Hampton Court Palace: Wolsey's Masterpiece

Chapter 3 : 1515 – The Foundations are Laid

Whilst Wolsey had access to numerous houses by virtue of his various church titles, he can be said to have two primary properties; York Place, Westminster, and Hampton Court. The former acted primarily as his working town house whilst the latter was used as a country estate. It was at Hampton Court that Wolsey set about constructing a palace within which he could entertain the highest echelons of British and European society.

Wolsey could afford to build on this scale because he held a large number of church offices, including wealthy seats such as Tournai and the Archbishopric of York. Two months after becoming Archbishop, in October 1514, he takes on a loan of £3,500 to allow him to embellish York Place and begin work on a magnificent new palace at Hampton Court.

Whilst the work on York Place and Hampton Court was underway, Wolsey used another of his properties, Brigge Court in Battersea, as the centre of his building organisation. This collection of clerks and bureaucrats was controlling not only Wolsey's many construction projects but also several of the King's architectural endeavours.

The organisation was headed initially by Robert Cromwell, cousin of the more famous Thomas, then, from 1516, by Lawrence Stubbs. As Wolsey's Receiver General he had control over all the outgoings for the construction projects and it is Stubbs name which heads the surviving early works accounts for Hampton Court Palace.

Wolsey was already an experienced architectural manager by 1515 with a large network of surveyors, clerks and craftsmen. At Hampton Court, William Bolton, Prior of St. Bartholomew's Smithfield, appears to have functioned as Master of Works, the same role he had undertaken during the construction of Henry VII's Chapel. He is recorded as supervising the " bringing up all the new werks whereof the foundation was takyn on this day to the grise tabyll". This records the establishment of foundations across the whole of the site for the first phase of construction, a task which took less than six months.