Conserving the Wolsey Closet ceiling at Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court was built by Thomas, Cardinal Wolsey, the immensely wealthy and influential statesman who served as Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII. He spent hundreds of thousands of crowns and ten years building a lavish palace worthy to host visiting royalty domestic and foreign. Henry stayed in the state rooms in 1525 and was favorably impressed, so much so that Wolsey gave him the palace in 1528 in the attempt to stave off his fall from grace.

It didn’t work. In 1529, Wolsey’s failure to secure an annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon saw him stripped of his offices and properties. He would have probably lost his head too, but he died on his way to London to answer to treason charges in 1530.

Henry promptly set to work expanding the palace. The famous kitchens, the Great Hall with its amazing hammer-beam roof, the gatehouse, its astronomical clock, and enough rooms to accommodate a court of one thousand date to Henry’s reign. Subsequent monarchs, most notably William and Mary with their two Baroque wings, made major additions and alterations to the palace.

Most of the original spaces from Cardinal Wolsey’s time are gone. The Wolsey Closet, today part of the 18th century Georgian Rooms, is now the only surviving room from what were once the cardinal’s personal apartments. It too has gone through changes. The linenfold oak panelling is Tudor but not original to the room. The panel paintings on the walls — scenes from the Passion of the Christ — were commissioned by Henry VIII but also later installations in the room. The frieze at the top of the walls repeats Wolsey’s motto taken from Psalm 117 “Dominus michi adjutor” (The Lord is my help) and surely dates to his time, but it isn’t original to the room either. It was in a larger space, trimmed and reset in the Closet as it is today.

The Tudor roses and Prince of Wales feathers on the elaborate ceiling were long believed to be made of leather machĂ© in the Tudor era, but when Historic Royal Palaces conservators began to study the ceiling to learn how best to repair it, they discovered how much they still have to learn about the complicated history of this room. This video gives an all-too-brief summary of what they’ve found so far.


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Comment by Jim
2020-03-20 17:43:48

Some closet. Forget the ceiling, where is the shoe-rack?

Comment by jane
2020-03-20 20:50:08

I hope another post will be available when their work is done. What a beautiful ceiling.

Comment by Jackson Five
2020-03-21 01:47:27

Of all closets, the importance of the WC is often underestimated.

I wonder, if their sawdust -with a carrier substance, of course- would be suitable for 3D-printing.

If so, the conservation and/ or completion of the ‘Wolsey Closet’ should not be a big deal, should it?


Comment by Carol
2020-09-02 19:11:07

This alcove has an evil entity in it. The minute I walked in the door,
Every hair on my arms went up. I had to get a couple
To go in there with me, never felt that before or after.
Beautiful room, but my mind was feeling something
Evil in that closet and I couldn’t stand to stay in there
One more minute!! :ohnoes:

Comment by Claudette
2021-01-04 09:02:20

Dear Carol
I started to write a fiction about Henry VIII and I went to this site because I was about to write a scary scene taking place in Wolsey’s closet and I wanted to know what this place looks like before I write my scene. What a coincidence! I wish Henry viii or Wolsey could talk to me!!!

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August 2022


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