Inspired by the finale of the TV drama Wolf Hall to get out and explore some of England’s Tudor heritage? You need look no further than the capital to discover some of the finest, and most intriguing, reminders of the age of Henry VIII.
The Tower of London
One of our favourite castles in the country, this is a building with one of the most fascinating histories of any in the world. Royal palace, fort, prison and place of execution, the Tower has witnessed many of the most significant events in English history.
Henry VIII developed the royal residential buildings here primarily for the comfort and enjoyment of his second wife, Anne Boleyn, ready for her coronation in 1533. Sadly for Anne, she was to spend more time there towards the end of her life….the Tower being particularly notable during the Tudor Period for its high-profile prisoners.
As well as Anne, other key figures imprisoned in the Tower included Sir Thomas More, Bishop Fisher of Rochester and another of Henry VIII’s wives, Catherine Howard. Soberingly, you can see the precise spot where both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were executed at the Tower Green scaffold site (there is a glass plate which marks the spot).
Today, the Tower remains home to the Crown Jewels as well as the famous ‘Beefeaters’, who conduct tours of the tower (which are included within the cost of the admission ticket). Don’t miss a walk around the inner ramparts and the central structure, the White Tower.
Getting there: The nearest tube station is Tower Hill, which is on both the District or Circle lines. You can follow signs to the Tower from the station (it’s just a 5 minute walk). You could also arrive by boat on the Thames by taking a riverboats from Charing Cross, Westminster or Greenwich to Tower Pier. Another good option is to stroll down the south bank from London Bridge station, crossing the river on foot over the mighty Tower Bridge. Tickets can be purchased in advance online, which helps you avoid queues and saves a few pounds on the admission price.
Westminster Abbey has played a huge role in British History. It has been the venue for the coronation of every English and British monarch since William the Conqueror in 1066 (make sure to track down the Coronation Chair), as well as many royal weddings including the recent wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Back in Tudor times, Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon’s joint coronation took place here on Sunday 24th June 1509. It was a lavish affair, being their first major public event, and a grand procession took place through the city from the Tower of London to Westminster Palace the day before, to allow the people to see their newly married monarchs.
Sadly for Katherine, relations between her and Henry were not always so good, and 24 years later Westminster Abbey was the setting for the coronation of Henry’s next queen, Anne Boleyn, while Katherine had been divorced and banished from court to live at The More in Hertfordshire.
Westminster Abbey is also the resting place of many monarchs and well-known public figures, including Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, and his two daughters, Mary I and Elizabeth I. It also houses the world’s first ‘grave of the unknown soldier’, which serves as a memorial to all unknown soldiers lost in battle across the years. For those with a literary interest, you can visit Poets’ Corner, where you’ll find the final resting place for Chaucer, Dickens, Tennyson and Kipling, amongst others.
Getting there: The nearest tube station are St James's Park (District and Circle Lines) and Westminster (Jubilee, District & Circle Lines). Westminster Abbey is at the heart of central London and is next to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament so can easily be combined with a visit to some of the capital’s other key attractions.
Hampton Court Palace
An incredibly well preserved Tudor palace on the banks of the River Thames, Hampton Court was built by Cardinal Wolsey and ‘gifted’ to Henry VIII in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt by the Cardinal to win back Henry’s favour. A visit here gives a fascinating insight into life in Tudor England.
Rightly at the top of many visitors’ ‘must-see’ list is Henry VIII’s state apartments, which include the spectacular Great Hall spanned by a massive hammer-beam roof and its walls are hung with Henry VIII’s most splendid tapestries. Another fascinating area is the huge Tudor kitchen which was built to feed the six hundred or so members of Henry’s court. The annual provision of meat for the Tudor court stood at 1,240 oxen, 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 760 calves, 1,870 pigs and 53 wild boar!
Also take the time to explore the 60 acres of beautiful gardens, have a look at the exhibition about the ‘young Henry’, get lost in the 300 year old maze, and visit the court where Henry played ‘real tennis’ and is still used for matches today… but try to avoid the ghosts of two of Henry’s wives – Jane Seymour, who died at Hampton Court, and Catherine Howard, who was arrested there for treason – which are said still to haunt the palace today!
Getting there: Hampton Court sits at the far western edge of London but is easily reached by train from the centre of the city. Trains run every half an hour from London Waterloo and take 35 minutes. You could also get a train to Kingston and then a bus (111, 216 or 411) from there to Hampton Court Gardens.