October 16, 2009 / 4:19 PM / in 8 years

Join Henry VIII's court for his last wedding

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Don a velvet cloak, practice your curtsey and join Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace as he prepares to say "I do" for his sixth and last time.

Visitors to this attraction southwest of London can roam Henry's favorite royal residence on the banks of the River Thames and join the monarch and Catherine Parr as they prepare to wed.

"Heads and Hearts" is not so much an exhibit but an entire experience, immersing visitors in the sights, sounds and smells of the Tudor court.

Costumes of cloaks and gowns are handed out to those who want to join in the celebrations and follow performers playing the parts of the happy couple and nervous courtiers.

"It's much more of an immersive Tudor world. You really feel that you are visiting Henry's court and Henry is in the building, everything is happening and there is going to be a wedding," Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, which looks after Hampton Court, told Reuters.

The daily wedding extravaganza is part of a series of year-long events to commemorate 500 years since one of Britain's most famous kings ascended the throne in 1509.

The state apartments have been lavishly reappointed with new furnishings and 500-year-old tapestries, the Tudor roof refurbished and there is a new garden in Chapel Court, faithfully restored to exactly as it was in Henry VIII's time.

Visitors can chose to either follow Catherine Parr as she dresses in her sumptuous wedding gown and deliberates marrying a man who beheaded two of his previous wives, or go with Henry as he spends his last hours as a single man.

Sit in the Council Chamber with the king's council and hear the issues of the day being debated.

"As Henry's getting older he is getting more paranoid, he is getting much more upset about people making treasonous comments and it shows that although this is all very jolly there is an actual undercurrent of danger and you had to keep your wits about you to keep your head," said Worsley.

To avoid falling foul of the monarch's vicious temper, visitors are encouraged to adhere to strict court etiquette.

The palace's website says: "You must bow or curtsey whenever entering the royal presence.

Gentlemen may fall to their knees, or show off well-turned legs with one of those modern continental bows, which are just coming into fashion."

Ladies are encouraged to practice their curtsey as they must go as low as they can go and not rise until the royal presence has passed.

You can also try your hand at Tudor cooking in the palace's kitchens, where you'll likely encounter the head chef in a panic over having to roast a swan for the wedding feast.

The day ends with loud cries of "God Save the King and Queen" as the happy couple emerge into the Great Watching Chamber in the royal apartments.

Mosley said Heads and Hearts is popular because of an enduring fascination with Henry VIII and his six wives.

"It's soap-opera, it's drama, it's triumph and tribulation" she said.

"It's fascinating to see the change from a promising young prince to an obese, paranoid, ulcerated old man. It's such a good story - and of course one with all those wives along the way."

Editing by Paul Casciato

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