What are the best Henry VIII sites to Visit?
Hampton Court Palace was once the home of King Henry VIII, who spent much of his time here. Today you can still see much of the original palace, including Henry’s apartments and even his private tennis courts.
Hampton Court Palace was then the site where some major events in Henry’s life took place: the break with Rome, the birth of his heir, Edward (VI), divorce of Anne of Cleves, and the accusation of adultery and subsequent detention of Catherine Howard.
Today, Hampton Court Palace is a popular tourist attraction, with visitors able to tour Henry VIII's apartments and the Tudor kitchens as well as its famous maze. Hampton Court Palace's official site has some good suggestions for itineraries.
Amongst its many attractions, Hampton Court is home to a set of medieval “tenys playe” or tennis courts. These courts, then often used by a young Henry VIII and now England’s oldest existing “real” courts can still be seen there today. In fact, they are still actively used.
Henry spent much of his childhood at the medieval Eltham Palace - the original Tudor hall still survives, flanked by the 1930s Art-Deco grand house. The medieval part of Eltham is quite stunning for those who are interested in that era. The Great Hall of Eltham is still extant and was originally built for the Yorkist king Edward IV in the 1470s and his grandson, Henry VIII, spent much of his childhood here. This is the only part of medieval Eltham Palace which still exists.
Banqueting House is the only complete building of the Palace of Whitehall to remain standing. Henry VIII aquired the palace from Cardinal Wolsey in 1530 and used it as a royal residence. In 1698, a huge fire burned Whitehall Palace to the ground. Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to convert the Banqueting House into a chapel to replace the one destroyed in the fire. Visitors can tour Banqueting House and discover its history. An entry ticket includes an audio guide, available in a variety of languages.
St James’s Palace has been the official residence of the British Sovereign since the reign of King Henry VIII. In fact, it was under Henry that the redbrick Tudor structure of St James’s was begun in 1531 on the former site of a hospital. It was mostly completed by 1536. Much of this original work remains today, including a gatehouse, parts of the state rooms and the Chapel Royal.
Today, St James’s Palace is still a working palace, although it has not served as a de facto royal residence since the reign of Queen Victoria, when this role was taken over by Buckingham Palace. Instead, St James’s Palace houses the offices of several members of the royal family including Princes William and Harry and is used for official functions. As such, it is not open to the public.
Henry VIII’s coronation took place at Westminster Abbey on the 24th June 1509. The Abbey is an iconic medieval structure and the site of many historic royal and national events, from coronations and weddings to burials and even deaths.
Over 3,000 people are buried at Westminster Abbey. There are 600 tombs and monuments to see, many of them Royal and open to visitors. Some of the most famous royals buried there are Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I and Henry III. The tomb of the Unknown Soldier is in the Abbey and there is a service each Remembrance Sunday. Funeral services for important figures and royalty are also held in the Abbey and over time prominent funerals at the Abbey have included those of Winston Churchill, George VI, Princess Diana and Queen Elizabeth I.
In addition to the numerous burial sites and architectural features, one of the most impressive sites at Westminster Abbey is the Coronation Chair, produced in 1300-1301 under the orders of King Edward I. Its purpose was to accommodate the Stone of Scone, which the king had brought from Scotland. To have an informed visit and to see the most interesting parts of Westminster Abbey, take a tour, as just wandering around can be overwhelming.
Hatfield House has been a country estate for centuries. Built in approximately 1485, Hatfield Palace was bought by Henry and became the home of his children, particularly that of a young Elizabeth I. In the gardens of Hatfield House, one can visit the oak tree where Elizabeth is said to have been informed of her ascension to the throne.
Today, little is left of the original Hatfield Palace, which was torn down in the seventeenth century to make way for a more modern structure.
Windsor Castle is the oldest occupied castle in the world and the burial place of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. Windsor is the oldest occupied castle in the world. Covering an area of approximately 13 acres, it contains a wide range of interesting features. These include the State Apartments, Queen Mary’s dolls house and the beautiful St George’s Chapel. It is also the burial place of ten monarchs, including Henry and his beloved wife Jane Seymour. There are numerous exhibitions and tours at Windsor Castle. In fact, a typical visit can take up to three hours.
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard contains three of the Britain’s most famous warships, namely the HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and Henry VIII’s Mary Rose. A sixteenth century warship favoured by King Henry, it sunk in 1545 and was famously recovered in 1982.
The Tower of London is a famous fortress and prison. Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, was executed here 1536, as Henry was off wooing his next wife, Jane Seymour. First commissioned by the first Norman king, William the Conqueror, it was designed as a fortress-stronghold, a role that remained unchanged right up until the late 19th century.
The Tower of London was also used as a residence for monarchs of England, and it was traditionally used by monarchs in the run up to their coronation. However the Tower is most famous for its use as a prison. Only seven people were executed within the Tower’s walls - including Anne Boleyn - but the list of people who at one time or another were imprisoned in the Tower of London reads like a who’s who of 1,000 years of Britain’s history. There is a great deal to see and do at the Tower: the beefeaters, ravens, site of the menagerie and just walking around it to soak up the history. Allow plenty of time for your visit.
10. Leeds Castle
Leeds Castle in Kent was a twelfth century royal palace, prison and stately home. Henry VIII visited it on several occasions and extensively renovated the castle for Catherine of Aragon. Today, Leeds Castle is a leisure facility, housing an aviary and a maze along with a dog collar museum. Guided tours are available for groups and schools and audio tours are also available.