Explore the Key Sites of Henry VIII’s Life and Reign | Historical Landmarks | History Hit

Explore the Key Sites of Henry VIII’s Life and Reign

Follow in the footsteps of King Henry VIII and explore the historic sites across Britain that shaped his life, reign and many marriages.

Henry VIII lived in a number of breathtaking castles and palaces across Britain. Favourites of his included Hampton Court and the Palace of Whitehall, which were known for their resplendent luxury and bore witness to some of the most pivotal moments of the Tudor era.

Other residences like Eltham Palace shaped the young prince Henry’s life, who, as the spare rather than the heir at the time, enjoyed a more unrestricted and joyful upbringing than his elder brother Arthur.

By the time Henry died, he had some 55 palaces all over England. However, while travelling, he would often stay with courtiers, who were often rendered bankrupt trying to accommodate the king and his extensive retinue.

Here are some of the key buildings that shaped Henry’s colourful life.

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1. Greenwich Palace

Henry VIII was born at Greenwich Palace on 28 June 1491. The English royal residence was originally built by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, in 1443, and Henry VIII’s father Henry VII made extensive changes to the site, including covering the whole palace with red brick. The palace was a Tudor favourite, largely because it was close to the royal shipyards on the River Thames.

Both of Henry’s daughters Mary and Elizabeth were also born at Greenwich, and he was married there twice: to his first wife Catherine of Aragon, and his fourth, Anne of Cleves. The palace was Henry’s principal residence until the Palace of Whitehall was built in the 1530s.

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Image Credit: Chris Jenner/Shutterstock.com

2. Eltham Palace

Shortly after Henry’s christening, he was sent to join his sister Margaret at Eltham Palace to join a predominantly female household which was presided over by his beloved mother, Elizabeth of York. Since his elder brother was to become king, Henry enjoyed a more relaxed and less rigid childhood and didn’t need to attend his father’s court.

The palace was a particular favourite of Yorkist King Edward IV, who built the Great Hall there in the 1470s. Henry spent much of his childhood walking its opulent halls, and whilst king, he and Anne Boleyn also visited Eltham many times. He also invested a lot of money into the palace, with a particular feature being a chapel.

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Image Credit: chrisdorney/Shutterstock.com

3. Waltham Abbey

Henry enjoyed a number of pilgrimages to see the miraculous black cross at the Augustine monastery Waltham Abbey. Records indicate that he was there in 1510, in 1528, when sweating sickness was tearing through London, and again in July 1529 and August 1532 accompanied by Anne Boleyn.

Waltham Abbey was the last of around 800 abbeys to close its doors on 23 March 1540 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, probably due to it being a favourite of Henry’s. Though the ruins of the abbey are all that remain today, it is still a fascinating site and is said to be the final resting place of King Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England.

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Image Credit: Courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces

4. The Tower of London

Generations of medieval monarchs asserted the custom of spending the night in the Tower of London the night before their coronation in Westminster Abbey. As the nations oldest and most symbolic royal residence, taking control of the tower represented the monarch taking control of the country.

On midsummer’s day 1509, Henry and Katherine processed down streets covered in tapestries and cloths of gold on their way to and from Westminster Abbey. The spectacle was to set the tone of his reign: all went well, and Henry went on to become the first adult prince to inherit the throne peacefully from his father in almost 100 years.

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Image Credit: Drawn by J. Shury & Son, Printed by Day & Haghe, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

5. Palace of Westminster

By the 13th century, the Palace of Westminster had become the centre of government in England and had been the main London residence of the king since 1049. The surrounding area became a popular and expensive location. Henry therefore spent a great deal of time at the palace until a fire destroyed the royal residential ‘privy’ area of the palace early into his reign in 1512.

Afterwards, though Westminster officially remained a royal palace, but was used by the two Houses of Parliament and by various royal law courts. The Palace burned down in 1834. Rooms such as the Painted Chamber, where important state ceremonies took place, have been described as the greatest treasures lost in the fire. It has since been replaced by a modern building.

Image Credit: Hendrick Danckerts, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

6. Palace of Whitehall

In 1534, York Place, which was owned by Cardinal Wolsey until he was disgraced in 1530, came into the possession of the crown. Owing to Wolsey’s extensive renovation, it was renowned as one of the finest residences in London, the king’s palaces included, and was rivalled only by Lambeth Palace. Naturally, this meant that Henry acquired the palace as a residence to replace Westminster in light of the fire of 1512.

Henry renamed it the Palace of Whitehall after the white stones which characterise the exterior, and made it his primary royal residence and location for the Tudor – and later Stuart – court. It is also where Henry died in the early hours of 28 January 1547, aged 55.

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Image Credit: Mistervlad/Shutterstock.com

7. Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace is undoubtedly the most famous of Henry’s residences. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey built Hampton Court Palace in 1515 as a luxurious private residence, but in 1529, as Wolsey was falling from favour for failing to solve the king’s ‘great matter’, the palace was relinquished to the king.

Dedicated to pleasure, ostentatious display and sophistication, when Henry finished his programme of building in around 1540, it was the most modern and enviable palace in Britain. All of Henry’s six wives visited Hampton Court Palace at different points, and all enjoyed lavish new lodgings. Indeed, Henry remodelled his own rooms dozens of times. 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.

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8. Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle is the oldest occupied castle in the world. Henry VIII enjoyed Windsor Castle as a young man, “exercising himself daily in shooting, singing, dancing, wrestling, casting of the bar, playing at the recorders, flute, virginals, in setting of songs and making of ballads”. It became an increasingly popular visiting place for the royal retinue, and during the Pilgrimage of Grace, a huge uprising in the north of England against Henry’s rule in 1536, the king used Windsor as a secure base in the south from which to manage his military response. It was also used as a safe retreat in the event of plagues occurring in London throughout the Tudor period.

Along with 9 other monarchs, Henry and his beloved wife Jane Seymour (the one who gave him a son) are buried there.

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Image Credit: Unknown, Flemish school, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

9. Nonsuch Palace site

Though Nonsuch Palace no longer exists, in its heyday it was a magnificent residence. Commissioned in April 1538 by Henry VIII to celebrate the birth of his son, Edward VI (securing his family’s succession) and the advent of his 30 years as King, the palace was intended to be a symbol of power. Henry also wanted to outshine his rival, King Francois I of France, and his palace ‘Château de Chambord’.

Although originally conceived as a royal hunting lodge, ultimately a completely new royal palace was built – on the site of a village called Cuddington, which was completely levelled to make way for Henry’s new vision to create a palace with no equal, hence its name ‘None Such’. It never quite reached its true splendour in Henry’s lifetime: it’s said that he only visited three times, and the work was still incomplete by the time of his death in 1547. Today, nothing of the building remains.

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