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Kathryn Gillett, Elizabethan HistorianTours > Sir Francis Drake > Hampton Court Palace

In Search of Sir Francis Drake
by Kathryn Gillett, Elizabethan England on Britannia

Hampton Court Palace
On the Thames in the centre of Hampton Court Village, Surrey

Hampton Court Palace, reproduced by kind permission of Unichrome-Pitkin The next morning, I was off to Hampton Court. The first monarch to live there was Henry VIII, Elizabeth's dad. In addition to Greenwich, Hampton Court was a favorite residence of Elizabeth's as well, and could very well have been another place where Drake attended court. Unfortunately, the water route is not open during the winter, so I took a cab the short way to Victoria Station and waited a while for the train.

Now here's my philosophy as a traveler: when you come upon any kind of inconvenience, you might as well enjoy it as 'part of the experience.' So on this occasion, I happily spent 30 minutes having 'a real English experience' of standing in a freezing cold train station, sipping terminally mediocre tea from a wilting paper cup. Dee-lightful!

The train pulled in to Hampton Court station, and I layered up in preparation for the icy squall that hit me the moment I stepped onto the platform. I tagged along behind a small group of people making the bitingly brisk, but thankfully short trek to Hampton Court.

Hampton Court was cold on that frigidly windy day. The courtyards seemed to invite the Atlantic wind in, and the buildings are poorly heated so the insides were almost as frosty. I felt thoroughly chilled against a shrink-into-yourself, hunch-your-shoulders, rub-your-hands and stomp-your-feet cold.

It was now painfully obvious that I was missing some kind of weather-imperviousness gene that the British seem to have an abundance of. No one but me seemed bothered with the cold. But despite my weather-related disability, I had a great time at Hampton Court. I took an enjoyable tour, guided by a knowledgeable and accurately attired 'courtier' from Henry VIII's time. I walked the halls that Drake himself might have walked when he was called to court for private discussions with the Queen.

But as I meandered through the kitchens and hallways and great halls and gift shops, I still couldn't get a feel for what life would have been like living there. In a way, it was too cleaned-up-for-guests; too tidy. Too few people. Maybe this is the place to go at the height of the tourist season. Perhaps you'd get a better feel for what it would be like when court was held here, swarming with people sleeping in hallways and urinating in fireplaces.

That evening, as I put myself gratefully into a warm bed, I realized I was not only feeling less jet-lagged, but more refreshed about my mission of research. Tomorrow was my last day in London, and for me, the highlight of the trip. I was going to see the Golden Hinde - the full-scale replica of the vessel Drake sailed around the world - and The Globe Theatre, thus named in celebration of that momentous achievement.

Next Stop: The Golden Hinde, Southwark

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