One of London’s Historic Royal Palaces, Hampton Court Palace may not be a museum per se, but it is engaged with explaining a story as much somewhere with ‘museum’ in its name. And on my recent visit there I was impressed with the fun and effective ways that they did just that. They are having some fantastic events this weekend, including an adults-only sleepover tonight!
The weekend of our visit the palace was celebrating the marriage of King Charles II to Catherine of Braganza and his return from exile to take up the English throne (1662). Actors – I mean, the King and his retinue – were walking around the palace, engaging with the public, and at times breaking into short plays and skits. So, as you were wandering the palace you could come upon a duel or witness a raging argument between the king and his new wife. Immersive theatre for the whole family.
And I LOVED IT.
The live action wasn’t only entertaining and funny but the information went right into a sticky part of my brain – in precisely the way that stories are the best method of passing on information in a ‘sticky’ or enduring way.
Here is a duel between two lovers of a court lady, which we came across in the Cartoon Gallery. Duelling was banned under Charles II but that didn’t mean it didn’t go on. This sword fight was entertaining choreography for us the audience, and had a hilarious effect on the lady they were fighting over: once the winner had mortally wounded his opponent, the lady was so overcome with emotion she found comfort in yet another court gentleman – a somewhat passionate comfort.
I didn’t know dueling was banned then – but I didn’t really know what day-to-day life was like ‘at court’ either, and this episode brought both to life vividly for me – the relationships, flirtations, jealousies, humour.
Here are Charles and Catherine being introduced to some important characters of their new English court. Painter Peter Lely was invited over from Belgium to be court artist, as art had been banned under Cromwell. From Lely’s brief conversation with Portuguese Catherine I learned that they were tea drinkers – unlike the English at that time – and that the Queen was responsible for introducing it here. (Surely there’s never been a longer-lived trend?)
Charles II also enabled literature to flourish, and during this episode we also met writer Aphra Behn – the first professional female writer in England. I now know, from watching this play, to salute you, Aphra.
More than just a nice day out at an impressive royal palace, it was entertaining and – dare I say it – educational. The magic was woven through the telling of stories pitched just right for the whole family: action, comedy, funny costumes, adult overtones if you’re old enough to notice them, historic details for those who cared to note them.
Before visiting Hampton Court Palace, pretty much all I knew about King Charles II was that he was the King of Bling, who brought partying back. Horrible Histories taught me this, reinforcing my argument that there’s no better way of making your point memorable than by telling it in a thoroughly entertaining story.