The Tudor period has captured the imagination of audiences for over 500 years, with its dramatic tales of romance, bloodshed, and political intrigue well-known to academics and history-lovers alike.
Beginning with Henry VII’s victory at Bosworth Field in 1485, and ending with the death of his granddaughter Elizabeth I in 1603, the Tudors oversaw some of Britain’s most important religious, political, and cultural developments.
For this fascinating era we have compiled a list of some of the best sites to explore in England, from the lavish Hampton Court Palace where Henry VIII experienced many of his most significant life events, to Shakespeare’s Birthplace, where the humble origins of one of the world’s most famous playwrights may be discovered.
Though there are dozens of fantastic sites to choose from, we have selected a mix of famous royal palaces, lesser-known gems, and fascinating museums – lovers of the Tudor era will be spoilt for choice.
10 of the Best Tudor Sites in England
Hampton Court Palace is a Grade I listed royal palace, built over 500 years ago in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey built Hampton Court Palace in 1515 as a luxurious private residence, but in 1529 – as Wolsey fell from favour – the palace was relinquished to King Henry VIII.
Hampton Court went on to become one of Henry’s most favoured residences, and was enlarged to accommodate his courtiers and soon-to-be wife Anne Boleyn.
Over the years Hampton Court Palace bore witness to some of the biggest events in Henry VIII’s life: the break with Rome, the birth of his heir Edward VI and death of Jane Seymour, his divorce with Anne of Cleves, and the accusation of adultery and subsequent arrest of Catherine Howard.
The Globe Theatre in London is famous for its association with England’s best-known playwright, William Shakespeare. Built in 1599 by Shakespeare’s Elizabethan playing company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, The Globe was then destroyed by a fire in 1613.
Its remains were found in 1989 however, lying underneath a listed building on Anchor Terrace. A modern reconstruction of the Globe opened in 1997 only 230 metres from where the original theatre stood and today, continues to hold productions of Shakespeare’s best known plays over 400 years later.
A 3-storey, open-air amphitheatre, The Globe could hold an audience of up to 3,000. The theatre had a large area at the base of the stage known as the pit where members of the audience referred to as ‘groundlings’ could pay a penny to see the performance.
St James’s Palace has been the setting for some of the most important events in Royal history. It was also the official residence of Kings and Queens of England for over 300 years, from King Henry VIII up until the reign of Queen Victoria, when this role was taken over by Buckingham Palace.
The redbrick Tudor structure of St James’s Palace was built by King Henry VIII from 1531-1536 on the former site of the Hospital of St James. The Palace was intended to be used by Henry VIII as a residence to ‘escape formal court life’, and you can still see the initials ‘H.A.’ (for Henry and his second wife Anne) on a couple of the Tudor fireplaces in the state apartments.
Despite much of the palace being destroyed by fire in 1809 (with a majority of the original palace being remodelled during the 19th century) much of the original Tudor work remains today, including a gatehouse, some turrets, parts of the state rooms and the Chapel Royal.
The Mary Rose Museum is a historical museum located at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard in the United Kingdom, run by the Mary Rose Trust.
The Mary Rose was built between 1509 and 1511 and was amongst the largest and most advanced warships of the time, being one of the first to carry heavy guns. King Henry VIII favoured the Mary Rose and she was to serve in a series of conflicts including against the French and the Scottish.
On 19 July 1545, the Mary Rose sank in the Solent during a clash with the French fleet, with the King himself witnessing her demise.
The ship would only be discovered again in the 1970’s and recovered in 1982, and is now on full view to the public, held in a large hall at the centre of the museum.
Hever Castle in Kent is a picturesque Tudor mansion famous as Anne Boleyn’s ancestral home. Today it presents a stunning glimpse into the splendour of those close to the Tudor crown, and provides a personal look into the life of one of British history’s most intriguing female figures.
In the 14th century Hever was crenellated during which time the walls, towers, moat, and Great Hall were constructed, before in 1462 it came into the possession of the Boleyn family. The Boleyns transformed it into a stunning Tudor residence and when in 1505 Thomas Boleyn inherited Hever, he further added to its splendour.
Birthplace of the world-famous Elizabethan playwright William Shakespeare, the restored 16th century house along Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon, England is where he the eminent writer spent much of his childhood. In the present day, the house is a museum operated by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and is a site of pilgrimage for many a lover of literature.
Once inside the house of Shakespeare’s childhood, you are transported back to family life complete with period furniture and John Shakespeare’s glove workshop. The walled garden also provides a slice of the past, containing only flowers and herbs known in Shakespeare’s time.
Hardwick Hall is one of the UK’s finest examples of an Elizabethan ‘prodigy house’, a term for ostentatious palatial-style homes built by courtiers and described as ‘noble palaces of an awesome scale’ and ‘proud, ambitious heaps’.
Hardwick was built between 1590 and 1597 for Elizabeth, Dowager Countess of Shrewsbury, aka ‘Bess of Hardwick’. Through a keen head for business and four marriages to progressively wealthier men, Bess rose to become the richest woman in England, second only to Queen Elizabeth I.
The most striking elements of Hardwick Hall are the vast, multi-paned windows, a statement to Bess of Hardwick’s supreme wealth and power, particularly at a time when glass was considered luxurious. The striking end result gave rise to the local saying ‘Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall.’
The Tower of London, originally known as the White Tower, was commissioned by the first Norman king, William the Conqueror in the 11th century. It was designed as a fortress-stronghold, a role that remained unchanged right up until the late 19th century.
In the Tudor era it came into its own as a fearsome prison, with some of the period’s most famous names being held there. Anne Boleyn, Sir Thomas More, Catherine Howard, Thomas Cromwell, Lady Jane Grey, and even Elizabeth I found themselves passing through its gates – with some never to return.
The spot near to the scaffold where Boleyn, Howard, and Grey were all executed is marked with a memorial, and they are buried in the nearby church of St Peter ad Vincula.
Originally an Augustinian Priory, the present house at Longleat was built by Sir John Thynn in 1580 after the first was destroyed in a fire, and is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of Elizabethan architecture in Britain. Taking 12 years to complete, Longleat has remained in the family since its construction with the 7th Marquess of Bath, Alexander Thynn currently residing there.
The first stately home to open to the public on a fully commercial basis in 1949, Longleat is set within 900 acres of beautiful parkland which today includes a maze and a safari park.
Westminster Abbey is an iconic medieval structure and the site of many historic royal and national events, from coronations and royal weddings to burials and even deaths.
All of the crowned Tudor monarchs – except Henry VIII – are buried here, including Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, Edward VI, Elizabeth I, Mary I.
Mary, Queen of Scots, Anne of Cleves, and Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII’s mother, are also buried here, amongst a number of other notable figures from the period.