The wives of Henry VIII are most well-known for their unfortunate demises but, before their downfalls, the six Queens all lived in quite some style.
As well as the famous Royal palaces – including the Tower of London, Hampton Court and Windsor Castle – that Henry’s wives frequented while queens of England, they each enjoyed living in some of Britain’s grandest properties, both before and, in some cases, after, their stint as Henry’s wife.
If you get chance during your time in Britain, many of these houses are still standing and open to the public.
1. Catherine of Aragon: Ludlow Castle, Shropshire
Catherine of Aragon travelled to England from her home in Spain when she was just 15 and betrothed to Henry’s older brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales.
Shortly after their wedding, Catherine and Arthur travelled to Ludlow Castle, the seat of the Prince of Wales that sits on the England-Wales border, to begin their married life. Unfortunately for the young couple, the sweating sickness came to the castle only a few months later and, although Catherine recovered from the illness, Arthur did not, leaving her a widow at 16 years old. Catherine had to wait seven years for her second marriage, this time to Arthur’s younger brother Henry, who had just turned 18 and had become King Henry VIII on the death of his father.
Today, Ludlow Castle is a partial ruin but remains substantially intact and you can wander through the courtyard and visit many of the original rooms. It has a fantastic setting at the top of the hill in the heart of Ludlow and surrounding by Shropshire’s gentle countryside. Ludlow itself is a charming, historic town, with many medieval buildings and winding lanes. It also has a reputation as a ‘foodie’ hotspot, with a great selection of cafes, restaurants and independent food producers.
2. Anne Boleyn: Hever Castle, Kent
Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife, was considered a ‘commoner’ by much of the aristocracy, particularly by contrast to his first wife, who was a princess of Spain.
However, by today’s standards, anyone visiting her childhood home of Hever Castle would be unlikely to think the same. Originally built in the thirteenth century, Hever is a small but picture-perfect castle surrounded by a moat and beautiful gardens. Anne’s father inherited Hever in the early sixteenth century and lived there with his wife and three children, including Anne.
It is known that Henry VIII’s came to visit Anne at Hever while they were ‘courting’, before their marriage. Hever also has a connection to one of Henry’s other wives, as he bestowed it on Anne of Cleves as part of her divorce settlement (see below).
Today, Hever is a popular visitor attraction and you can tour the castle itself as well as the garden and grounds.
3. Jane Seymour: Wolf Hall, Wiltshire
Little is known of Jane Seymour’s early life and her childhood home of Wolf Hall in Wiltshire only recently became well-known as it is the title of an award winning novel, now a BBC period drama, by Hilary Mantel. However, Wolf Hall itself is no longer standing. It was demolished in the late seventeenth century, after having fallen into disrepair, and much of the stone was used to build a new residence for the Seymours at nearby Tottenham House, which still stands today (although it has been much modified from the original). Tottenham House is in private ownership and not open to the public, although it retains an air of mystery even today as Lord Cardigan was forced to sell by the trustees of the estate in 2014 to ‘an undisclosed purchaser’!
Although you can’t visit the real Wolf Hall, it is possible to visit the properties that stood in for Wolf Hall in the BBC drama – Lacock Abbey in the picture-perfect village of Lacock, Wiltshire, was used for the exteriors (and has regularly featured on big and small screen), while Chastelton House in Oxfordshire is where the interior scenes of Wolf Hall were filmed. Both properties are now looked after by the National Trust - Lacock Abbey is open to the public all year, while Chastelton House can only be accessed between Spring and Autumn by purchasing tickets in advance.
4. Anne of Cleves: Penshurst Place, West Sussex
After a brief and disappointing marriage to Henry, Anne, having learned the lessons of her predecessors, agreed to an annulment of their marriage when Henry requested it. After less than six months in England she had gone from being betrothed to the king, to becoming the Queen of England, only to find herself a single woman again.
However, it was not all bad news for Anne of Cleves as, as part of the annulment settlement, and apparently in gratitude to Anne for agreeing to go quietly, King Henry bequeathed her a vast array of property and land, making Anne one of the most independently wealthy ladies in the country.
As mentioned above, this included Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, but it is not thought that Anne spent much time there. Straight after the annulment, Anne used Bletchingley Palace in Surrey as her primary residence, but nothing other than the gatehouse now remains. However, in 1547, seven years later, Anne moved to one of her other residences, Penshurst Place in Sussex. Today, Penshurst Place is one of the most well-preserved fortified medieval manor houses in Britain and is surrounded by beautiful formal gardens and lovely grounds. Penshurst Place and Gardens are open to the public every day from the end of March to the beginning of September.
Because of its beautiful appearance and excellent condition, Penshurst Place is regularly used for period dramas on TV and in film, including ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’, starring Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johannsson, and the BBC’s recent adaption of Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’ (see above).
5. Catherine Howard: Syon Abbey, Greater London
Although Catherine Howard’s younger life is fairly well-documented, it is unfortunately not possible to visit either of the great houses in which she spent her youth. Before moving to the Court of Henry VIII at the age of fifteen, Catherine grew up in the homes of her aunt, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk; Norfolk House in Lambeth, South London, which no longer exists, and Chesworth House in Sussex, which has been maintained in beautiful condition, but is a private house!
After catching the King’s eye and quickly becoming his fourth wife, Catherine’s fortunes changed. As a very young woman married to an aging husband (possibly against her will), Catherine made some rash decisions, and it wasn’t long before the marriage came crashing down when it was discovered Catherine was having an affair with a young man from the King’s household.
Following her arrest for treason and while awaiting news of her fate, Catherine was sent with her ladies to Syon Abbey, on the banks of the River Thames to the west of London, where she was under house arrest. The Abbey itself no longer stands as, following its dissolution, it was granted to Edward Seymour (brother to Henry’s third wife, Jane) who dismantled the abbey and began work on a grand country house on the same site.
Syon House, although much transformed, still stands today and is still owned by the Duke of Northumberland of the Percy family, which has owned the house for over 400 years. It is open to the public and you can visit both the house (Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday only) and the impressive 40 acres of gardens (open all week).
6. Catherine Parr: Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire
Following Henry’s death, a relieved Catherine, Henry’s sixth and final wife, wasted no time in marrying the love of her life, Thomas Seymour (the second brother of Henry’s previous wife, Jane!). To escape the ensuing scandal, Catherine retreated to her new husband’s country estate of Sudeley Castle in the rolling hills of the Cotswolds. Sadly for Catherine, she did not have long to enjoy finally being in a happy marriage (her fourth), as she died shortly after giving birth to her and Thomas’ only child in September 1548.
Sudeley Castle, although still in private ownership, is open to the public for large parts of the year. Original copies of some of Catherine’s published writing can be seen in the castle and the gardens are beautiful. Sudeley sits on the edge of the Cotswolds town of Winchcombe, which makes a great base for walking on the Cotswolds escarpment.
Click on the links below for more information about any of these properties, or get in touch if you would like some help planning your trip to Britain.