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Research to shed new light on ‘royal tours’ of iconic King

Posted on 2 May 2023

A new study aims to shed light on the royal tours of King Henry VIII, one of the most iconic - and controversial - figures in British history.

King Henry VIII would have visited King's Manor between 1539 and 1641

Researchers at the University of York, in collaboration with Historic Royal Palaces and Newcastle University, will explore archival sources, architecture, archaeology and music to understand why Henry VIII spent so much time travelling around his kingdom, and the logistics of transporting the splendour of the Tudor court to communities far from London.  

A particular focus is the city of York, visited by Henry and Queen Catherine in 1541.

‘Henry VIII on Tour’ explores how buildings, including the King’s Manor in York. were adapted and redecorated to receive the King and Queen and their accompanying households. The project also asks how local people responded to royal tours (or ‘progresses’, as they were known) and traces their impact and legacy on the landscape.

King in motion

Dr John Cooper, from the University of York’s Department of History, said: “We often picture Henry VIII as a rather static figure, but in fact he was constantly on the move.  Progresses were a vital point of contact between the monarchy and the English people, not just the nobility and gentry but also the crowds who would have seen the King and his court pass by. 

“The purpose of these tours was to promote the monarchy through ritual and display, and in times of conflict, show strength and force.  But more investigation is needed into the details of Henry VIII’s itinerary, where he went and why, and how local people interacted with a monarch they would previously have seen only on a coin.”

Lost sites

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the project will design new ways of reimagining royal progresses and visualising lost sites with a range of partners including DigVentures, English Heritage, the National Trust, the Historic Houses Association, and Ensemble Pro Victoria, who will bring the music of Henry’s court to life.

Dr Kate Giles, from the University of York’s Heritage360 Research Centre, said: “Royal tours are common to the monarchy to this day, and as we enter into a new era of the family under King Charles, it is timely to ask these questions, as well as create educational tools that will allow the next generation to gain an insight into our royal heritage, which will include 2D and 3D digital reconstructions of the places Henry visited.”

Tudor ambassadors

The project will also invite the public to help shape new ways of telling Henry VIII's story, and aims to support history teachers in becoming ambassadors for the Tudors.

Anthony Musson, Head of Research at Historic Royal Palaces, said: “Henry VIII is a fascinating king, and is known the world over, particularly for his infamous marriages and how he transformed the English government.  So it is exciting to be part of a project that will, for the first time, allow us to travel the country in his footsteps and investigate the more local impacts that he had and how his legacy can still be felt today.”

More information on the project can be found the website at:

Further information:

  • Progresses appear to be the Tudor equivalent of the modern monarchy's "walkabout" tours. 
  • Nowadays, the royal tour is accompanied by the media, royal correspondents and photographers. Henry VIII was accompanied by ambassadors, courtiers and chroniclers, creating a record that can be traced in the archives.  
  • Henry brought everything he needed with him, including his bed, the cooks and utensils from the royal kitchens, and rich tapestries to recreate the magnificence of the royal court.  Hundreds of carts, horses and mules followed the king and queen on progress. 
  • Henry VIII and Queen Catherine stayed at the recently dissolved St Mary's Abbey in York in 1541.  The monastic buildings were hastily converted into accommodation fit for a king, and the former Abbot’s house became ‘the King's Manor’. The purpose of Henry’s 1541 progress was to accept the submission of those involved in the massive Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion, and to shore up the power of the royal Council of the North, which met at King's Manor - now part of the University of York campus - between 1539 and 1641.

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About this research

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the project is in partnership with DigVentures, English Heritage, the National Trust, the Historic Houses Association, and Ensemble Pro Victoria.

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