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Henry VIII on Tour: Tudor Palaces and Royal Progresses

Historic Royal Palaces has been awarded an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) network grant to explore the political and cultural significance of Henry VIII’s royal progresses. The yearlong project will assess the characteristics, iconography and material culture associated with Tudor royal progresses and in particular those of Henry VIII.

2020 will mark the 500th anniversary of the Field of Cloth of Gold which provides an opportune moment to tackle the characteristics and importance of Henry VIII’s movements between palaces, setting them in their political context and considering their implications for modern heritage practice.

Led by Head of Research, Professor Anthony Musson in collaboration with Dr John Cooper of the University of York, the year long project will culminate in an international conference as part of the Field of Cloth of Gold celebrations at Hampton Court Palace.

About the project

Project aims

The project will examine the nature and significance of Henry VIII's journeys between royal residences and his various expeditions at a time of crucial development in English Renaissance architecture, drama, art and music.

We will consider the political and cultural significance of royal progresses both within the realm and on a broad international stage (such as the overtly magnificent progress to meet the French king near Calais dubbed ‘the Field of Cloth of Gold’).

We will also evaluate the role of Henry's progresses in fashioning an image of the monarchy and the consequences of the cultural and material legacy for interpretation of the Tudors as a heritage phenomenon today.

Our main aims for the project are:

  • To establish an international community of scholars
  • Hold three workshops on significant research themes
  • Hold a two-day international conference
  • Disseminate research findings of the network
  • Undertake a pilot of an app/digital map/Virtual Reality (VR) experience
  • Employ web resources and partnerships to engage the international public
  • Engage with Yorkshire students on the legacy of the Tudors

Research network partners and participants

The network will develop a new collaboration between Historic Royal Palaces and the University of York with the backing of the Society of Antiquaries and partners in the heritage sector.

Project partners.

  • National Trust
  • English Heritage
  • Historic Houses Association
  • Yorkshire Museums Trust

Representatives from the following organisation are confirmed workshop participants. 

  • National Portrait Gallery
  • Royal Armouries
  • British Film Institute
  • Royal Collection Trust
  • The National Archives

Heritage interpretation and public programming

There will be a broad perspective on the implications for heritage interpretation and public programming.

We will be discussing these themes with academics and heritage professionals from the USA, Europe and the UK in a series of three workshops at significant historical progress venues: Hampton Court Palace, Greys Court (Buckingham) and the King’s Manor (York) and in special sessions with Yorkshire school children.

There was also a conference at Hampton Court on 29-30 June 2020 as part of the Field of Cloth of Gold celebrations.

Research questions

Royal progresses enabled Tudor monarchs, like their medieval predecessors, to police their realm, to connect with local elites and communities in town and country, and to demonstrate authority through display and ceremony. We aim to track the movements of Henry VIII and his court in order to answer questions such as:

  • What was the impact on royal residences and other venues visited?
  • How did royal progresses affect perceptions of ‘centre’ and ‘locality’?
  • What were the logistical challenges faced by movement and transportation?
  • What the material culture?
  • What can international comparisons of royal progresses tell us about fashioning the image of monarchy?
  • What are the consequences of cultural and material legacy for interpreting the Tudors as a heritage phenomenon today?


All of these questions and more will be addressed over three workshops in various capacities, building to the final conference in June 2020.

Workshop 1: Interrogating Progresses, which will look at terminology, logistics and the politics of royal mobility

Workshop 2: Curating the Tudors, which will focus on material and visual culture of royal progresses at venues, architectural and archaeological evidence, curation, film, literary works and historical drama

Workshop 3: Henry on Tour, which will concentrate on the ceremonial context, visual spectacle, symbolic function and the impact on individuals of all social levels among other things.

Outputs and findings

The project team will share their research findings through: the international conference, an edited book, academic articles and associated public history talks, articles for HRP, National Trust and/or English Heritage newsletters.

The interested public will also be able to access findings through features on the HRP and University of York websites and through podcasts, newsletters and social media feeds.

A new digital experience

We hope to trial a digital experience at some of the Tudor venues managed by our partners across the United Kingdom which will provide a new understanding to those interested in heritage sites and draw them into the subject of Henry VIII’s progresses. A community of York based teachers and students will explore ways of digitally recreating elements of the Tudor legacy which we hope will be accessible to inspire future generations of scholars and curators.

Reach and impact

This project will demonstrate the reach of Historic Royal Palaces by taking Henry VIII beyond the traditional environs of Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London. As a visual marker of this, we hope to pitch the Field of Cloth of Gold tent at the King’s Manor/York Art Galleries in the summer 2020.

Research team & funding body

This is an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project led by the Principle Investigator, Professor Anthony Musson, who is Head of Research at Historic Royal Palaces and the Co-Investigator, Dr John Cooper, senior lecturer in History at the University of York.

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