*** DEBUG END ***

Book review: The Palace: From the Tudors to the Windsors, 500 years of history at Hampton Court by Gareth Russell

24 November 2023

Hampton Court Palace comes to life here, Nicholas Cranfield finds

THIS is not a work of architectural scholarship (Dr Simon Thurley provided that for us brilliantly 20 years ago), nor one of strict historical accuracy, but Gareth Russell writes con brio, bringing alive a royal palace that more than two centuries ago ceased to be a theatre of monarchy.

Given the unenviable task of telling the story of a palace that, from 1485 to the present, has supported a royal ecclesiastical household, and is indelibly linked with Cardinal Wolsey and King Henry VIII, Russell has had to be inventive, using often obscure contemporary sources for his account.

His opening gambit is in full tabloid royal-correspondent mode, writing of the Coronation ball given for Her Late Sovereign Majesty in May 1953, and he concludes with five pages on the opening of a children’s play park in May 2016 by “Charles and the late Diana’s daughter-in-law, Catherine, Duchess, of Cambridge” in a Michael Kors dress and L. K. Bennett shoes.

I hoped rather better of a chapter on the 1604 Hampton Court conference, but he fails to notice that this was primarily a royal performance to show the King in assembly providing for his people’s religious needs. He makes use of neither the contemporary Bishop William Barlow nor later commentators (such as S. B. Babbage, M. H. Curtis, N. Sykes, F. H. Shriver, and K. C. Fincham).

Russell argues that its failure “radicalised some disappointed Catholics” to the extent that, 18 months later, gunpowder, treason, and plot unfolded. He goes on to claim: “Some equally frustrated Puritans concluded that England was beyond redemption and so in the same year [my italics] they boarded the ship called the Mayflower to start life across the ocean.” Did they wait 15 years for the tide to turn, or for a fair wind?

Elsewhere, Russell has mined a day in the life of James Pope-Hennessy (14 May 1957) for his meeting with the Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, to provide a view of grace-and-favour housing. The last Tsar’s eldest surviving sister died, aged 85 (1960). Pope-Hennessy was killed by rent boys in his flat at the age of 57 (1974). 

Significant events in history are glimpsed from the banks of the River Thames by visitors and staff alike, providing a constant flowing narrative that brings the palace very much to life.

Canon Nicholas Cranfield is the Vicar of All Saints’, Blackheath, in south London


The Palace: From the Tudors to the Windsors, 500 years of history at Hampton Court
Gareth Russell
William Collins £25
Church Times Bookshop £22.50

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)