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Henry VIII on Tour: Landscapes, Communities and Performance

About the project

Henry VIII on Tour, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, is a three-year project that brings together a cross-disciplinary team of scholars and technical specialists from both academic and heritage sectors, who will use close study of archival sources, architecture, archaeology, music and material culture to inform a reconceptualisation of Henry VIII's progresses.

We will focus on four key themes: logistics, kingship/queenship, performance, and legacy. The project establishes a full itinerary for Henry VIII for the first time, by mapping all known progress venues and charting changes in duration, regional location and accommodation through successive phases of the reign. This will significantly enhance historians' understanding of the purpose of royal progresses and their impact on 16th century political and religious culture.

We will examine the autonomy and agency of Henry’s queens and re-assess their role on royal journeys. Wherever possible we are revealing hidden histories of understudied groups and communities and demonstrating how progresses themselves fostered dialogue and circulation of ideas, news, skills, architectural styles and musical repertoire in the localities.  

This project comes at a time when heritage organisations, museums and galleries are still facing financial difficulties and a crisis of identity following prolonged closure and uncertainty as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

We see the project as a means of connecting heritage sites and exploring with our partners, stakeholders and local history focus groups both the challenges for heritage organisations and the ways they can assist in uniting communities.

We aim to engage with modern-day residents of places once visited by Henry VIII in an effort to assess the legacy of royal progresses and provide opportunities for translational impact through co-creation with our heritage partners using local history networks. We will also engage and inspire the interested public through opportunities for participation in community archaeology at Tudor sites and performances of Tudor music in their original settings.

The digital legacy of the project, from visualisations of 'lost' sites to mobile-enabled progress trails, makes available a remarkable resource for study of Tudor history for all audiences. Henry VIII on Tour will re-engage and inspire educators in schools and museums to use the Tudors across the curriculum through new ways of approaching and discovering the past. We will use digital creativity to bring both landscapes and buildings to life, demonstrating how a combination of digital heritage and archival research can tell new stories, pose and answer innovative research questions, and inspire greater curiosity about local places. Reflecting the way that royal progresses projected the spectacle of Henry VIII’s court beyond its base in London and the Thames Valley, the project aims to broaden Historic Royal Palace’s reach and engagement with the public and other heritage organisations. 

Project aims

The key aims and objectives of the project are to: 

  1. Transform understanding of Henry VIII, his queens and his reign by providing the first full itinerary for the king, and by undertaking cross-disciplinary research into the impact and significance of royal progresses and their political, social, material and cultural legacy.
  2. Re-interpret the history of royal progresses by using innovative archival research to examine the varied experience of local communities, and by exploring the hidden histories of women, artisans, musicians and other subaltern groups providing services for the royal household.
  3. Promote understanding of 'lost' historic buildings and landscapes significant to Henry VIII's reign by undertaking community archaeology and through the creation of digital visualisations of certain key royal palaces, country houses and monastic sites and an interactive mobile-enabled web map of royal progresses.
  4. Undertake an evaluative case study of the repertoire of the chapel royal on progress by performing pre- and post-Reformation Tudor music in original progress venues.
  5. Enable and inspire educators to use the Tudors across the curriculum by creating their own original learning resources that provide new ways of telling the past.
  6. Reconnect disparate heritage sites formerly owned or visited by Henry VIII by creating and leading a joined-up network of organisations, linking the metropolitan royal palaces (Historic Royal Palaces) to the regions and upskilling staff and volunteers through access to scholarly expertise.

Research network partners and participants

Project partners:

  • National Trust
  • English Heritage
  • Historic Houses Association
  • Society of Antiquaries
  • DigVentures
  • Ensemble Pro Victoria

Research questions

Our key research questions are: 

  1. How did visibility function in Henry VIII’s statecraft, where was he at any given moment, and how can we use different kinds of evidence to reconstruct an itinerary for his reign?
  2. What were the main logistical factors in implementing royal progresses?
  3. How was the performance of kingship and queenship shaped by progresses, and to what extent were Henry VIII’s queens' independent actors when the royal court was on tour?
  4. How were the environment and local communities impacted by Henry VIII’s progresses?
  5. How can heritage organisations use the Tudor legacy to engage with and challenge 21st-century audiences?

Outputs and findings

The project team will be publishing an open access monograph on the key findings from their study of Henry’s progresses and contributing to a special issue for 2026 of the Royal Studies Journal. In addition to presentations at conferences and for local history societies, we will be teaming up to produce articles focussing on particular issues arising during the project.

Digital outputs

We are producing digital outputs in association with the University of York’s Heritage360 digital team. We have already reconstructed a 3-D visualisation of the former St Mary’s Abbey, York, which post-Reformation, was turned into a palace (now the King’s Manor) for Henry and Catherine Howard to stay in during his 1541 northern progress.

We are planning further 2D and 3D visualisations of ‘lost’ or problematic venues (at Petworth, Lyddington and Acton Court) to make them accessible for visitors with physical disabilities and people unable to travel in person to the site. There will also be an interactive web map and app for those wanting to create their own progress trails and aided by a digital tour guide filmed at three of our venues. 

Reach and impact

In July 2023, we gave tours around the King’s Manor and presentations on the historical context to the cast and crew and audience members attending the Theatre Royal York’s world premiere production of CJ Sansom’s Sovereign (a detective story based on Henry VIII’s 1541 progress to York) performed in situ at the King’s Manor. The programme notes we produced are now blog posts.  available on the project website. 

The project combines physical archaeological digs and musical experimental archaeological investigations at designated locations with engagement with specific communities associated with the heritage sites. Geo-physical surveys undertaken at former royal palaces such as Newhall (Essex) and Ampthill (Bedfordshire) and at other progress venues (e.g. Lyddington and the Vyne) will be shared with local residents and school pupils.

We are  engaging with local choirs in performances of Tudor music in their original settings, including a liturgical enactment at Christchurch Priory in Dorset (May) and Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire (August). Henry VIII’s progresses will be celebrated at various venues including the staging of a ‘Civic Welcome’ at Exeter Cathedral (June). Students from the Royal School of Needlework and Wimbledon College of Arts are reproducing clothing and textiles on the basis of archival sources that will be available for an installation at Powderham Castle (June) and West Horsley Place (July). 

Ensemble Pro Victoria will be giving concerts at Christchurch Priory, West Horsely Place, Berkeley Castle and New College, Oxford and will produce a recording of music for Henry VIII’s progresses for Delphian Records, some pieces of which will be world premieres. The choir of HM Chapel Royal, Hampton Court will also be staging a service of Vespers for St Nicholastide in December 2024. Details of these events can be found on our Henry on Tour event page

A two-day residential course will be held at Hampton Court in January 2025 as part of the Historical Association’s Teaching Fellowship Programme during which participants are required to develop practical teaching resources that will benefit their own and others’ teaching. An early career research day on themes related to the progresses will be held at the Society of Antiquaries of London’s Burlington House in October 2024. We will also be working with our own Schools and Communities Team to coordinate a national schools’ event on the theme of Henry VIII’s progresses at Hampton Court Palace in June 2025. 

More information about the Project can be found on our Henry on Tour website. 

Henry on Tour Research Project website

Research team & funding body

Principal Investigator:  Professor Anthony Musson, Historic Royal Palaces.

Co-Investigators:  Dr John Cooper, University of York.

Professor Kate Giles, University of York.

Professor Magnus Williamson, Newcastle University. 

Post-doctoral Research Assistant: Dr Kirsty Wright, Historic Royal Palaces. 

Impact & Outreach Co-ordinator: Keely Hayes-Davies, University of York.

Technical Team:  Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture/Heritage360, Dr Louise Hampson, Patrick Gibbs, James Osborn.