Henry VIII Palace: The filming location of Pirates of the Caribbean & Sherlock Holmes

Nikola Petrovski
The Gatehouse. Author: Luke Nicolaides – CC BY-SA 2.0

“Stories persist today that at least two of Henry VIII’s wives haunt Hampton Court Palace,” writes Historic Royal Palaces. One of these ghosts said to be is Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife, and the other was Catherine Howard, his fifth wife, who was accused of cheating and lost her head as a result.

Instead of scaring people away, these ghosts bring many visitors to Hampton Court, which is one of Henry’s last surviving palaces.

Great Hall’s ceiling. Author: Diliff – CC BY 3.0

Great Hall’s ceiling. Author: Diliff – CC BY 3.0

For those that have never been to the site, it might still seem familiar as it was used as a filming location for a number of movies. These include Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, the latest Cinderella movie, and To Kill a King, among many others.

The royal palace during the flower show

The royal palace during the flower show

The palace was also in the public eye in 2015, when its 500th anniversary was celebrated. King George II was the last king to ever use it.

One of the staircases in the palace. Author: MrsEllacott – CC BY-SA 3.0

One of the staircases in the palace. Author: MrsEllacott – CC BY-SA 3.0

There are many stories, myths, and legends surrounding the palace. Its architecture is unique and was inspired the Vanderbilt family, an influential American family of Dutch origin, to create their own similar home.

Hampton Court was built for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, an English statesman who was, at that time, a favorite of Henry VIII. Beginning in 1515, Wolsey spent an enormous amount of money and seven years on erecting the lavish and impressive palace. Wolsey enjoyed his privileged position of power for many years. Unfortunately for Wolsey, he fell from Henry’s favor in 1529 because of his failure to obtain an annulment of his king’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon from Pope Clement VII.

Vanderbilt family’s mansion. Author: Profdarden – CC BY-SA 4.0

Vanderbilt family’s mansion. Author: Profdarden – CC BY-SA 4.0

Henry VIII loved Hampton Court and had visited often. So he claimed it for himself, extending the original building. It was his showpiece of wealth and extravagance on an unimaginable scale.

Throughout its long history, Hampton Court Palace has been shaped and reshaped, further extended and enlarged so many times that little remains of Wolsey’s Tudor palace.

Part of one of the kitchens. Author: Cronwood – CC BY-SA 3.0

Part of one of the kitchens. Author: Cronwood – CC BY-SA 3.0

Henry used the palace until his death. During his time here, he made a number of changes. After his death, it was used by Edward VI, also until his death.

Photo of the Anne Boleyn’s Gate. Author: Richard James Lander – CC BY-SA 3.0

Photo of the Anne Boleyn’s Gate. Author: Richard James Lander – CC BY-SA 3.0

Mary I also used the palace whilst she was pregnant. Over the years, it was well used by subsequent monarchs until King George II in 1760. The most notable modification happened “When William III and Mary II (1689-1702) took the throne in 1689, [when] they commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to build an elegant new baroque palace,” writes Historic Royal Palaces.

Part of the gardens. Author: David Stanley – CC BY 2.0

Part of the gardens. Author: David Stanley – CC BY 2.0

It is said that King George III never visited. That was the end of its royal usage. Time did its work and renovation was needed. Parts were renovated over a number of years until Queen Victoria opened it to the general public during her reign.

With its opening, stories of ghosts and apparitions started to circulate. One of these stories tells of a ghostly figure seen on what is known as “Silverstick Stairs,” which lead to the part of the palace where Jane Seymour died.

Silver Stick Staircase. Author: Matt Brown – CC BY 2.0

Silver Stick Staircase. Author: Matt Brown – CC BY 2.0

But she is not the only queen and wife of Henry to haunt the premises. Catherine Howard is also said to have been sighted. Unlike Jane, she apparently has the habit of screaming just like she did on the day that she was beheaded.

The doors that the ghost opened in 2003. Author: Matt Brown – CC BY 2.0

The doors that the ghost opened in 2003. Author: Matt Brown – CC BY 2.0

Another ghost is reported to have scared the palace’s security in 2003, according to Hampton Court Palace’s official website. “In October 2003, the palace CCTV captured the image of a ghostly figure, apparently flinging open a fire door… No living soul has ever come forward to admit that this was their prank. Security staff remain baffled.”

The site is opened every day for visitors, from those curious enough to search for Henry VIII’s wives to those who just wish to gain insight into Tudor times.