Lead Research Organisation: Historic Royal Palaces
Department Name: Historic Buildings


The Tudor period continues to captivate and maintain a presence in popular culture. Henry VIII's reign, in particular, fascinates as much for its architectural magnificence and courtly splendour, its music, masques, tournaments and hunting parties as for its dynastic concerns, political machinations and religious controversies. 2020 will mark the quincentenary of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, described as "the most spectacular progress". It is an opportune moment not only to assess the characteristics, iconography and material culture associated with Tudor royal progresses and ceremony, but also to invite network participants, project partners and the public to engage with and reflect on what it means for us in the 21st century.

This one-year research network led by Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) and the University of York (UoY) will examine the nature and significance of Henry VIII's journeys between royal residences and to parts of the realm, setting them in their political, social and cultural context and considering their implications for modern heritage practice and management. A wealth of archival and material evidence survives, yet Henry's progresses have never been systematically studied. Our network aims to recover their role within the regional and national politics of 16th century England and assess their cultural significance both on a broader international stage and at a crucial moment in the development of English Renaissance architecture, drama, art and music. Using surviving records we will track the movements of Henry VIII and his court, their impact on venues visited, and how progresses affected perceptions of access to the king in Tudor England. We will explore notions of public and private space and assess the logistical challenges entailed in supplying and accommodating an itinerant household. 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.

The workshops and conference initiated by this network will interrogate the whole phenomenon of royal progresses with a view to identifying research priorities, exploring which themes might be most fruitfully pursued, and ascertaining the most appropriate methodologies to be employed (including digital and virtual reality technologies) in anticipation of applying for funding for a larger multi-disciplinary and collaborative project. The participating scholars and heritage experts will aim to challenge orthodoxies associated with royal progresses, enabling clearer distinction between Henry VIII's expeditions and those of his medieval predecessors and Tudor successors. In short, this network will begin the work of re-connecting Henry VIII's royal palaces (whether extant buildings or archaeological sites) with the culture of royal magnificence that created them and gave them their meaning.

Tudor monarchs are central to the presentation of historic royal sites including Hampton Court and the Tower of London (HRP). This project builds on a public appetite for information on the Tudors heightened by period dramas filmed at historic locations. There is also public interest in lost Tudor palaces such as Whitehall, Nonsuch, Greenwich, and the old Palace of Westminster (subject of a major AHRC project led by Cooper). Royal residences outside London (e.g. Sudeley Castle and Beaulieu Palace) and elite houses (e.g. Greys Court and the Vyne), were built by or altered for Henry VIII and possess important architectural and archaeological remains that deserve better investigation and public presentation. HRP and UoY will use their technical expertise in creating immersive experiences through virtual and augmented reality to bring venues to life for visitors by exploring existing palaces and recreating 'lost palaces' as well as aural and visual experiences of the court on progress.

Planned Impact


HRP receives in the region of 1.2 million visitors each year to Hampton Court Palace. It also has a network of many thousand members and patrons who can be drawn into the subject through public events. Those visitors who are particularly interested in the Tudors or in experiencing new heritage attractions will benefit from celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Field of Cloth of Gold (Henry VIII's immensely spectacular, large-scale expedition) including the staging of an historical reconstruction of one the enormous tents erected in June 1520, which will be open to visitors attending the Palace.


Members of the public from the north of England who are perhaps not able to attend Hampton Court or not used to visiting heritage sites and visitors to the city of York will be engaged in Tudor progresses through our pitching the replica Field of the Cloth of Gold tent (a previous AHRC project) at the centrally-located York Art Galleries. We will invite local school children and members of the public interested in historical food-tastings to experience the tent and Tudor food and drink.

The geographic reach of our impact will also be extended outside London by trialling the digital experience at some of the Tudor venues managed by our project partners (e.g. in Kent, Essex, Notts, Lincs, Wilts, Hants, Gloucs, Oxon). This will similarly provide a new understanding to those who are already interested in heritage sites and draw them into the subject of Henry VIII's progresses.


Visitors to HRP/UoY websites will have their attention drawn to a special section where they will be able to view the various destinations and venues of 'Henry on Tour' through an interactive digital map of all the documented routes. (The specification will be constructed by UoY). It will enable them to learn about their significance for Henry and his court and allow browsers to compare the sixteenth century venue with its present day counterpart. It will link to other sites hosted by our project partners (e.g. National Trust, English Heritage, Historic Houses Association), the volume of whose internet visitor usage is significant, and in time will be developed into a mobile app. The app would be a mobile version of the online map, combining multimedia and GPS, which will benefit users as they will be able to interact while visiting the actual sites.


Our workshops will be beneficial for professional curators at museums, galleries and country houses and have an immediate impact on curatorial practice and heritage management in their respective field by considering in detail how Henry's progresses can be interpreted and presented in regional venues, especially where Tudor architecture or Tudor presence is not visible or presented to visitors, but also in established Tudor bastions such as Hampton Court Palace and The Tower of London, places where the absence of the monarch is not intuitively considered. The focus on solutions for how we can digitally map portrayal of Henry VIII's progresses, convey lost architecture, digitally curate material objects, re-create the processions and festive drama in different venues, will have a broader benefit in that it will consequently affect the perceptions and emotions/responses of visitors to these organisations in the longer term.


A community of York-based teachers and students will convene through the auspices of the UoY History Dept and the Historical Association to explore ways of digitally recreating elements of the Tudor legacy (outside the sphere of Hampton Court). This will be a test bed for how these could be interpreted, displayed and shared digitally in the most innovative ways. This will ensure the project includes future generations of scholars and curators, inspiring them for potential careers in these sectors.


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Description First Workshop: Interrogating Progresses 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact 20 participants met at Hampton Court Palace to explore issues connected with the project that would set the agenda for future workshops and assist in the formulation of a larger research project. The day's events included some brief presentations, roundtable discussions, sparking questions and further discussion in a plenary session. The broad scope of the subject became apparent but also the need to be thinking outward with other disciplines such as the digital humanities, musicians, anthropologists, architects, literary scholars. The workshop revealed significant opportunities for public engagement and community work to be done.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019