As our readers know, the Nerdy History Girls are fascinated by the ordinary details of everyday life, even (or perhaps especially) when we’re talking about those who are not everyday people. Monarchs, for instance. That’s why, while visiting Hampton Court Palace, I admired the magnificent architecture and the paintings, yes. But my camera was also strongly attracted to some of the more mundane articles about me.
Part of the palace is clearly Tudor era, bearing the distinct imprint of Henry VIII. Another part belongs to the reign of William and Mary (reigned 1689-1702 and 1689-1694 respectively).
Unlike other furnishings in the king’s (that is, William III's) apartments, these two braziers are plainly utilitarian. The other pictures give a sense of their context: the King’s Presence Chamber, the first reception room of the King’s apartments. I did like their homely look, among the rich tapestries from King Henry VIII’s collection, the silver chandelier, the mile high canopy, and the grandiose equestrian portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller.
Servants could roll the braziers to wherever his majesty, who was frail and asthmatic, required the most warmth, or roll them away if he was too hot. Not that he spent much time here. Apparently, the Presence Chamber had become something of a relic by his day, and courtiers were more likely to bow to a chair as empty as the one we visitors see.
This part of the palace was still being built when Queen Mary died, at which point the work was abandoned. Five years later, the king came back to complete the work and furnish the rooms. He personally selected the art and tapestries for his palace—and I have a poignant image of a solitary man (he was not an extrovert) carefully choosing this and that for a palace his wife hadn’t lived to see finished, which he had no children to pass on to—and which he’d live to enjoy for only two years.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.