Henry VIII on Tour: Landscape, Communities and Performance

Lead Research Organisation: Historic Royal Palaces
Department Name: Curators


The Tudor period captivates modern audiences. Henry VIII's reign (1509-47) fascinates as much for its architectural magnificence and courtly splendour, its music, masques, tournaments and hunting parties as it does for its political machinations and religious controversies. 2022 marks the quincentenary of Henry's spectacular progress around southern England with Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. It is also the platinum jubilee of HM Queen Elizabeth II, who in 2019 (in accord with her royal duties) carried out a staggering 295 public engagements around the country. It is an opportune moment not only to assess Tudor royal progresses, but to reflect on what monarchy and its visibility means in the 21st century.

In a personal monarchy, a fundamental questions was the location of the king at any one time, which surprisingly we do not always know for Henry VIII. Building on a one-year AHRC Research Network, Henry VIII on Tour 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. By mapping all known progress venues and charting changes in duration, regional location and accommodation through successive phases of the reign, our project establishes a full itinerary for Henry VIII for the first time, significantly enhancing historians' understanding of the purpose of royal progresses and their impact on 16th century political and religious culture. Examining specific progresses from each decade (1511, 1522, 1535 and 1541) we will determine how they can be understood and reinterpreted within the context of the ideals and challenges of statecraft in the early modern period. Wherever possible we consider queenship in parallel with kingship, highlighting Henry's queens as independent actors in the performance of progresses, religious devotions and hunting expeditions. We will also explore how the logistics of 'performing' progresses can reveal hidden histories of understudied groups and communities and 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 facing financial difficulties and a crisis of identity following prolonged closure and uncertainty as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. We will therefore use Henry VIII's progresses 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 will 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 coming together of digital heritage and archival research can tell new stories, pose and answer innovative research questions, and inspire greater curiosity about local places.


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