The original palace when built in the early 16th century, covered an area of approximately 134m by 67m and included an inner and an outer courtyard divided by a central hall. Whilst all that visibly remains is the north-west polygonal tower, one side of the gatehouse and the connecting northern range of the outer court, there is much below ground archaeology and earthworks, many within the grounds of houses in the surrounding village.
Despite its significance, the palace is not really known about beyond the village of Otford, even though it is of great national importance. The Archbishop’s Palace in Otford was one side of the physical expression of rivalry between two of the most powerful men in the country in the 16th century. William Warham was the Archbishop of Canterbury and former Lord Chancellor of England, whilst Cardinal Wolsey was the current Lord Chancellor and close confidante of Henry VIII. Warham began building his palace at Otford in 1514, and later in the same year Wolsey began work on his equivalent, Hampton Court Palace. The similarities in design are very noticeable and the rivalry continued over many years.
In the letter written by Warham to Wolsey in the winter 1522, he tells Wolsey he is unable to travel to see him on the grounds of ill health. Warham also thanks him for his advice that he should live on high, dry ground rather than at Otford (which was damp and wet) and additional for his offer of accommodation at Hampton Court (Walshe, 2016). The inference was that Hampton Court was superior due to its location, and to this day it is unknown why Otford Palace was constructed so close to the River Darent.
Henry VIII visited Otford Palace with his court in 1519, from where he went hunting. A year later he returned with his wife Catherine of Aragon with the royal court to stay at the palace en route to France where he was to meet Francis, King of France at the Field of Gold. The court that accompanied Henry was believed to have been over 3,000 people, and would have therefore been an impressive sight.
For further information on the site, please visit the Archbishop’s Palace Conservation Trust website.