Although the main palace is Jacobean, having been built in 1611, in the reign of James I, it houses many treasures from the time when there was a 15th century palace on the site, the home that Elizabeth knew in her childhood and youth. The only part of that former palace that still survives today is the part of the houses that houses the Banqueting Hall with its wonderful original timber roof.
The first thing that Philippa and I did when we got to the estate was to take a group over to the site of the great oak, the tree under which Elizabeth was said to have been reading when she received news that her half-sister, Mary I, had died and that she was now Queen Elizabeth I. According to the story, when members of the queen's council came to tell her, she sank to her knees and said in Latin what translates to This is the Lord's doing; it is marvellous in our eyes" (Psalm 118). The original oak tree died, but our present queen, Elizabeth II, planted a replacement in 1985 on the site of the one Elizabeth would have known.
Then we had a private tour of the Jacobean palace. Our guide, Rudi, was brilliant. He had such a gift for talking and was so passionate about the history of the house. I'd never been to Hatfield before (ticked that off my bucket list - yay!) and I was so excited to see the Rainbow and Ermine portraits of Elizabeth I, as well as portraits of the Cecils, Mary, Queen of Scots, and other Tudor personalities. I also loved seeing the gloves that had once belonged to Elizabeth, views of the gardens and also the huge library. It's lovely that the house is still a family home, still owned by the Cecils too, the Marquess of Salisbury and his family.
After lunch, we headed over to the oldest part, the Old Palace with its banqueting hall. There we had a private talk about its history and Elizabeth I's time there - fascinating!
Then, it was time to board the coach and make our way to Stratford-upon-Avon. We're staying at the beautiful Arden Hotel, which is on the Riverside, just opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. I've never seen a bed this size! It's huuuuuuge, as is my bathroom, and so luxurious. We had a delicious dinner and then had a fascinating talk from historian Leanda de Lisle on the rise of the Tudors. It was excellent.
All in all, a truly magical day. I loved every minute of it.