Tournament of Henry VIII’s favourite sport Real Tennis to take place at Hampton Court

One of the sports favoured by Henry VIII’s is being brought back at Hampton Court Palace in July, as the Real Tennis Trophy is played on the palace’s court.

© Chloe Howard 2014

Hampton Court will host a Real Tennis tournament in July, with world-class players; it was one of Henry VIII’s favourite sports, alongside hunting © Victoria Howard 2014

From 11th to 16th July, the world’s most historic court at the Tudor and Baroque pile, a designated National Monument dating from 1625, will have crowds fill the viewing gallery and professional competitors of Real Tennis take to the court.

Real Tennis in action on the court at Tudor palace Hampton Court (HRP)

The ancestor of modern tennis – from which lawn tennis was derived in about 1874 – Real Tennis is similarly played on a court divided with a net into two ends. This is, however, played on an indoor court, with lines on the floor demarcating the service end and the hazard end. The handmade balls are solid and the small rackets are still handcrafted in the traditional way with a wooden frame. Play is continuous – no sitting down for Real Tennis players! – and points are awarded for ‘hazards’ hit, with various ‘galleries’ or window-like openings below the roof acting as goals to be aimed for. It was a favourite amongst Kings, letting them show off their athleticism to the court, aristocrats and subjects.

The court at Hampton Court was originally built for Cardinal Wolsey, between 1526 and 1529 when he owned Hampton Court, but a new one, the same to be used for the competition was created for Charles I, and since then, Charles II, William III and even Prince Albert all set foot on the court. Three of these walls are 17th century, the external wall to the right of the viewing gallery is Cardinal Wolsey’s original.

Now, it has been renovated to protect the historic walls and enable its modern use.

It is one of fewer than 50 real tennis courts in the world still in use, and one of the few courts in the world where the public can still watch this intriguing sport. Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex is a player of this sport – in fact, this is how he met Sophie! – and The Queen is a patron of the club.

It is hoped the tournament will be a new annual event at the palace, celebrating the skill and dedication of this ancient sport. Only the world’s top 10 players have been invited to play, meaning there will be a real show of the King’s sport in the historic setting.

The Real Tennis Court at Hampton Court Palace (Diamond Geezer)

During the tournament, a Tudor Joust will also take place on 15th and 16th July. The sights, smells and sounds of the Tudor court will re-emerge at the palace, with sword fighting, courtly games, and music. Younger visitors can try on armour, and others can discover the strange musical instruments of Henry VIII’s day. Crowds will gather to cheer on the rival knights as they compete for glory.

Tickets begin at £25 standing / £35 seated for the opening games, and include admission to Hampton Court Palace itself; get yours here. Joust viewing is included in admission price.

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