side.

But his personal life was a mess everyone else must clear up, starting with Anne Boleyn and her pretty head.

Henry The Actor strolled on, and away from me and the deserted picnic, and was spotted by Felix later off-shift in the cafe. Our day was full and fabulous: but I had one last sight to see before we trailed home.

When he executed Anne on the lawns of the Tower of London he had his masons remove any trace of her. All the lavish monograms interlinking his initials and hers were removed.

But it was a rush job.

He missed one, and I have never seen it until yesterday. But there it was: a testament to a viper who did not have an eye for detail. Anne and Henry, tied together with a lover’s knot, 476 years after the mother of Queen Elizabeth I was executed.

Even vipers die.

And it is good to see that this one missed a bit.


51 thoughts on “The King Who Missed A Bit

  1. Beautiful photos, Kate. And I was laughing at the thought of you stuffing fruit into your mouth as Henry the Actor strolled by. Plus the kids disappearing. All of you have such good times. πŸ™‚

    1. Do you know, I never asked her, Lou! But she gets uncomfortable around actors being characters, even at Disney. I think we’ll put it down to old fashioned bashfulness.

    1. There are two traces: this and one high up in the great hall along with the Eavesdroppers. Because it’s such a high profile place the stewards know every inch of the place…

  2. I loved your repartee with King Hal – brilliant – only you could have come up with those quick off the cuff remarks. I spy Maddie – she tends to do something I do myself when walking.

  3. The picture of Henry and Anne’s initials is great, a real piece of history.
    Do you reckon Daniel Craig’s mouth was full of fruit when he was dropping out of the helicopter with the Queen?

  4. Oh, Kate, what a wonderful scene you have painted, with scurrying children and a mouth full of fruit, What a fun place to picnic, but, then all your picnics seem like fun to me.

  5. AH, so there was still one to be found.
    Chatting to a person of H VIII appearance would surely have one fingering one’s neck rather nervously? He was the prototype for the Red Queen in Alice, I imagine.

  6. Hampton Court must be on my list for my next visit. I’ve read so much about it, and I knew about the forgotten A and H. I’ve played people from colonial America and once played Scarlet O’Hara in her window dressing finery, but I can’t imagine the challenge of playing Henry VIII.

    1. Hampton Court is a total must-see, because it’s not just a palace, it’s a village. People lived there in Grace and Favour apartments, each with its own ancient bell-pull and there are cobbled streets with names like Tennis Court Lane. There’s huge kitchens and a school-dinner style serving hatch for banqueting. The street the chapel is on is a covered one, dark and mysterious. You could not make this place up. When you go it pays to get a members card so you can visit the Tower, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and so on, all for about Β£50. This also entitles you to use the member’s suite: a beautifully furnished grace and favour apartment for rainy days when you don’t want to picnic outside.

  7. I really enjoyed the photos accompanying this piece, Kate. How delightful to share interaction with a King, even if viper! Good description! What a great way to ingest history and I guess, fruit! πŸ™‚ That the lovers knot would survive for all time is simply irony at its very best example. This was thrilling to read! D

  8. Good thing that H-8 was unaware of that intertwined A and H for surely whoever was deemed responsible for that oversight would have had his head served on a plate. Loved the pix as always.

  9. Ah, fair Kate . . . a suitable exchange. But I wonder. Did his viper’s eye land on your slim neck and give you cause to shudder at his imaginings?

  10. “I stuffed a couple of melon pieces in” made me smile, Kate. I thought of it as a ‘taunting’ gesture! And you did it all alone as well… very brave, I must say. You’ve still got your head attached, I take it? πŸ˜‰

  11. As I am reading your post (delightful, thank you) I can’t stop thinking of the TV series, Horrible Histories, the Terrible Tudors. There is one song in particular – wait, let me find the link on youtube…

      1. Haha they say its for kids but we know the truth πŸ™‚ Thanks for the link – don’t think I’ve seen that, yet – going over there now for a bit of a sing song (off key of course, but who’s listening anyway!?)

  12. Wow. I do agree that it is rather a liberty to ask if you were fit. That man.. I am surprised he did not stick his great fat fingers into your lunch as well. Now, i wonder if the masons, who obliterated all trace of his loyal wife, left that hidden engraving untouched on purpose. For years and years they must have waited for the fury that never came.. Who were they those masons who made such a frightening decision.. c

  13. I love going places where they have people playing the characters. I would have had fun with Henry VIII asking me if I was fit. And poor Anne Boleyn. You have to feel bad for that poor gal. Glad there’s that one monogram remaining.

  14. Wasn’t his murderous actions tied to the church’s policy of not allowing divorce? If so, rather extreme. Glad you got thru the encounter with your head intact.

    You do have a great eye for detail. Lovely photos.

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