The Tudor Travel Guide

Your Visitor's Companion to the Aristocratic Houses of the Sixteenth Century

Recently, I had a ‘stop-me-dead-in-my-tracks’ moment. A delicious fluttering of excitement crept over me, the kind I get when I know I have ‘discovered’ something to do with Tudor history that I had known nothing of beforehand. I love these very personal discoveries; they make me look again; they often help me consider things from an angle that I had paid little attention to before. Thus it was, just a couple of weeks ago, when I came across ‘The Three Brothers’ (sometimes known as ‘The Three Bretheren’). It was once one of, if not THE, most coveted jewel in Renaissance Europe.

A sketch of The Three Brothers jewel
Miniature painting of The Three Brothers jewel, commissioned by the city of Basel around 1500. It is drawn on a 1:1 scale.

What was ‘The Three Brothers’ Jewel?

Before I talk about the fascinating history of the jewel, let me describe to you what all the fuss was about. Well, this was one serious piece of ‘bling’! Eminent English art historian, Sir Roy Strong, describes it as ‘the most famous and romantic’ of the Tudor and Stuart Crown Jewels. Thankfully, because ‘The Three Brothers’ was so well-known, it was extremely well described and, over its lifetime, was detailed in several separate inventories.

The first of these was in the inventory of one of its earliest, and most distinguished, owners: Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy (1396-1467). He ruled over Burgundy (a part of France) in the first half of the fifteenth century. By the way, while a sophisticated patron of the arts, he was also the bloke who captured Joan of Arc and sold her to the English, who promptly tried her for heresy and, of course, burned her to death. Charming! Anyway, his inventory, written in old French, reads:

‘Un tris bon et riche fermail, garni au milieu d’un tris gros et grant dymant, d pointe, et entour icellui sont les iii bons et groz balaiz quarrez nommez les iii frdres, assez, g jour, et trois bien grosses et fines perles entre les diz balaiz. Auquel fermail pend un tris grosse et fine perle en facon de poire.’ This can be translated as” ‘A very fine and rich buckle, adorned in the middle with a very big pointed diamond, and around this are three fine square balas stones called the three brothers, and three sizable fine pearls in between these. Under this buckle hangs a very large fine pearl in the shape of a pear.’

A picture of a medieval scenes of a kneeling man presenting a book to Philip the Good.
Philip the Good is presented with a book.

Essentially, three glorious rubies, which were called ‘The Three Brothers’ on account of their being almost exactly the same size and weight, were set around a huge, pointed, central diamond. Philip the Good had then added four magnificent pearls; three were set in between the rubies and one hanging down from the jewel. Towards the end of its known life, in 1623, a letter written by the hand of the Treasurer of James I’s household states that even then ‘The Three Brothers’ was estimated to be worth £7000. But what of its history? Where did it come from? How did it end up in the English Crown Jewels and critically, what happened to it?

The Mesmerising Tale of a Stupendous Jewel…

Whenever you find a jewel which has a name, you know that the story behind its existence is going to be a fascinating one. On this count, ‘The Three Brothers’ delivers and leaves us with an agonising unsolved mystery as to its current whereabouts. We know that the jewel was created at the close of the fourteenth century, (1389 to be exact), by a Parisian goldsmith Herman Ruissel. Philip the Good’s father, John the Fearless, had commissioned the jewel and when he was assassinated in 1419, it was inherited by his son. As the Burgundian Court was known to be one of the most lavish and sophisticated courts in Europe, it is perhaps not surprising that Duke John should commission such an extravagant piece.

Towards the end of his life, Philip faced revolt on one of his borders and the Burgundian state entered into three sieges with the town of Liege (in modern-day Belgium), who wanted nothing to do with Burgundian Rule. Philip’s troops, led by his son, Charles the Bold, most often had the upper hand and enacted some horrendous atrocities in the process. However, during the second siege of 1467, the Burgundian forces were defeated. The victorious Swiss side captured the Burgundian camp, making off with a huge amount of booty, which Charles apparently habitually carried with him to war. This included ‘The Three Brothers’, as well as another enduring gem, the ‘Scancy Diamond’, (which we may well talk about in another blog). Strong describes how ‘the pendant [then] passed by devious means, along with other famous jewels, into the hands of the magistrates of the town of Basle’.

A portrait of a sixteenth century man - Jacob Fugger
Jacob Fugger owned ‘The Three Brothers’ from 1505 until he sold it to Edward VI in 1551

It was not until some 40 years later when old wounds had been at least partially healed, that the Basle magistrates dared to put these looted goods up for sale. In a sixteenth-century version of a sales catalogue, a drawing of the jewel was made around the turn of the sixteenth century (see the image at the top of this article). It allowed potential buyers to preview the goods on offer. At this point, the jewel was sold to the filthy-rich Auschburg banking family: the Fuggers, who bought it and subsequently retained possession of the jewel for another 50 years.

‘The Three Brothers’ Comes to England

Vainglorious and covetous, Henry VIII was never one to be knowingly surpassed by others in terms of wealth and grandeur. At some point, it is thought that the King of England’s sights became set on purchasing ‘The Three Brothers’ for himself. The evidence of this desire seems to come from a letter, written in Antwerp and dated December 1544. It is clear that an intermediary of the Fuggers, called Jasper Dowche, was preparing to bring a smorgasbord of plate and jewels to Henry for his choosing. The suggestion is that this included our jewel. According to Roy Strong, the details of the transaction are ‘obscure’. Jasper seems to have been lily-livered when it came to the idea of crossing the English Channel in December – and having done that in a storm myself, I can’t blame him! However, death would eventually intervene to ensure Henry VIII never got his hands on one of the most desired jewels in Europe. That pleasure would fall to his son, Edward VI.

A portrait of King Edward VI of England, who bought The Three Brothers for the English Crown Jewels.
Edward VI acquired ‘The Three Brothers’ for the English Crown Jewels in 1551

In May 1551, the deal was complete and ‘The Three Brothers’ became part of the English Crown jewels. It is listed as one of the jewels delivered to the new Queen, Mary I, on 20 September 1553, just prior to her coronation on 1 October. I suspect Mary was selecting what jewels she might wear to dazzle the court and foreign onlookers over the course of coronation festivities! However, it is not until the reign of Elizabeth that the jewel is seen more clearly – and in all its splendour. Perhaps it was a favourite of Elizabeth’s, as she is seen wearing it not only in two portraits of her, but it is proudly displayed on the carved marble effigy of Elizabeth on her tomb at Westminster Abbey.

As with Mary, the jewel also appears in a list, this time apparently delivered to a Mary Radclyffe, a Gentlewoman of the Queen’s Bedchamber, for safe-keeping, in 1587. It is described as ‘a faier flower with three great ballaces and in the middest, a great pointed diamonde with three great pearles, sett with a faier great pendaunt pearle. Called the Brethren‘.

A trio of pictures showing Elizabeth I adorned with The Three Brothers Jewel.
Elizabeth I wears the Three Brothers in two portraits and on her Westminster Abbey tomb.

With Elizabeth’s death, the new Stuart King, James I of England, inherited ‘The Three Brothers’ from his Tudor predecessor. Magically, this jewel’s glory is captured for the final time in a rather austere looking portrait of the king (see below). In this case, the jewel has been transformed into a rather ostentatious hat pin. Standing on its own, set against the king’s plain, black hat, it can be seen with the greatest clarity. Roy Strong notes that in 1606, it was one of the jewels that were designated never to be ‘alienated from the Crown’. Sadly, this was not enough to preserve its future as part of the English Crown Jewels – as we shall shortly see.

Adventure lay ahead for the jewel! In the 1620s, ‘The Three Brothers’ was to play a part in a covert operation that would see the future Charles I vie for the hand in marriage of a Spanish infanta. The jewel was reset ahead of Charles incognito adventure across France and into Spain. It was meant to ‘wow’ the Spanish King, Philip IV, as well as Charles’ potential bride. In the letter referred to at the outset of this blog, we read about the process of resetting the jewel, alongside another fine description of its appearance:

‘…yesternight he brought me the great pointed diamond to see, which he took out of the jewell called the Brethren, which he commendeth to be the most compleat stone that ever he sawe, and farr to excell the pointed ringe diamant which the Kinge wearethe at his chaine, the beauty wherof was before obscured, by beinge too much covered with the gold, which he will nowe amend, in the newe settinge of it, and he doth value the same to be worth seven thousand poundes.’

A portrait of Jame I of England, wearing The Three Brothers Jewel in his hat.
King James I of England

Although reset, apparently the jewel retained its form, simply adhering to the Stuart fashion for placing more emphasis on revealing the size and appearance of the jewels. And if you want to hear some seventeenth-century advice about what jewels you might wear to impress any future suitor, then a letter from James I to his son, Charles, explains how the 22-year-old should wear ‘The Three Brothers’ for maximum impact…’and I send you for youre wearing the Three Brethren that you knowe full well, but newlie sette; and the Mirroure of Fraunce, the fellowe of the Portugall Dyamont, whiche I wolde wishe you to weare alone in your hatte with a litle blakke feather.’ Basically, just like his father in the portrait above!

Unfortunately, for the Stuart dynasty, trouble was brewing across England’s green and pleasant land. The Crown was beginning to sink into debt and would eventually descend into war with the English Government, led by Oliver Cromwell. Charles first sold the jewel in the Netherlands shortly thereafter, in 1625, only to reclaim it over a decade later in 1639. However, by the 1640s, at the height of the English Civil War, the Crown was in desperate need of funds. King Charles I dispatched his wife to the continent in order to pawn some of the royal jewellery. She arrived in the Hague in March 1642, but despite her efforts to sell ‘The Three Brothers’, a buyer could not be found.

By 1644, the Civil War was raging in England and Henrietta Maria finally fled to Paris for safety. One of her immediate tasks was to raise money to support her husband and the royalist army in their quest to defeat the Parliamentarian forces. It is around this time that the jewel was finally sold. After 1645 it is never heard of again. And so, a great medieval jewel, which touched the lives of several icons of their time, a jewel which passed from one great noble family to another, finally fell victim to war. Doubtless, we shall never know what happened to ‘The Three Brothers’, once the most coveted and expensive jewels in all of Europe.

Welcome to the Tudor History & Travel Show: Travel Essentials!

This is a new addition to The Tudor History & Travel Show for 2021. it is specifically for all you Tudor time-travellers out there who want inspiration for your Tudor road-trip. We will be answering your most pressing travel-related questions and provide top tips for making the most of your time here in the UK, including uncovering the best historic places to stay, quintessentially English pubs and tea rooms to satisfy your thirst for all things English and to bring you the latest Tudor-themed events, both virtual and real, from up and down the country…These show notes are intended to complement the podcast and will capture all the links and contact details you need to plan your trip. So, let’s get going! 

When to Travel to the UK for your Tudor-Themed Vacation…

This comes down ultimately to personal preference but you might want to factor in the following:

Seasons: Of course, not many people come to the UK for the weather, but it is best to know what to expect. Here, things can be tricky as one of the certainties about British weather is that it is unpredictable! You could have a warm and sunny day in February or March and in June it could be cold and rainy. However, as you would expect for the northern hemisphere, the colder months are Oct-March, leaving April to September to be, on the whole, warmer and drier. Our advice would always be to bring layers, a light waterproof coat and an umbrella!

Two of the prettiest months to travel are May and June, when there is a profusion of flowers and English gardens, famous for their beauty, look at their finest.

Remember, some historic locations close for 1-3 months over the winter to do a deep clean and complete restoration work. Check out the individual web sites of places you really want to visit. There is nothing more disappointing than coming half the way across the world to find somewhere is closed!

Daylight hours: During winter, it is light from around 8 am to 3.30 pm. Compare this to the height of summer, in June, when it gets light around 3.30 am and dark at 10 pm at night. Now that is a lot of extra sight-seeing time and some places will remain open longer in the summer season. During this season, it is not uncommon for parks to be ‘open until dusk’.

A profusion of roses on a bush growing over the ruins of an abbey wall.
Jervaulx Abbey Ruins in Summer.

School and Bank Holidays: Travelling outside of school holidays can mean cheaper prices and that historic buildings, and cultural sites, are less busy. However on the flip side, in some of the most popular locations like Hever Castle and Hampton Court, you are likely to encounter large school parties visiting during term time. In smaller places like Hever, for example, this can really affect the ‘vibe’.

The long summer holiday here in the UK runs from mid-July until early September. Holidays vary a little though between England and Scotland, in particular, but if you have a postcode, a site like this one (run by the English government), will tell you when the school holidays are in any given year.

Similarly, bank holidays are often wrapped around school holidays. Outside of Chrismas and Easter, in England, the bank holidays are at the beginning and end of May and the end of August. You can check English Bank Holidays here and Scottish Bank Holidays here. The upside of travelling during school holidays is that special events are often scheduled around these times, including special re-enactment events at the likes of Hampton Court Palace or Kentwell, or jousting at places like Hever Castle or Dover Castle, will all be scheduled for the major bank holidays.

Recommended Places to Stay: West Stow Hall, Suffolk

One of the great things about travelling in the UK is that not only can you go and visit fantastic historic locations – you can often find places to stay which are equally steeped in history – and finding such a place, one that combines history with comfort and great hospitality, can really add the icing to the cake. 

A picture of a Tudor gatehouse set in and English garden.

Links to the locations mentioned in the podcast:

West Stow Hall. If you want to see images and my blog about West Stow Hall, follow this link.

If you want to buy my digital guide, ‘Your Weekend Away…in Suffolk’ click here to visit my shop.

Framlingham Castle and the Howard Tombs in Framlingham Church

Thetford Priory, managed by English Heritage

Westhorpe Hall (now a privately run nursing home, so approach respectfully and knock on the door to request permission to look at the few visible remains of the house facing the garden. The imprint of the moat and stone bridge crossing it remain).

The Abbey of Bury St Edmunds

Tudor-Themed Events Coming Up…

Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King exhibition

‘Immerse yourself in Tudor history as we reunite stunning works of art, gold, weapons, manuscripts and clothing from the Field of Cloth of Gold, Henry VIII’s legendary encounter with his great rival François I of France.’ from HRP Website.

Image of a tapestry showing  two men wrestling and watched by onlookers.
The 1520 tapestry to be displayed at the exhibition for the first time.

When: 1 April 2021-5 September 2021

Where: Hampton Court Palace

Price: Included in cost of palace admission (members of Historic Royal Palaces go free)

The exhibition is being staged at the palace and includes some treasured items that are directly related to the event including, the spectacular Stonyhurst vestments — woven from luxurious cloth of gold and selected by Henry for use at the religious services held near Calais and Wolsey’s Book of Hours. Also, a unique tapestry will go on public display for the first time in its history. It was manufactured in Tournai in the 1520s, the richly woven textile depicts a bout of wrestling at the Field of Cloth of Gold.

Do check out all the latest via the events page at HRP

The Historical Association (Bristol Branch)

This event is for members ONLY: Membership costs £40 a year, circa US$50-55. Membership can be purchased online here.

Date: 24th February 2021 7.30pm

Venue: Online

How to book: Contact Rob Pritchard


Description: Henry VII is the least glamourous of the Tudors and in 1485 seemed unlikely to found a dynasty. Dr Sean Cunningham Principal Archivist at the National Archive and Penguin biographer of Henry VII uncovers how he founded a dynasty

The Katherine of Aragon Festival at Peterborough Cathedral

Date: 29 January 2021(Annual event)

Where: Online

Cost: £5 per person

Where to book: Book your tickets online here.

Remember, this is your port of call for any questions you might have about travelling to and around the UK and visiting your favourite Tudor places. If you want a specific topic tackled, you can contact the show by sending me a message at, or if you have a recommendation for a place to stay, why not let me know about that, or even better come on the show and tell your Tudor time travellers all about it!  

Middleham Castle sits in the wide-open, rugged and beautiful landscape of North Yorkshire, about 230 miles north of London and 45 miles northwest of York. It was recounted by Tudor antiquary, John Leyland, as ‘a pretty market town, and standith on a rocky hill, on the top whereof is the castle meately welle dyked with the castle joynith hard to the toun side on the south’. He also described the terrain approaching Middleham as ‘difficult and rocky moorland with few trees in sight’. Even today, 500 years later, as you drive through the Dales, you feel that sense of open, expansiveness and endless fields, marked out by the criss-crossing of dry stone walls.

Another early account of Middleham Castle comes from Francis Grose, author of ‘The Antiquities of England and Wales’ in the late eighteenth century. He noted that Middleham stood just 7 miles from another, historic, northern castle: Bolton (where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned in the 1560s). He believed Middleham had the superior advantage of more distinctly commanding the wood; the finely scattered villages, and the lazy progress of the River Ure through spacious meads (or meadows), on the eastern part of Wensleydale.

The ruins of the chapel at Middleham Castle
Looking towards the chapel and countryside beyond Middleham

A Brief History of Middleham Castle

Although Middleham Castle was not to be used by the Tudors, it was one of the principal homes of Richard III. In the run-up to the decisive Battle of Bosworth, in which Henry Tudor would finally seize the crown from the Yorkist King, Richard would reside at the castle. His only son and heir, the so-called ‘Edward of Middleham’ would live and die there. Middleham is a castle which grew out of the Norman conquest of England, its wooden structure being replaced by the current stone castle in the twelfth century.

However, it would not be until the fourteenth century, under the powerful Neville family, that the castle would reach its pinnacle. After the massive central keep was constructed in around 1170, the subsequent 300 years saw intermittent modernisation and improvements to the castle. These included the raising of the castle’s curtain walls and the construction of a series of lodgings built inside and around three sides of the courtyard. It is suggested these improvements were inspired by a building project going on at nearby Bolton Castle. After realising the new innovations in castle architecture there, the Nevilles arguably set out to emulate this and improve the facilities at Middleham.

The entrance to Middleham Castle
Modern day entrance to Middleham Castle, known as ‘Neville Gate’

As today’s castle ruins are extensive, we can form accurate reconstructions of how the Neville’s formidable Wensleydale home looked. Essentially, a massive central square keep dominated the castle site. A central dividing wall created two parallel chambers, much the same as you can see surviving at Dover Castle today. On the ground floor were the kitchens and service offices. The great hall was on the first floor, accessed by an external staircase that clung to the eastern wall of the keep.

Within the keep on either side of the central divide were two chambers, the Great Chamber to the south leading to a more private, inner chamber to the north. A chapel was sited adjacent to the great hall, again at first floor level (so it could be accessed from the Lord’s principle first floor chambers). Externally, this chapel could be seen protruding from the keep’s east wall, next to the main entrance to the castle’s inner courtyard. Throughout the castle’s history, the keep served as the main focus for entertainment, around which life at the castle revolved.

The single and paired lodgings ran around the north, south and west walls of the castle’s curtain wall and provided accommodation of varying status to serve the Lord’s household, friends and guests. All with garderobe facilities and fireplaces, they provided the height of medieval luxury and comfort.

Those lodgings on the first floor were taller than the ones beneath, again highlighting their superior status – and thus were used by the most senior persons occupying the castle. One of these first floor lodgings on the south side was particularly grand, with its own hall. The suite could only be accessed via an elevated, covered bridge leading from the keep. The close communication between the keep and these first floor guest lodgings suggests that only the most honoured guests would make use of such accommodation –  similar to being given the penthouse suite at a modern hotel! Architectural historian, Anthony Emery, makes the statement in his ‘Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales’ books that the layout and grandeur of the castle’s lodgings made a ‘rich architectural statement’ about the graded high quality accommodation required for a leading, landed magnate of early fifteenth century England.

The ruins of Middleham Castle
Remains of the central keep with the great hall at first floor level.

In April 1537, after the Pilgrimage of Grace, orders were given to repair Middleham Castle ‘to receive the king’ – Henry VIII. However, he never stayed at the castle or went anywhere near it during his 1541 Progress. Nevertheless, the castle was surveyed in 1538, perhaps in preparation for such a visit. Many distinct rooms are listed in the inventory, but perhaps most interesting is the mention of a nursery in the south-west corner tower of the keep. Although there is no distinct proof, it is reputed to be where Edward of Middleham was raised.

Modern statue of Richard III, Middleham Castle
Modern statue of Richard III, who grew up at Middleham Castle

Family ties led to Richard III’s association with the castle. His cousin, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, (popularly known as ‘The King Maker’) was instrumental in helping Edward, Richard III’s brother and Earl of March, ascend the throne in 1461. After defeating Lancastrian armies, Edward IV deposed King Henry VI. 

When his elder brother became king, the future Richard III was around 9 years old. He was sent to live in the Earl of Warwick’s household at Middleham in 1465 in order to receive an education befitting an aristocratic gentleman. As Warwick was considered one of the most accomplished military leaders of his day, this would be a fine education indeed. However, Richard Neville fell out with his cousin in 1467, and Edward IV was briefly imprisoned at Middleham before escaping while out hunting in one of its parks. Richard Neville was later defeated and killed by Edward’s army at the Battle of Barnet in 1471. Richard III became Richard of Gloucester and was given the estates of Middleham and another enormous property, Sheriff Hutton Castle, just outside York.

The ruins of Middleham Castle
Remains of the Great Hall at Middleham Castle

A year later, Richard III married Neville’s younger daughter, Anne, and Middleham remained an important base for the new duke. Anne gave birth to their only child at Middleham Castle, who, as we have heard, was thereafter known as ‘Edward of Middleham’. He was raised at the castle and lived to see his parents crowned King and Queen of England before his death at Middleham in April 1484.

The Croyland Chronicle, an important source of English Medieval history, details the event: ‘In the month of April, on a day not very far distant from the anniversary of king Edward, this only son of his, in whom all the hopes of the royal succession…was seized with an illness of but short duration, and died at Middleham Castle…On hearing the news of this, at Nottingham, where they were then residing, you might have seen his father and mother in a state almost bordering on madness, by reason of their sudden grief..’

In the meantime, when Richard III was slain at Bosworth in August 1485, all his estates, including Middleham were forfeited to the Crown. Richard’s death knell was shared by one of his favourite residences and, thereafter, the castle fell into disuse. Middleham’s substantial ruins represent a crucial epicentre of the York’s last stand in England in the War of the Roses and are well-worth including on your travel itinerary.

The ruins of the chapel at Middleham Castle
The remains of the chapel

The Middleham Jewel

It is impossible to talk about Middelham Castle without touching upon one of the treasures of Medieval England, which was plucked out of the earth close to the castle. This is the so-called ‘Middleham Jewel’, which was found not far from a footpath that connected Jervaulx Abbey to Coverham Abbey and which ran through Middleham.

The front of the Middleham Jewel pendant
The front of the pendant

Found in 1985, and initially sold at auction for £1.3 million, it was subsequently saved for the nation as it was deemed by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art to be of outstanding cultural importance. Thankfully, it was purchased by the Yorkshire Museum, in York, where you can see it on display to this day.

This 600 year-old object is so exquisite, it is beguiling. I defy you not to stand and gawp in wonder as you ponder on the lady who once wore this around her neck, probably as a pendant upon a necklace. Such pieces of jewellery were fashionable in the second half of the fifteenth century, when ladies wore gowns with low cut necklines.

The jewel is lozenge-shaped and measures 46mm high and 48mm wide. It is made of gold, which has been ornately engraved with the Trinity on one side and scenes of the Nativity on the rear. A large sapphire is displayed on the front side and at one point, pearls were attached around the edge, although these have since been lost. A Latin inscription, which was once enameled (you can still see a tiny fragment of enamelling surviving on the first letter – ‘E’) reads, Ecce agnus dei qui tollis peccata mundi miserere nobis tetragrammaton ananizapta. (Behold the Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world). This runs around the border on the front side of the jewel, while images of 15 saints occupy the same border on the reverse of the pendant.

Old Cheapside

It is believed that the Middleham jewel was made in England, probably commissioned from a goldsmith in Cheapside (if you want to find out more about the goldsmiths of Cheapside, listen to this podcast with Natasha Awais-Dean, a Tudor jewellery expert). It’s attribution to the work of an English goldsmith is at least in part because of the appearance of St George, the Patron Saint of England, as one of the 15 saints on the rear of the jewel.

While the religious iconography of the Middleham Jewel is clear, we should also remember that at the time this pendant was commissioned by its wealthy owner, precious metals and gemstones were selected specifically on account of properties thought to confer upon the wearer certain types of protection or good fortune. Gold was believed to be advantageous to health, while the sapphire ‘protects the body, can release captives from prison and inclies God to hear favourably the prayers of the wearer. It promotes peace and reconciliation, can arrest internal heat and excessive sweating and is good for ulcers, eyes and headaches’.

The rear of the Middleham Jewel, showing the Nativity.

The last two words of the inscription Tetragrammaton and Ananizapata. The former denotes the four Hebrew letters used to indicate the name of God. Ananizapata is a word which has magical connotations; during the medieval period it was believed to protect against drunkenness and epilepsy; this was known at the time as the ‘falling sickness’. Taken altogether, the inscription alongside the gemstone suggests that its owner was concerned with matters relating to their health and looked to it for protection against illness.

The final aspect of the Middleham Jewel that we need to consider are its contents. For the panel on the back can be slid open to reveal a hidden compartment. When the jewel was discovered, the pendant was found to contain three-and-a-half small roundels of silk, embroidered with gold thread. According to John Cherry’s book The Middleham Jewel and Ring these were ‘clearly of great importance to the owner of the jewel and were revered as relics’.

There is little doubt that along with its magical properties to protect against illness, whoever owned the pendant was devoutly religious. It is believed that the pendant may have originally been an Agnus Dei; a container which housed a round wax seal stamped with the image of the Lamb of God. These seals were given out by the Pope on Easter Sunday – some being sent abroad to be given as gifts to important persons. They were greatly valued by women in relation to pregnancy as it was believed that such Agnus Deis would patient the life of the mother and child.

Richard III with Anne Neville spent a good deal of time at Middleham Castle: did the Middleham Jewel belong to Anne?

And on that latter point, frustratingly, we cannot pinpoint with certainty who owned the jewel. Clearly this was an exceptional wealthy and pious lady, who lived in the second half of the fifteenth century. Perhaps this woman was concerned about health and the safe delivery of children. Given that Middleham was the main base of the Neville family, including Anne Neville, after her marriage to the future Richard III, perhaps it even belonged to her? Frustratingly, we will never know, but it is delicious to ponder the possibility as we gaze upon the locket today, fittingly preserved on Yorkshire soil, where it had lain quietly undiscovered for over 500 years.


‘Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales – The North’ by Anthony Emery.

Itinerary’ by John Leyland.

A History of the County of York North Riding: Volume 1‘, originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1914.

Ingulph’s Chronicle of the Abbey of Croyland: with the continuations by Peter of Blois and anonymous writers‘, Bohn’s Antiquarian Library. Translated by Riley, Henry T. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854.

The Antiquities of England and Wales‘ by Francis Grose, London: S Hooper, 1785-87.

English Heritage, Middleham Castle

Yorkshire Museum

On 7 January 1535, a beleaguered Katherine of Aragon died at Kimbolton Castle in Cambridgeshire. She had spent the final years of her eventful life in exile, abandoned by her husband, Henry VIII, on account of the king’s quest for a legitimate son and heir. Katherine’s is a sorry tale and her end at Kimbolton Castle, after several months of declining health, was brightened only by the determination of two of her staunchest allies and friends, Maria de Salinas and Eustace Chapuys, to be by her side at the end. This blog tells the story of Katherine at her final residence of Kimbolton Castle, before her death on a cold winter’s morning, on what would turn out to be one of the most eventful years in Tudor history.

A New Act is Passed…

The 23 March 1534 was a momentous day in Tudor history. A new Act of Succession was passed in England. This effectively placed Princess Elizabeth as heir to the throne and declared Katherine’s daughter, Mary, a bastard. For those who had stoically stood firm in Katherine’s support, these were increasingly dangerous times, for a proclamation issued on 30 March, stated that ‘…concerning the King’s divorce from the lady Katharine, princess Dowager, late wife to Prince Arthur, and his marriage with princess lady Aune [Anne], who has been crowned; which have taken place with the assent of Parliament and Convocation. Any person doing anything to the hindrance or derogation of the proceedings, &c. in the said divorce and marriage will incur the penalties of the statute of provision and præmunire made 16 Ric[hard]. II.

A portrait of a woman said to be Katherine of Aragon
Katherine of Aragon

It was now a treasonable offence to assert Katherine’s title of queen. In addition, just to drive the point home, Henry had decreed that all faithful subjects swear an oath to recognize this Act, as well as acknowledging the king’s supremacy. Those who refused to do so would pay for it with their life, forfeiting their goods to the Crown. As these dramatic events unfolded in London, Katherine arrived at Kimbolton Castle.

A History of Kimbolton Castle

Situated about half a dozen miles west of Buckden, and therefore further from the Fens, Kimbolton was a preferable location for the woman who was, by that time, battling constant ill-health. Although termed ‘castle’, by the 1530s, the thirteenth-century medieval fortress that we might associate with the term had long been abandoned. In its place, a rectangular courtyard house had been built by the Bohun family in the mid to late fourteenth century.

The site of this new house was, according to Emery’s Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales, ‘considerably to the west’ of the original ‘fortlet’. In the fifteenth century, the property passed into the hands of the mighty Buckingham family. Anne Neville, wife of the 1st Duke of Buckingham lived there after her husband’s death in 1460, doing much to rebuild the inner court. However, it is from the inventory of the castle at the time of the 3rd Duke of Buckingham’s attainder in May 1521 (listed in the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII) that we have most of our information about the appearance of the house Katherine would have known. In addition to the opening quote, the entry in Letters and Papers goes onto say:

There are lodgings and offices for keeping a duke’s house in stately manner; but, “by occasion of the old maintill [mantle] wall, the hall there well builded is likely to perish; and through the said castle is and will be great decay, by occasion there is no reparations done.” Outside the moat is a “convenient room for a bace [base] court, used now like a gresse [grass] close;” in it are a fair barn and goodly houses fit for stables.

A reconstruction of Kimbolton Castle
A reconstruction of Kimbolton Castle. Image © Stephen Conlin 2006, based on research by Simon Thurley. Commissioned by Country Life Magazine

Thus, it seems the house needed repair. This was duly attended to by Sir Richard Wingfield, who was granted the castle upon Buckingham’s execution. He remodelled part of it before dying prematurely in Toledo in 1525. In the 1530s, John Leland described the house as ‘double dyked and the building of it metely strong’ and that Sir Richard Wingfield had ‘built fair new galleries and lodgyns upon the foundation of the old castle’.

In spite of these changes, in the years preceding Katherine’s residence at Kimbolton, the house remained essentially unchanged in design: a central courtyard, surrounded by four wings. The entrance was from the west, which in turn was positioned directly opposite the great hall. Katherine’s apartments were contained within the south range, and so one imagines were flooded with sunlight. Off the great hall was a ‘withdrawing chamber’; this, in turn, led into a large gallery that occupied the central part of the south range. Katherine’s most private apartments were situated beyond this, in the south-west corner of the castle. The History of Huntingdon, Volume 3 states:

Next to it (the gallery) were Queen Katharine’s bedchamber and closet, which are said to have survived unaltered, but it is obvious that they had new windows and doors inserted in 1707, and apparently, other alterations have been made. The chapel and the archway adjoining it doubtless still occupy their original positions.

A watercolour image of a grand house: Kimbolton Castle
The castle after late seventeenth and early eighteenth century renovations covered up, or destroyed, the earlier Tudor building that Katherine would have known.

However, if Simon Thurley is correct, there must have been some alteration to Katherine’s apartments, for he states in a 2006 article written for Country Life that ‘In the southwest corner there was a round tower, possibly dating for the time of Geoffrey Fitzpiers, the founder of the castle on the present site’. If this assertion is correct, then this round tower no longer exists. So, if the bed chamber and closet survives, the queen’s former chambers seem to have extended into this tower. Two inventories, taken in 1642 and 1687, tell us that there were many other rooms associated with the castle: a gatehouse, stables, ‘the Castle Court,’ ‘the Dyall [Dial] Court,’ ‘the Great Garden,’ and the ‘Little Fountain Garden’. Indirectly, through Chapuys, we are left with the impression that Katherine preferred this new residence to her previous one at Buckden. In a letter dated 14 May 1534, he states: ‘She is better lodged than she was, although the house is small’.

Kimbolton Castle: Katherine’s Last Stand

On the very same day the Act of Succession was confirmed by Parliament in England, Rome finally passed sentence in Katherine’s favour with regard to the King of England’s ‘Great Matter’. In her eyes, the highest court in Christendom had spoken and Katherine was vindicated. She was the king’s ‘true wife’, as she had always maintained. Undoubtedly, this only served to augment her resolve to stand firm in the face of pressure from the king and his ‘whore’, Anne Boleyn. As her biographer, Giles Tremlett writes, ‘It should have been a monumental victory. In practice, however, it was almost worthless. Justice had arrived too late and, by doing so, became injustice….For Katherine, however, the moral and ideological victory was as important as the practical one. God was the real judge‘.

A portrait of a man, Cuthbert Tunstall
Archbishop Tunstall

Her resolve was soon put to the test – yet again. Determined to exact a submission from his thus far intransigent wife, Henry sent Archbishops Lee and Tunstall north in an attempt to bring Katherine to heel. Some sources state this happened at Buckden. However, unless there are errors in the dating of the primary source letters, this cannot be the case. The audience must have taken place at her new lodgings in Kimbolton Castle. The letter reporting on the event is dated 21 May 1534, the same day the meeting took place, and a week after Chapuys reports that Katherine had been moved to her new lodgings. The Archbishop of York was there, he said:

…to declare to her the effect of our commission, [that] —1, that you had often sent me and others of her council to declare to her the invalidity of your marriage with her; 2, that carnal knowledge, which is the great key of the matter, is sufficiently proved in the law, and admitted by some of her council; 3, that on proof of this you and she were divorced; 4, that she was thereupon admonished to give up the name of queen and not account herself your wife; 5, that you had contracted a new marriage with your dearest wife queen Anne; 6, that as fair issue is already sprung of this marriage, and more likely to follow, Parliament has made acts for the succession, and against all that would impugn it.

Katherine was incandescent as she batted away each article with self-righteous indignation; she ‘being therewith in great choler and agony, and always interrupting our words’, reported the commissioners. Stalemate prevailed.

The Prisoner of Kimbolton Castle

While at Kimbolton, it seems that Katherine remained, (by choice), largely confined to her rooms, much as she had been whilst at Buckden following the Duke of Suffolk’s visit four months earlier. Tremlett states that while at Kimbolton, ‘she was attended by a handful of servants, some ladies and her trio of faithful Spanish men – the confessor, the doctor and the apothecary’. Although increasingly frail, Katherine’s behaviour remained unyielding and increasing self-sacrificing. With so little left to lose, the idea of playing out some kind of martyrdom, (in which she seemed willing to also sacrifice her daughter), increasingly drove the Dowager Princess of Wales to lock herself away in the ‘delights and dangers’ of virtuous suffering. Tremlett goes onto say: ‘If Katherine was going to be treated like a prisoner, she was determined to live like one – and make sure people knew about it. Her room could serve as her cell, even if she had the key’.

An aerial shot of Kimbolton Castle with the gatehouse in the foreground and the main house in the background
Kimbolton Castle as it looks today

Yet amongst all this suffering, there comes one final moment of light-hearted pageantry associated with Henry’s first wife. Aware of the decline in Katherine’s health, two of her oldest friends and staunchest allies sought the required licence to visit the ‘queen’ at Kimbolton during 1534 – Maria de Salinas and the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys. Both were denied access. However, this did not deter the latter from making a very public display of Katherine’s plight. Let us allow Chapuys to speak for himself as he describes the set piece of Renaissance propaganda that he so ably orchestrated in July 1534:

…I set out with about 60 horses, both of my own men and of certain Spanish merchants here, to visit the Queen; and it happened most conveniently for my purpose that the way lay through the whole length of this town [London]. On the second day a messenger on horseback riding at full speed went before us and returned afterwards to where I lay, accompanied by an honest man sent by the Queen’s chamberlain and steward to inform me that they had received commands by the said messenger not to let me enter where the Queen was or speak with her. My answer was that I did not intend to displease the King, either in this or in anything else, but that considering the solicitations I had made to know the King’s intentions in this matter, and that I had come to within five miles of where the Queen was, I would not return so lightly… Next day early in the morning another man came to us of more authority than the first… [saying] that they did not think it advisable that I should come to the house, or even pass through the village….One of her [Katherine’s] chamber gave me to understand that, although she did not dare to declare it, he knew well she would have great pleasure if part of the company were to present themselves before the place; which they did next day, to the great consolation, as it seemed, of the ladies with the Queen, who spoke to them from the battlements and windows; and it seemed to the country people about that Messiah had come.

According to The Spanish Chronicle, when Katherine’s ladies appeared at the windows and battlements of the castle, a ‘very funny, young fellow’, a fool, jumped down from his horse and waded waist-deep into the moat, crying out that he longed to reach them. When he feigned drowning, he was pulled from the water, ripping a padlock off his hood and hurling it toward the ladies, crying out in Spanish, ‘Take this and the next time, I will bring the key!’ Much hilarity ensued, with all the Spanish entourage being offered food within the ‘lower hall’ before returning to debrief the Spanish Ambassador. There is no indication in the accounts that Katherine showed her face, but nevertheless, she must have derived enormous satisfaction and comfort from the devoted efforts of her long-time servant in highlighting her cause.

A room where Katherine of Aragon died at Kimbolton castle with chairs, a desk and portraits on the wall.
The current Headmaster Office of Kimbolton School is sited in what was part of Katherine’s chambers and reputedly where she died in 1536.

All of this must have taken place on the lawns that now surround the current building on the south side of the building, (the side of Katherine’s apartments), although the moat has long since been filled in. If the ‘lower hall’ refers to the great hall, (the only known ‘hall’ in the castle), then according to the History of the County of Huntingdon, Volume 3, this would have been sited where the current ‘White Hall’ stands but also ‘included the site of the present drawing room (once the billiard room)’.

The Death of a Spanish Queen

By December 1535, Katherine lay dying in her bedchamber. According to Chapuys, writing to Charles V two days after her death, the ‘Queen’s’ final illness…’ began about five weeks ago, as I then wrote to your Majesty, and the attack was renewed on the morrow of Christmas day. It was a pain in the stomach, so violent that she could retain no food’, and that…’ being unable to eat or sleep, except so little that it might be called nothing. She was so wasted that she could not support herself either on her feet or sitting in bed’.

Chapuys informed King Henry that she ‘was in great danger of life’. In reply to the king’s letters enquiring about Katherine’s health, her Chief Steward, Sir Edmund Bedingfield wrote to Cromwell on the 31 December 1535, saying: ‘Considering her weakness, she cannot long continue, if the sickness remains. The doctor moved her to take other advice, but she answered that she would in no wise have any other physician, but only commit herself to the pleasure of God.’

Henry put Katherine aside to pursue his new love, Anne Boleyn.

Chapuys had finally been given leave to go to Katherine and was at her side for four days, arriving on New Year’s Eve, the same day the above letter was dispatched. Seeing her recover somewhat, the Spanish Ambassador wrote retrospectively that: ‘I, therefore, took leave of her on Tuesday evening (4th January), leaving her very cheerful; and that evening I saw her laugh two or three times, and about half an hour after I left her she desired to have some pastime with one of my men “que fait du plaisant.

Just days earlier, Maria de Salinas had also finally forced her way into the castle by employing a potent cocktail of charm and the ability to evoke pity in Katherine’s custodians. She attended her former mistress, passing time as the two friends conversed for many hours in Katherine’s native, Castilian tongue. Knowing that the end was fast drawing near, Katherine summoned one of her ladies and dictated her final letter to Henry. Here it is in full:

My most dear lord, King and husband,

The hour of my death now drawing on, the tender love I ouge [owe] thou forceth me, my case being such, to commend myselv to thou, and to put thou in remembrance with a few words of the healthe and safeguard of thine allm [soul] which thou ougte to preferce before all worldley matters, and before the care and pampering of thy body, for the which thoust have cast me into many calamities and thineselv into many troubles. For my part, I pardon thou everything, and I desire to devoutly pray God that He will pardon thou also. For the rest, I commend unto thou our doughtere Mary, beseeching thou to be a good father unto her, as I have heretofore desired. I entreat thou also, on behalve of my maides, to give them marriage portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all mine other servants I solicit the wages due them, and a year more, lest they be unprovided for. Lastly, I makest this vouge [vow], that mine eyes desire thou aboufe all things.

Katharine the Quene.

‘Katharine the Quene’. Katherine, just as Anne Boleyn once said, always had the final word in her quarrels with Henry, this time asserting her God-given place as Henry’s real wife and consort in her last letter to him. Katherine of Aragon died in Maria’s arms at 2 pm on Friday 7 January 1536. Eight hours later, her body was opened in a secret autopsy, before the provision was made for the ‘bowelling, coring, and enclosing [of] the corpse in lead’. Letters and Papers also state that ‘lights and other things [should be put] about the corpse, in the house, or the next church or chapel’. As Katherine’s body rested at Kimbolton for around three weeks, it is likely that the leaded coffin was kept by candlelight in the chapel of the castle, next to Katherine’s privy chambers. The chapel still survives to this day, although greatly altered in the sweeping remodelling of Kimbolton undertaken by the architect, John Vanbrugh, at the turn of the eighteenth century. And so ended a life of great struggle. According to Nicolas Harpsfield’s romantic notions of Katherine: ‘She changed this woeful, troublesome existence and the serenity of a celestial life and her terrestrial ingrate husband for that heavenly spouse who will never divorce her, and with whom she will reign in glory forever.’

Visitor Information

Although the external appearance of Kimbolton Castle has changed out of all recognition from the sixteenth century, its footprint essentially remains unchanged. In fact, the imposing view of the castle from the end of the High Street, near the church, has been essentially unaltered since the medieval period. Today the castle is home to a private school and generally is not accessible to the general public. Happily, the school has two open days a year; the first during the first Sunday in March and the second on the first Sunday in November. During that time there is access to all parts of the castle relevant to Katherine’s story, including to the room in which she died.

The Ruins of Rievaulx Abbey

This blog is adapted from an ‘on-location’ interview for my podcast, The Tudor History & Travel Show, recorded at Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire. Our guide is Michael Carter, a senior properties curator at English Heritage. He specialises in English Monasticism and the Cistercian order. Read through to the end to find out Michael’s top recommendations for the best monastic ruins to visit in England, as well as where to see the few treasures which survive from the great age of medieval monasticism. If you wish to listen to the podcast, you can do so by listening here or via most of the major podcast platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music, Podbean or Google Podcasts.

Listen to the conversation in full here

Show Notes: Introduction

In 1132, a pioneering fraternity of Cistercian monks arrived in an isolated valley, deep in the heart of the Yorkshire countryside. Their arrival, and the subsequent founding of the abbey close to the River Rye, would send shockwaves around the monasteries of Northern England and set off a chain of events that would lead to the foundation of the mighty Fountains Abbey. This latter abbey was sited only some 25 miles to the south of Rievaulx and would ultimately become the largest Cistercian Abbey in England.

The Cistercians led an austere, back-to-basics life, wearing white habits to symbolise poverty. This distinguished them from the Benedictine order, which hitherto had been the dominant form of monastic life in Europe. However, the Cistercians believed that their Benedictine brothers had become increasingly lax in their religious observances. Through their adherence to austerity and poverty, the Cistercians aimed to revive a purer interpretation of the rule of St. Benedict. The abbey at Rievaulx would be the first Cistercian monastery founded in Northern England, spearheading the establishment of the order across Northern England and Scotland.

The Founding of Rievaulx Abbey

Even today, the position of Rievaulx Abbey is utterly enchanting. It is arguably the most important Cistercian monastery in England, both architecturally and spiritually. Dating back to the twelfth-century, Abbot Aelred built a complex of buildings and founded a vision of monasticism based upon love and inclusion. Tenably the most famous and important man to be associated with Rievaulx, he was venerated here as a saint after his death in 1167.

The ruins of Rievaulx Abbey
The ruins of Rievaulx Abbey: the abbey church dominates the picture.

Locally, Rievaulx Abbey was a very important monastery, with an incredible reputation for holiness. Like many abbeys, it was deeply embedded in the local economy. At its height in the late middle ages, there was a community of around 640 people, but by the 1500s, only 30 monks lived here, a respectable number for a mid-ranking monastery like Rievaulx. However, this seemingly low number was a reflection of the changes in the monastic economy rather than any lack of monastic vocation. The monastery had moved from farming of their own lands by the Lay Brotherhood to the land being managed by tenant farmers. This drastically reduced the income of the abbey, reflecting a typical picture from around the country at that time.

Understandably, the ruins depict Cistercian monastic life. They also allow us to see the substantial changes that this living monastery went through in the run-up to what became known as the ‘Dissolution of the Monasteries’. For example, the dormitory which extended southward from the south transept of the abbey church once accommodated 140 monks; by the sixteenth-century, this had been was sectioned into private cells, reflecting improved living standards at the monastery. Even at this stage, contrary to Tudor propaganda, Rievaulx was thriving religiously, economically, and politically with its leaders being held in high regard in the Papal courts of Rome and the royal courts of England, France and Scotland.

The visitations which heralded the onset of the Dissolution were nothing new. Monasteries had always been subjected to periodical ‘visitations’ by other Abbots or Bishops, who were there to ensure that the rules of St Benedict or St Augustine were being followed according to doctrine. Furthermore, monasteries had been dissolved for a variety of reasons as far back as the thirteenth-century. In the early sixteenth-century, Thomas Wolsey had even closed a variety of lesser monasteries. The Cardinal made use of the masterful legal work of Thomas Cromwell, then in Wolsey’s service, to accomplish his aims. It would be a useful training ground for the man whose name would eventually be synonymous with the ‘Dissolution’. (If you wish to read more about Cromwell’s London home, Austin Friars, click here).

The Ruins of Rievaulx Abbey
A view south from the abbey church, looking out over the remains of the dormitory and abbot’s lodging

Today, the abbey’s chapter house, which dates to Aelred’s Abbotcy, is reduced to foundation level. It is built in a characteristic horseshoe shape, with the tombs of various Abbots of Rievaulx embedded within the footprint of the house. Abbot William, the founding Abbot, was venerated here at Rievaulx as a saint and a plaque on the wall tells us this was the shrine of Albert William from 1131-45. Aelred was also buried here, although later his remains were moved to the church.

The chapter house was a place of sanctity. Every morning the monks would gather to listen to a reading of the chapter of the rule of St. Benedict. However, it also served as an administrative centre for the Abbey. It was here that the Abbot and his brethren conducted the business of the abbey, such as the signing of contracts between the monastery and its landowners. As we shall hear shortly, it was also the place in which the papers sealing the surrender of the abbey were signed in 1538.

The chapter house also where the election of Abbots took place. In 1533, there was a much-disputed election, when the patron of the monastery and the descendant of the founder, Thomas Manners, accused the Office of Abbots, Edward Kirby, of maladministration of the house. An inquiry was convened involving other local Cistercian Abbots and Thomas Cromwell. Edward Kirby later resigned, being given a pension of £44 a year, a substantial sum for the time! The Abbot of Rufford in Nottinghamshire, a daughter house of Rievaulx, was imposed on the abbey and Roland Blyton became the Abbot of Rievaulx. The community was bitterly divided, with only eight members consenting to the legality of the election.

The timing of this debacle in 1533 and the meddling of Thomas Cromwell is significant. It is played out against the backdrop of the King seeking to end his marriage to Katherine of Aragon and the rising influence of early protestants, or Evangelicals, at court. Such Evangelicals fed Henry with the notion that monasteries were dens of papist loyalty and corruption. Although Henry remained a committed Catholic, certain aspects of the new religion suited his cause, allowing the King to free himself from the jurisdiction of the Pope and dissolve his marriage to Katherine. Despite the majority of the country being fervent Catholics, a small number of powerful influencers close to the King, such as Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell, were able to ignite the Reformation. The winds of religious change began to blow, signifying an entirely new era or a middle road, a combination of old ways and new.

The ruins of the chapter house at Rievaulx Abbey
The Chapter House

As we have already heard, monasteries like Rievaulx Abbey were deeply integrated into local society. For example, the Abbey was a big employer in the local economy. It even served as a retirement home for those who could afford the board and lodgings. Yet, momentously, on 3 December 1538, in the chapterhouse, the paperwork that would formally dissolve Rievaulx Abbey was signed by Abbot Blyton and his 29 monks; legally, Rievaulx ceased to exist.

This turn of events was the culmination of the reform that began with the lesser monasteries in the mid-1530s when an Act of Parliament to suppress the smaller monasteries was passed. This meant that those with fewer than 12 inmates, or an income of below £200 a year, were forcibly disbanded. This led to a substantial rebellion from the northern counties; incensed by the religious policies of Henry VIII, large parts of the north of England rose up against the Crown. However, the rebellion was soon put down through a combination of subversion and downright lies on behalf of the King. Crucially, though, as far as the monasteries were concerned, the involvement of a number of Abbotts from various Northern monasteries gave the King grounds to deal with the ringleaders harshly. The first ‘victim’ was Furness Abbey. Here, the Abbott, afraid for his life and those of his monks, voluntarily surrendered the monastery to the Crown. This act set a legal precedent for the Dissolution of other, larger monasteries and sealed the fate for Rievaulx.

The Dissolution was a savage and brutal process. Many intransigent Abbotts and monks who refused to bend to the will of the Crown were put to death in unspeakable ways. But it was not just the inhabitants of the monasteries who suffered. The monasteries themselves were savaged, stripped of their intrinsic cultural and spiritual value; treasures were looted and the buildings pulled down. Even John Bale, a former Carmelite monk turned devout protestant, remarked on the Dissolution era as a ‘wicked age, much given to the destruction of things memorable.’ The violence surrounding the Dissolution of the Monasteries can be seen in the scars left behind on the stone ruins at abbeys like Rievaulx.

The Church at Rievaulx Abbey

Rievaulx conforms to the layout of any Cistercian monastery, with the church being the scared heart of the monastery. The entrance from the main cloister on its south side is paved with tombstones from high society locals. In return for their generosity as benefactors of the abbey, they sought burial within the abbey in the hope that their good deeds and burial within such a sacred place would expedite their journey to heaven.

The ruins of the abbey church at Rievaulx Abbey
The Abbey Church looking towards the High Altar

There is a surviving description of the church from just after the suppression. This gives us a real sense of what the buildings, fixtures and fittings looked like and how the abbey functioned as a Cistercian monastery. The doorway from the night stairs, still surviving in the wall of south transept, shows where the monks would process to the church from their dormitory to sing the first service of the day at an ungodly 2 am!

The soaring architecture of the church is befitting one of the most important religious buildings in Northern England. The magnificent thirteenth-century extension to the church is often said to symbolise Cistercian decadence and decline from their original austerity into the base trappings of lavish architecture. However, for the monks at Rievaulx, this was no gaudy whim; it was built to house the relics of Aelred, placed above the high altar. This shrine was put in the centre of the monastic church to display the most important churchman of the twelfth-century. Indeed, his feast day on the 12 January still remains part of the Roman Catholic Anglican calendar today.

Two people in conversation looking at the ruins of a medieval sacristy
Michael and Sarah discuss the Abbey’s Sacristy

To the right of the high altar, down 2-3 shallow steps, is the outline of an extension to the chancel. This room was once the abbey’s sacristy, where the monastery’s sacred vessels were housed; this included the altar plate, processional crosses, chalices and theroables for the incense and vestments. There are no records which survive from Rievaulx that could speak directly to the treasures housed in its sacristy. However, surviving documents from comparable monasteries indicate that there would have been a wealth of precious metal plate and ornately embroidered cloaks and vestments worn by the officiating clergy. There is a remarkable set of liturgical vestments that survive from Whalley Abbey in Lancashire. These hint at the richness of monasteries like Rievaulx Abbey. Sadly, most monastic wealth was destroyed at the Dissolution. Objects were either sold or melted down, with very little surviving to this day.

Alongside the High Altar are the tombs of local aristocrats, including members of the De Ross family, descendants of Rievaulx Abbey’s founder. The battered altar slab, restored to its original place by English Heritage and reconsecrated in 2015, bears the scars of the violence inflicted during the destruction of the Abbey.

The Museum at Rievaulx Abbey: Artefacts from the Dissolution of the Monasteries

The museum houses a variety of shattered remains, salvaged from the Abbey ruins. These include an image of Christ the Saviour. The seated figure is a treasure of medieval sculpture but shows the unceremonious hacking and decapitation of the holy deity. Other fragments of statues and the heraldic badge of the De Ross family speak of the ferocity of the sacking of the Abbey; even the expensive and intricately hand-crafted stained glass is wrecked and remnants left behind as it was ripped from its casing to be sold or stripped for the lead.

An elaborately carved, medieval roundel, once part of Rievaulx Abbey

Within the museum is a large slab of melted lead. Emblazoned on it is a Tudor rose with a crown above (see below). No one could be under any illusion that this lead, stolen from monasteries, symbolises what lay beneath the Dissolution – greed and the King’s desire for total dominance of the Tudor crown above all else.

The Epilogue: Rievaulx Abbey after the Dissolution

In the space of 4 years, all monasteries across England were dissolved. It was an act of unbelievable vandalism and a deeply traumatic experience for all those involved. Perhaps characteristically of the brotherhood of the monks, many kept in touch after the Dissolution and remembered each other in their wills. One monk’s will read, ‘I leave to every one of my brothers who was with me at Rievaulx Abbey on the day of its disillusion [six pounds]’. Some who survived the trauma sought to continue their aesthetic lives. They tried to live out their days in small communities, including in manor houses of sympathetic aristocrats; such was the case at Coughton Court in Warwickshire.

The ascension of Henry VIII’s Catholic daughter, Queen Mary I, to the throne in 1553, brought a glimmer of hope to those who remained committed to the Catholic faith. Many former monks and nuns believed that they were going to be restored to their former status and that their homes would be rebuilt. But with Mary’s reign cut short by her death in 1558, and with Elizabeth I’s ascension to the throne, the Dissolution of the Monasteries as a fait accompli was sealed once and for all.

An ingot of lead with the stamp of a Tudor rose and crown above it.
The Tudor seal impressed into the ingot of lead melted down during the destruction of the Abbey

The violence carved in Abbey ruins and the stories of the people who suffered this incredible fate endures. The tumult and ferocity of the change are borne out by the fact that more people were killed for their religious beliefs in the sixteenth century – both catholic and protestant –  than in the entire history of the Spanish Inquisition. The brutal dissolution of the monasteries, and what took place at Rievaulx Abbey, makes this period of history forever woven into the fabric of our country’s jaded journey to religious freedom, borne out of the ashes of the men and women devoted to God and their community and one man’s determination to marry the woman he loved.

Michael’s Top 5 Abbeys:

  1. Rievaulx Abbey, one of the great Cistercian Abbeys of England, situated near Helmsley in the North York Moors National Park, North Yorkshire.
  2. Fountains Abbey, one of the largest and best-preserved ruined Cistercian monasteries in England. Near Ripon in North Yorkshire.
  3. Blackfriars in Gloucester founded about 1239, is one of the most complete, surviving Dominican black friaries.
  4. Lacock Abbey in the village of Lacock, Wiltshire, England, was founded in the early thirteenth-century by Ela, Countess of Salisbury, as a nunnery of the Augustinian order.
  5. Gloucester Abbey was a Benedictine abbey in the city of Gloucester, England. Since 1541 it has been Gloucester Cathedral.

Best places to see monastic artefacts

  1. British Library is a great resource for some beautiful books and manuscripts, including the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Sherborne Missile.
  2. Towneley Hall, in Barnsley, houses two magnificent fifteenth-century vestments from Whalley Abbey
  3. British Museum, house three fourteenth-century ornamental roundels called the Warden Abbey Morses
  4. Victoria and Albert Museum, lent from a Benedictine monastery and possibly from the great Benedictine monastery at Bury St. Edmonds, is a relic tablet complete with saint’s bones and heraldry. There is also the only surviving silver medieval monastic metalwork.

Bio: Michael Carter

Michael Carter is a senior properties historian at English Heritage. A monastic expert, he holds a doctorate from the Courtauld Institute of Art and since joining English Heritage in 2015 has worked on reinterpretation projects at Battle, Hailes, Rievaulx and Whitby. Michael’s publications include The Architecture of the Cistercians in Northern England, c.1300-1540​ and he has an especial interest in English monasticism on the eve of the Reformation. He is currently books on monasteries and saints’ relics in the late Middle Ages and monastic ghost story writing.

‘It would have pitied any heart to see’: Destruction and Survival at Cistercian Monasteries in Northern England at the Dissolution by Michael Carter can be viewed online here.

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Christmas is fast approaching and after the end of a difficult year for most of us, some feasting and merriment will be most welcome. Well, in this month’s Great Tudor Bake Off, Brigitte Webster, our Tudor chef, here at The Tudor Travel Guide, treats us to a savoury Tudor dish for the dinner table: Tudor venison pie. We hope you enjoy reading this blog and have a go at recreating this dish for yourself. At the very end, you will also find a link to a video, where you can learn more about Tudor food at Christmas from Brigitte and follow along as she prepares the venison pie in her kitchen at the Old Hall in Norfolk. Merry Christmas!

Feasting at a Tudor Christmas

Before the Reformation, Advent, or the forty days of St Martin, was a period of fasting which ended on Christmas Eve, 24 December. Celebrations and festive food started to be served for twelve days known as Christmastide. Advent fasting meant no meat, cheese, milk or eggs. After such a long time of food restrictions, the first feast on Christmas Day would have been a very welcome arrival. The custom of eating high-value meats and other luxurious foods continued at Christmas and survived the test of time and the influence of the Reformation movement.

The staple dish of a Tudor Christmas was meat.  If Christmas fell on a fasting day such as a Friday, the Church gave special permission that meat, instead of fish, could be eaten. (No such dispensation applied to New Year’s Day.)

Ingatestone Hall, Essex

Household accounts give us precise quantities of just how much meat was consumed.  On Christmas Day 1551, at Ingatestone Hall in Essex, Sir William Petre’s family consumed six boiled and six roast joints of beef; a neck of mutton; a loin of pork; a breast of pork; a goose and four coneys. For supper, the feast continued with five more joints of mutton; a neck of pork; two coneys; a woodcock and a venison pasty.

Henry Willoughby gave a feast for all his tenants on Christmas Day in 1547 and his household accounts show the purchase of 4 pieces of beef; a whole mutton; ten geese; nine pigs; six capons; a swan; sixteen coneys; three hens;  two woodcocks and sixteen venison pies! The Earl of Rutland was quite well known for having his baked stag and deer pasties sent from Belvoir when he was in London.

Venison and the Tudor Table at Christmas

Venison was the meat of the nobility and generally could not be purchased – you either were ‘gifted’ it or you had your own deer park (= forest), which supplied you with both hunting, fun and venison. Christmas fell right in the hunting season and so venison was clearly a popular choice. Most recipes call for it to be boiled or roasted and baked as venison pie. A sixteenth-century English physician and former Carthusian monk esteemed it ‘gentlemen’s food’ and felt that nowhere in the world was venison so esteemed as in England.

Some meat, such as chicken and rabbit (coney), were subject to price hiking in the run-up to Christmas before dipping to well below average during Lent. At Ingatestone Hall, rabbits featured prominently both at dinner and supper over Christmas 1551-52. This may indicate that household heads treated their servants and labourers to rabbit meat at Christmas.

Accounts between 1500 and 1600, reveal that sausage was also becoming more popular with the gentry at Christmas.  Also, it has to be also that some vegetables were increasingly popular in the late sixteenth-century. This is reflected in household accounts and cookery books aimed at the well to do. A popular one was the turnip, which could be purchased during the cold season. Food (such as capons and oranges) was a popular and welcome Christmas gift.

Henry VIII received six kinds of cheese from Suffolk on New Year’s Day 1538, witnessed by Master John Husee.  In 1544, Mary received sweetmeats, amongst many other gifts.  Elizabeth I was the lucky recipient of a pair of quinces and a chessboard made from marchpane from the master Cook, as well as boxes of sweetmeats and crystallised fruit from the Clerk of the Spicery. In 1577-8, she also received a pot of green (fresh) ginger and orange flowers from Doctor Maister; a few marchpane from the Master Cook; a great pie of quinces and wardens from the Sergeant of the Pastry, while Morgan, the Apothecary, sent three boxes of ginger candy, another of ginger and a third filled with orange candy.

A chessboard made out of marchpane in black and gold
Chessboard made of marchpane

Christmas was a time when, by tradition, the wealthier members of society were supposed to extend their hospitality to those less fortunate. In December 1555, diarist Henry Machyn, recorded that he and his neighbours were guests at a great feast and offered marmalade, gingerbread, fruit and jelly.

Neighbours expecting an invite to the party at the ‘Big House’ would send anything from preserves, fruit, pies, cakes, eggs, cheese, spices, meats or brawns.  From most of the records available, it seems that gifts were given in the hope either of a return of money, gold or an invitation from the local lord of the manor or sometimes as a bribe. It was also the custom for tenants to send presents to their landlords such as capon, brawns, pigs, geese, rabbits, partridges, sugar loaves, nutmeg or baskets of apples, eggs or pears.

The most iconic and beloved Tudor dishes served at Christmas were:

Mince pies made from shredded leftover mutton (shepherds), suet, sugar, dried fruits, and spices, were supposed to contain thirteen ingredients, symbolising Christ and the Apostles. Sometimes these pies were gilded. That and the spices used, proclaimed the status of the host and also harked back to Magi. It was apparently considered unlucky to cut a Christmas pie with a knife.

Plum porridge, later called Plum Pudding or Christmas Pudding and served as an appetiser, was a thick broth of mutton or beef with plums, bread, spices, dried fruit and wine. (In the Elizabethan period, flour was also added.)

Figgy pudding was a kind of sweet dish made from almonds, wine, figs, raisins ginger and honey.

Brawn was very salty pork or boar served with mustard and was available to most people.

Turkey started to appear in England during the sixteenth-century.  The earliest record relates to six birds imported and sold in Bristol for 2d in 1526. The new arrival started to be recognised during the 1530s, was being sold in markets in 1540s and, by the end of the 1500s, it had started to appear as a Christmas food.  William Strickland, a navigator, was granted a coat of arms in 1550 showing a turkey.

A drawing of a turkey.

Stuffing, known as forcemeat, containing egg, currants, pork and herbs, was first recorded being served with poultry in 1538.

Brussels sprouts were first recorded in 1587. As there is no English recipe from the sixteenth-century featuring them, it is very doubtful that they would have been part of a Tudor, Christmas dinner.

Twelfth Night Cake was a type of sweet bread with spices and dried fruit. Sadly, no original recipe for this survives.

Bean cake appears to have been some kind of gingerbread and was also known as peppercake. Inside there was a coin or bean and sometimes also a pea. The couple who received the slice containing the bean and the pea, were made King and Queen of the Bean. They then lead the singing and dancing.

Lambs Wool & Wassail Bowl (= I give you health) are both spiced, ale based seasonal Christmas drinks with roasted crab apples swimming on the top. The word wassail occurs in extracts from Spenser, Shakespeare and Ben Johnson.

A bowl of Tudor food, baked wheat and currents decorated with small purple flowers

Boar’s head is mostly associated with Queen’s College in Oxford (where it has been served since 1341).  Boar’s head is a true status symbol and the King of France sent Henry a Christmas gift of wild boar pate.

Frumenty was an extremely popular side dish served with venison. Frumenty is wheat boiled in milk or ale with eggs, fruit, spices and sometimes sugar, cream or almond milk.

No feast day went without its banquet – and that was especially true of Christmas.  Banqueting stuffe was a dessert course with a variety of treats on offer: sweet meats (canapes) such as suckets (fruit in syrup, marmalades etc); comfits (sugar-coated seeds & spices); marchpane; sweet breads such as Twelfth Night Cake and biscuits (or jumbles).

An array of different, colourful Tudor dishes in decorative bowls and platters.
Banqueting Stuffe

Tudor Venison Pie

As our main ingredient this month is venison, which we will bake as venison pie, here is an anonymous poem of the fifteenth century:

“Then comes in the second course with mickle (much) pride,

The cranes, the herons, the bitterns, by their side

To partridges and the plovers, the woodcocks , and the snipe.

Furmity (Frumenty) for pottages, with venison fine,

And the umbles (entails) of the doe and all that ever comes in,

Capons well baked, with the pieces of the roe,

Raisins of currants, with other spices mo(re).

The Recipe for Venison Pie:

“To Bake a Red Deare” from The Good Huswife’s Jewel by Thomas Dawson; 1585/96/1610

A venison pie on a green plate and decorated by herbs and edible flowers.
Tudor Venison Pie

“Take a handful of time, a handful of rosemarie, a handful of winter savorie, a handful of bay leaves and a handful of fennel. When your liquor seethe and you perboyle your venison in it, put in your hearbes also, and perboyle your venison until it be halfe enough. Then take it out and lay it upon a faire boorde that the water may runne out from it. Then take a knife and pricke it full of holes and while it is warme have a faire traye  with vineger therein and so put your venison in from morning vntill night, and ever nowe  and then turne it upside downe. Then at night have your coffin ready. This done, season it with synamome ginger, and nutmegges, pepper and salte. And when you have seasoned it, put it in your coffin and put a good quantitie of sweete butter into it. Then put it into the Oven at night when you goe to bedde. In the morning drawe it forth and put a saucer full of vineger into your pye at a hole in the toppe of it, so that the vineger may runne into everie place of it, and then stop the whole againe and turne the bottome upward. And so serve it in.”

Here is a modernised, simplified recipe for venison pie, along with the ingredient list:

  • 1 pack of ready-made shortcrust pastry for the “coffin”
  • 1 small venison steak per person
  • 1 tablespoon of each: thyme, rosemary, winter savoury, bay leaves and fennel
  • Enough stock to submerge the meat
  • 1 cup of mild (or watered down) wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon of each: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, pepper and salt
  • 1-2 spoonful of unsalted butter


First step (one day before or several hours beforehand):

  • Parboil the venison steaks in stock, together with all the herbs until they are “medium rare” but not fully cooked.
  • Remove them from the water, prick with a knife several times and put the meat into the vinegar. Leave it there for several hours or overnight.

Second step (next day or several hours later):

  • Roll out the pastry (coffin) and form a pie “coffin” (base).
  • Remove the meat from the vinegar and season it with the spices. Chop it into smaller pieces, if you prefer. Lay them out in your coffin base. Add the butter, close up with a lid and bake until golden brown at medium heat.
  • Remove from the oven and while still warm, make a small hole into the lid, spoon in some of the vinegar and turn over. Decorate and serve!

Now if you want to follow along and watch this recipe being recreated in Brigitte’s kitchen, click on the image below. If you want to read more about how Tudor Christmas traditions, you can read my blog: Hever at Christmas: Festive Traditions and Momentous Decisions : Good luck and enjoy! Have a Merry Tudor Christmas! Looking forward to seeing you back in January!

A venison pie on a green plate and decorated by herbs and edible flowers.

Sources and further reading:

A Tudor Christmas, by A. Weir and Siobhan Clarke

Christmas in Shakespeare’s England, by Maria Hubert

Festivals and Feasts of the Common Man 1550-1660, by Stuart Peachey

Food and Identity in England 1540-1640, by Paul S. Lloyd

Plenty and Grase – Food & Drink in a Sixteenth Century Household, by Mark Dawson

Food in Early Modern England, by Joan Thirsk

Food in Early Modern Europe, by Ken Albala

The Good Huswife’s Jewel, by Thomas Dawson (1585/96-97/1610)

Each month, our Tudor recipe is contributed by Brigitte Webster. Brigitte runs the ‘Tudor and 17th Century Experience‘. She turned her passion for early English history into a business and opened a living history guesthouse, where people step back in time and totally immerse themselves in Tudor history by sleeping in Tudor beds, eating and drinking authentic, Tudor recipes. She also provides her guests with Tudor entertainment. She loves re-creating Tudor food and gardens and researching Tudor furniture.

In this month’s episode of The Tudor Travel Show: Extra! Sarah is in conversation with Professor Simon Thurley, a pre-eminent architectural historian, specialising in Britain’s built environment. Sarah talks to Simon about the Boleyn properties of the early sixteenth century when the family was at the height of its power. She also explores with Simon the delights of his most recent book on Tudor buildings: Houses of Power.

Note: This blog on Tudor ‘Houses of Power’ is an abbreviated transcript of that conversation, which you can also listen to in full here.

The Boleyn ‘Houses of Power’

Welcome, Simon, to The Tudor Travel Show.  It’s a total delight for me to have you here.  As I think you know, you are one of my favourite authors in the Tudor-sphere and it would be great to be able to hear a little bit from you about the work that you are doing now. Most recently, I saw you on the Gresham College website, where you were delivering a lecture about the Boleyns property portfolio and their House of Power in the early sixteenth century. We are going to talk more about the Boleyns today. But before we dive into that, you also gave a lecture on a similar theme, but this time wrapped around the Cecil family. I was curious about why you picked those two families. Was there a particular question you were hoping to answer as you pulled together the work to deliver those lectures?

An image of Professor Simon Thurley set against part of the cover of his book: Houses of Power


Essentially, I chose families who acquired their wealth and their success in slightly different ways. The Boleyns are extremely interesting because they became an enormously wealthy landowning family with a huge number of properties and a huge amount land and, of course, their most famous child became, by default, the greatest landowner in England of them all. So it’s an aspect of a very, very well-trodden path that hadn’t really been looked at before. The Cecils likewise; although they came to power via a different route, through their skill in administration, they amassed an equally, and arguably even more impressive, portfolio of buildings and estates at a period when the monarchy was not so interested in doing that. Henry VIII, if he had seen any of the Cecil houses, would have licked his lips and probably persuaded them to give them over to him!


Well, let’s look at the Boleyns in more detail. One of the things that I found to be most interesting in your lecture was how you talked about Hever in relation to some of the larger Boleyn properties, Rochford Hall and Luton Hoo, for example. Everybody knows a lot about Hever, but maybe not so much about Rochford Hall or Luton Hoo. Can you tell us a little bit about those properties and, in particular, how they might have appeared during the sixteenth-century when the Boleyns owned them?


Yes, indeed. What the Boleyn family did essentially, was that they married into land. And, arguably, the whole story of the family dynasty is driven by women, because it’s through the female line that the Boleyns came into a series of massive houses. These aren’t small places; these are really big double or, in some cases, triple courtyard houses. Obviously, they’re not as big as Hampton Court but they are very, very substantial residences.

A reconstruction of Rochford Hall, one of he Boleyn family's Houses of Power

Rochford Hall, which is in Essex, still has big chunks surviving. The remains of the building are now on a golf course. It’s very, very close to the church and the church has a private pew in it, which I think may well have been a private pew that the Boleyn family, including Anne, would have used. So, you can get a little bit of a flavour of the size and splendour of the house and its landscape setting because, of course, although it wasn’t surrounded by a golf course in the sixteenth-century it was surrounded by beautiful, mature trees in parkland. The golf course still allows you to get a sense of that.

Now, with regard to what is left of Luton Hoo; there’s nothing, absolutely nothing! It’s very, very frustrating. The Hoo, as it was known, was another big house with a lot of land attached to it. However, in the seventeenth and eighteenth-centuries, and again in the nineteenth-century, a succession of very big building projects literally scalped the landscape clean. This is very frustrating because it’s quite clear that Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s father, spent a lot of time there; it was one of his principal residences.


I knew something of Rochford Hall and the likes of Blickling Hall, but I didn’t really know so much about Luton Hoo so, after listening to your lecture, I went away to try and research it a bit more. There doesn’t even seem to be any description of what the house actually looked like, is that right?


Yes, that is right although that doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. I think that it is quite possible that more could be found out and it’s also perfectly possible that more could be found out about Rochford Hall, as well. It might even be possible there to partially reconstruct what it was like in the Boleyn period. I doubt that you could get that far with the Hoo, but I think it is possible to get further. I did look at quite a lot of primary documentation, including all the relevant wills and inquisitions post-mortem, but I suspect with a really sustained campaign, you might be able to get further than I did.

An image of Hever Castle, one of the Boleyn family's Houses of Power
Hever Castle


Thinking about the trio of properties we’ve already been talking about (Hever, Luton Hoo and Rochford Hall), I was left with the impression that Hever perhaps wasn’t used so much as a family home during the Boleyn children’s childhood. No doubt it was used, but I’d always thought that was the principal residence in which the children grew up. Would it be more accurate though to imagine that they would have moved equally between those three or four properties, or more?


Yes, you’re quite right. Hever is very, very small and I was able to reconstruct in great detail the plan of the house in the time that it was owned by the Boleyns. It is a very, very small house and Thomas Boleyn was a very, very great man and there’s no way that his whole family (and there were a lot of children, plus all their servants and attendants), could have stayed there for any serious length of time.

There was very good hunting in the High Weald and I think it was very much used as a hunting lodge but also, and this is absolutely crucial to understanding it, it was close to Greenwich. In the early part of Henry VIII’s reign, when the fatal attraction between Henry and Anne began, Greenwich was the headquarters of the monarchy and it’s a very straightforward ride from Greenwich to Hever. So, there were a lot of reasons why Hever was geographically very convenient and, during that period, when Anne really had to keep out of the way because it was all very difficult, it was the ideal place to retreat to because there were hardly any servants there; it was a very, very private location, surrounded by a double moat in the middle of a hunting park. If you didn’t want people to bother you it was the obvious place to go.

An old woodcut map of Tudor London showing streets in the city.
Section for the Agas map of Tudor London from 1520, showing Old Jewry in the City of London (highlighted). This area was one of the known locations of a Boleyn London home. Note: ‘Old Jewry’ lies just off London’s main thoroughfare: Cheapside.
Taken from: The Agas Map of Early Modern London

That’s really interesting; it sheds a whole new light on the subject. And I guess the closeness to Greenwich would perhaps explain why she retreated there when she fell ill with the Sweat. I think they were at Greenwich when they were when the king first received news of the outbreak in London. Now I’m also curious about the Boleyn properties in London. I know that Anne occupied certain properties, I think Durham House was one when she was in her ascendancy, but do we know of any specific London properties like, for example, we know of Austin Friars for Thomas Cromwell?


We do know where their houses were in the City of London. We know that and, in fact, one of the consequences of me giving my Gresham lecture on the Boleyns is that someone who is making a study of various aspects of this got in touch with me.  She has managed to identify a Boleyn property in the City that I hadn’t found. So, there were a number of houses in the City but, of course, by that stage, these big aristocrats were moving West. They were moving out of the city and colonizing swanky residential areas, such as The Strand. We should also remember that Thomas and Elizabeth had lodgings in every single royal place, indeed quite extensive lodgings in some of them. So they were well provided for in London.

Do we know exactly where the Boleyn properties in London properties were?


Well, for example, at one point there was a house near Lincoln’s Inn and at another time there was a house in Old Jewry, right in the centre of the City. These were probably pretty substantial masonry houses, but no house in the City was very big because it was very constrained space. The occupants would have spent most of the time at court and the moment that the ‘end of term’ came they’d be out of London. In the case of the Boleyns, this would have meant going to the larger houses, to Rochford or Hoo, in particular, and then also little trips to Hever to entertain themselves.

An old woodcut map of Lincoln's Inn Fields, part of Tudor London
Lincoln’s Inn: another known location of a Boleyn property in London. This time, the property lay outside the city walls, closer to the fashionable Strand district of Tudor London.
Taken from: The Agas Map of Early Modern London


Great, I’m looking forward to it! Now, I want to talk now about your book ‘Houses of Power’. What an absolutely amazing book it is! It’s so packed with illuminating detail. I keep going back to it, having forgotten what I’ve read and going, “Oh my goodness!” all over again. Please can you tell us about what stimulated you to write it and if somebody was buying it, what could they expect?


Well, I’m really someone who writes history through buildings and through places and this book is about buildings, but it is also about places. It’s about urban space and it’s about the countryside as well as individual buildings. It’s really trying to help us understand the Tudor court through the places in which it spent its time. Obviously, there is a considerable amount of information on Whitehall and the Thames Valley houses. This is where the court resided in the wintertime: Greenwich and Richmond etc. However, there’s also quite a lot about what happened elsewhere, including the progresses of Henry VIII and Elizabeth. The book also explores how those progresses worked; where they went; the houses they stayed in and what happened if you were unfortunate enough to be an aristocrat and Queen Elizabeth turned up on your doorstep!

Book cover of Simon Thurley's Houses of Power : The Places that Shaped the Tudor World.

Henry VII’s Houses of Power


When you wrote the book, were you collating all the knowledge you’d already acquired over the years or were you trying to research something else? And also, my second question, if I may, is did you learn anything through writing ‘Houses of Power’?


‘Houses Of Power’ really came out of my very first book, that was published in 1993, and which was called ‘The Royal Palaces of Tudor England’ and that was essentially my PhD. That book had a number of flaws. The two principal flaws were, firstly, that back in 1993, I hadn’t really properly understood Henry VII and, secondly, that the book didn’t go on to explore the residences of Edward, Mary and Elizabeth. Both of those shortcomings made quite a big difference to the sort of the picture I was able to paint; particularly in relation to not really fully understanding Henry VII.

So by the time I started writing ‘Houses of Power,’ I thought I knew everything about the subject. Then, I found to my complete horror that I really didn’t and I had got it quite muddled up and misunderstood. And so certainly the material on Henry VII is very original; I don’t think anybody previously understood the interrelationship between Henry VII and the places in which he lived. I think that is a very new insight. Also, the Elizabethan stuff; by that, I mean properly understanding Queen Elizabeth I’s attitudes to architecture and to the places in which she lived and how she used them. Everyone says she wasn’t interested in building, but actually, she built some pretty important things. So, I think the book did surprise me. Having worked in this area for more than 30 years, I realised how much I really didn’t know and didn’t understand. I felt that it was very important to try to get it all together in one place as a coherent narrative.

Bust of Henry VII
Henry VII


I was really fascinated by what you were saying there about Henry VII. Can you talk a little bit more about that; about what you learned about him and the places he occupied and what that reveals about him?


I think the single most important thing that one has to remember is that it’s been very, very unusual in English history for a monarch to come to the throne who had really never stepped inside a royal palace before he became King. On one occasion, for a matter of hours, Henry VII came to London, went into Westminster Palace, saw King Henry VI and that was it.

So, when he became King, every single royal house he went into was completely new to him. He had been in Westminster as a teenager 20 years before he came to the throne, but he’d never been to Windsor; he’d never been to Woodstock; he’d never been to any of the big palaces. So there’s a real sense of a reinvention that takes place and that reinvention can only really take place when he feels a bit more secure on the throne.  

For the first part of his reign, he’s looking over his shoulder in every direction for rebellions. He could have lost the throne at any moment. But the moment he feels secure on the throne, after about 1500, you do see him taking a completely different course. He’s able to reinvent things in his own image. There is a sense then that Henry VII starts afresh. One of the reasons he can do that is that he’s not encumbered by a huge back history of tradition, because he didn’t know what it was like being at court before he got there.

A reconstruction of Greenwich palace, one of the Tudor's Houses of Power
Reconstruction of Greenwich Palace by Peter Kent.


Do you think that reinvention you’ve referred to was evident in his development or rebuilding of what was the Palace of Placentia, Duke Humphrey’s old palace, which became Greenwich? Was that his first major building project, and can that building at Greenwich tell us anything more about his aspirations, tastes and so on?


Yes, I think it definitely can. Placentia or Greenwich (depending on what you want to call it, it’s called different things at different times) is a very particular type of palace because it is one that has a physical division between a sort of pleasure area and a more public area. I think what’s very important about Henry VII is that he’s involved in a break with tradition, whereby he more or less insists on having a private and safe environment after he discovers a plot in which his Lord Chamberlain and his Lord Steward are implicated. It’s pretty horrific. He is determined to create an environment within the royal houses where he could be safe and secure and that leads to the whole new concept of private residences within these places.


That’s very interesting! Now, one of the aspects on which I completely resonate with you is my love of seeing history through places. What I have found out is that when I understand more about a Tudor building, I understand more about the history and the events and the people that lived there. I know you share that feeling; can help me explain why that might be the case?

Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire


Well, imagine you’re thinking about the Reformation and you live in Bolivia (assuming anyone in Bolivia is remotely interested in English history) and you’re reading textbooks. You can appreciate that there was a big moment that happened in English history. Then imagine that you get on an aeroplane and you go to Fountains Abbey and you see this huge magnificent building of stone for yourself. You begin to understand the investment in bricks and mortar and money that went into the whole of monasticism. Then you begin to understand that there were reasons why the monastic life was not fulfilling its original purposes; that there was corruption and there were abuses; that there was a process of reform and a greedy king who wanted to liquidise its assets for himself.

That visit to Fountains Abbey will tell you an awful lot more than reading four or five books because you’re actually there and you can see the physical impact. You can replicate that with the Tudor world; you can visit the Tower of London or Hampton Court – there are all sorts of places you can go to – and suddenly you begin to get it. I think that’s it – you step into a place where you can touch the very brick that was touched by the people you are reading about and studying. Obviously, things will have changed, but without going to a place it’s very hard to understand.

When I write about places I never ever write about them unless I have been there and really properly studied the place as much as I can in its physical sense. When writing ‘Houses of Power’, I had visited them all before, but I went back to dozens and dozens of places to look at them again to make sure I was really understanding their landscapes and setting; how the parks related to the houses; where the rivers were; where the roads were; how you’d get to them – all of that you need to get your teeth into.


I know it’s a bit of a clichéd phrase, but it absolutely does bring it all to life when you can understand how people would have arrived at the place and how they would have used the rooms. Anybody that follows this show will recognise the expression that I use with my co-author of the ‘In The Footsteps’ books, Natalie Grueninger; that is that ‘it is that it’s only time and not space that separates you’ when you visit a historic site. I think that’s exactly what you’re referring to there about being able to touch the bricks – and that’s very special.


Yes, very neatly put.

A reconstruction of Whitehall palace from the river front, one of the Tudor's Houses of Power
Whitehall Palace from the Thames

Simon’s Top Tudor Places


Sadly, we’re coming towards the end of our chat. I have a couple of slightly whimsical questions for you now, if I may, Simon. First, of all the places you have studied over the years, is there a particular place, house or chamber from the Tudor period that you would love to see recreated in all its former glory and why would you choose that one?


There is one building that I’ve researched more than anywhere else and really thought about more than anyone else and gone back and back and back to – and that is Whitehall. Whitehall is really such an important and influential building and, despite all my efforts over 30 years, it is still fundamentally misunderstood. People call it a jumble of buildings, a pile of disorganised structures hurled together – but that simply isn’t the case.

Whitehall is really such an important place; to understand how it worked explains how politics worked and how the government worked at the time. So, if I could have my day in the past, unquestionably I would want to spend it in Whitehall. Incidentally, I was reading seventeenth-century diarist, Robert Hook, the other day and was fascinated to learn that Christopher Wren apparently played exactly the same game in the 1670s, asking where would you go back to if you could go back in history. So, it’s an old game, but it’s a really nice one, isn’t it?


It is. For me, it would have to be the Royal Apartments at The Tower, simply because Anne Boleyn is my historical heroine, as many listeners will know. To be close to the place where she saw her moments both of triumph, and of tragedy, would be incredible. Anyway, enough about me and my whims! My next whimsical question is: if there is one so far unanswered question about Tudor houses of power, to which you would really love to have the answer, what would it be?

Drawing of the river front of Greenwich Palace, one of the Tudor's Houses of Power


Well, there are a number of very important houses of power about which we still don’t know as much as we want to. There are some quite specific things I’d like to know. For example, I would love to do a bit more digging at Greenwich. If someone were to say ‘Okay, you can do a really massive archaeological dig at Greenwich’. That would be great. The lawns are all there ready and just waiting for my spade! I think the question I’d want to answer would be about the inner court there, which Elizabeth I remodelled. I’d really love to see if I could find some big chunks of stucco or terracotta to understand exactly how classicizing that courtyard was. I think it was rather an amazing courtyard and because it is lost to history, people believe that Elizabeth I didn’t do anything, but I think that she did something there that was pretty amazing and we just don’t really know about it.

Well, my final question is about up and coming projects. I’ve mentioned, of course, your Gresham lecture coming up on the Cecils that everybody should make a beeline for. Are there any other projects you can tell us about?

I’m in the process of completing a sequel to my ‘Houses of Power’ book which, you’ll be disappointed to hear, is about the seventeenth-century and the Stuarts. So, I can’t really mention that in this environment! But I do actually have a project about Tudor merchants’ houses in the City, which will see the light of day as a book in due course. I think that will be interesting and revealing for people because only one of them survives and that is Crosby Hall, which is now in Chelsea, and which was owned by Thomas More. That will be the centrepiece of the book.

That sounds marvellous, I can’t wait! In the meantime, I just wanted to thank you so much for taking the time out and talking to us today about these wonderful houses of power.


You are welcome! It was really nice to talk to you.

The 30 November (2020) sees the 490th anniversary of the sad demise and death of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey at Leicester Abbey. This followed his arrest for treason at Cawood Castle in North Yorkshire earlier that month. To commemorate this event, The Tudor Travel Guide team are holding a virtual summit over the weekend of the 28-29 November 2020. It will celebrate, and remember, The Rise and Fall of Cardinal Wolsey. One aspect that we will be exploring in the summit is the notion of Wolsey as a patron of the arts. Nowhere does this remain more evident than in the bricks and mortar of the greatest surviving palace of the Tudor age, Hampton Court.

You can tune in to the summit to see me in conversation with Dr Jonathan Foyle, who has extensively researched Wolsey’s early palace. Jonathan describes how Hampton Court became a physical expression of the Cardinal’s status, wealth and power. You can click on the image below, or at the end of this blog to register. But for now, let’s go back in time, to before the great palace we know today took shape, and explore its earliest origins.

The Origins of Hampton Court Palace

When we think of Hampton Court Palace, most of us immediately associate it with the court of King Henry VIII. We recall the pivotal events of his reign that unfolded within its russet-coloured walls: the stillbirth of Anne Boleyn’s second child in 1534; the birth of the future Edward VI in 1537 and death of his mother, Jane Seymour, shortly thereafter; the arrest of Katherine Howard in 1541 and finally Henry’s marriage to Katherine Parr in 1543. Much credit is given to Henry for the building we see today, but in recent years, architectural historians such as Jonathan Foyle, have begun to shed light on the role played by Thomas Wolsey in the genius and glory of the building.

Although it wasn’t my original intention, it turns out that this blog will be the first of three. The second will focus on the development of Hampton Court by Wolsey after 1515, and the third will describe the changes that Henry VIII subsequently made to the palace during his extensive refurbishment of the building after 1529. As far as this blog is concerned though, I had some gaps I needed to fill in about the earliest origins of the greatest Tudor palace in England, so I went on a quest to find out more…

The Birth of a Palace: Location, Location, Location…

It is no accident that Hampton Court Palace it sited where it is today, although urbanisation has obscured some of the original attributes of the surrounding landscape that made the building of the initial grange and manor house an attractive prospect. Today, the palace is engulfed by suburbia. A busy road runs to the west of the palace gates and the adjacent town of East Moseley brings a hum of twenty-first-century living. But to enjoy Hampton Court as it was meant to be appreciated, we must allow all such trappings of modern-day life to dissolve away into time.

An old watercolour of Anne Boleyn's Gateway at Hampton Court Palace
Anne Boleyn’s Gateway, housing the stairs leading up to the Great Hall

Hampton Court, as it was known from the beginning of its history, was established in the heart of the Surrey countryside, on the north bank of the River Thames. Clearly, there was a settlement on-site even before the Norman Conquest of England in 1066: the name ‘Hampton’ originating from Anglo-Saxon, with Hame meaning home and Ton signifying a cluster of houses fortified with a hedge and ditch.

The building lies 13 miles from central London in a westerly direction. Here the ground is flat, gravelly and therefore, well-drained. An account of the palace, written towards the end of the nineteenth century captures an image of the surrounding countryside, much as it might have looked some 300 years previously before relentless urban sprawl swallowed up the surrounding countryside. Ernest Law’s History of Hampton Court Palace, first published in 1889, describes how the stretch of riverbank across from Hampton Court was even then ‘studded with eyots [small river islands], and bordered with luxuriant meadows fringed with willows’. He goes on to describe how the meadows beyond were ‘crowned with flowers’ with ‘clusters of trees, flowery hedgerows and broad undulating heath-clad commons’. Beyond that, when houses did not obscure the view, you could see the ‘dim blue outline of the Surrey Hills’. All very pleasant, and a far cry from the dirt, filth and pestilence of Tudor London!

Of course, there was another critical factor in Wolsey’s interest in developing the modest, existing medieval manor into a grand and palatial building: it lay roughly midway between London and another major royal palace at Windsor (20 miles upstream from Hampton Court). It was also in easy reach of Richmond Palace eight miles downstream. The river connected them all via ‘the silent highway’ of the Thames, thereby avoiding the relative lawlessness of England’s overland road network. The river provided an easy and pleasant way to travel – and thus, Hampton Court became a convenient stopping off point for royalty, visiting dignitaries and ambassadors. However, Wolsey was not the first substantive owner of the manor of Hampton.

A watercolour painting of Base Court of Hampton Court
Base Court looking towards Anne Boleyn’s Gateway

Records stretch back to 1086, with early owners including Walter de St Valerie, whose family owned the manor for around 150 years thereafter. During the early thirteenth-century, Hampton Court was passed to Henry de St Alban, who in turn either lent or gave the land to the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem. They had their English HQ at St John’s Priory in the City. During the early fourteenth century, wealthy local landowners bestowed further lands upon the manor, such that by the beginning of the 1400s, Hampton Court had augmented to an estate of considerable value. This estate included a ‘preceptory’ (monastery of the Order of the Knights Hospitallers), ‘a small mansion’ (which Law states was probably on the site of the current palace) and ‘a garden with a dovecot’, alongside around 1000 acres of pasture and arable land.

Another 150 years go by before we hear more of Hampton Court. In 1503, the manor was visited by Elizabeth of York. At the time, the property was being leased from the Knight’s Hospitallers by Lord Daubeney, who had risen to become Lord Chancellor under Henry VII. It is perhaps, therefore, not surprising that the queen should be a guest of one of the most influential men in the land at the time.

The queen’s privy purse expenses reveal that she was rowed by 12 oarsmen upstream from Richmond to Hampton Court by barge. The occasion of the visit was a retreat to the then religious foundation to pray for the safe delivery of a child, for Elizabeth was heavily pregnant at the time. Elizabeth stayed at the manor for eight days, before being conveyed back to Richmond with her ladies in a ‘grete bote’. Sadly, she would die from puerperal sepsis just one month later. The use of Hampton Court in this way is not surprising given the contents of a letter from Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester, to Wolsey around this time. Fox describes how Henry VII used Hampton Court as a ‘cell’, or subsidiary house, within easy reach of Richmond.

A Reconstruction of Hampton Court
Wolsey’s Great Hall by Jonathan Foyle

One more royal visit was to grace the manor of Hampton Court before it was acquired by Cardinal Wolsey. A young and virile Henry VIII arrived there with Katherine of Aragon on 20 March 1514. During the visit, a Venetian called Giovanni Ratto presented the king with an incredibly valuable Mantuan ‘barb’ or racehorse on behalf of the Marquis of Mantua. Apparently, the Marquis had been offered his weight in gold for the horse but had instead decided to gift it to the King of England, who clearly appreciated the value of the gift, later writing a note of thanks to the Marquis that it was ‘the most beautiful, high bred and surpassing steeds’.

Thomas Wolsey Acquires Hampton Court

Then, on midsummers day, 21 June 1514, an indenture was granted from Thomas Docwra, prior of the Knight’s Hospitaller to ‘the most Rev. Father in God Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York’ for the lease of Hampton Court for a term of 99 years at a rent of £50 per annum. A copy of the lease is described in Law’s account; it confirms the presence of a small manor house, which was apparently moated. It seems to have been sparsely furnished at this point; a hall is described containing only two tables and a cupboard. A parlour, tower chamber, chapel and kitchen are also mentioned.

The following year, 1515, saw the commencement of Wolsey’s ambitious project to convert a modest, medieval manor house into one of the most impressive and sumptuous buildings in England. It was so majestic that Henry VIII would come to covert it for himself but first, Wolsey would create a building that was unique on English soil: a very English palace with an Italianate twist. It was a palace that would dazzle visiting European dignitaries and cement Wolsey’s status as the most powerful and influential man in England, next to the king himself.

In a subsequent blog, I will describe Wolsey’s grand design and recreate the palace he built before Henry VIII seized it from the Cardinal. In the meantime, you can hear more about Wolsey’s Hampton Court from Jonathan Foyle in my up-and-coming summit: The Rise and Fall of Cardinal Wolsey. Just click here to find out more and save your FREE place.

Many of you will have been as sad as I was to learn that, here in the UK, we have just lost one of our most ancient pear trees to a new railway project. In honour of this tree, and as pears are currently seasonal and easy to obtain, I have chosen the pear as our main ingredient for this month’s Tudor food blog.

Although the pear has never been as popular as the apple, these long-lived trees have a long history in England. Probably not indigenous, the wild pear arrived on our shores in Saxon times – and most probably even earlier than that. The Saxons called the fruit the “pere” or “peru hu”. This was probably the ancestor of the domesticated pear, which were introduced to many parts of Europe by the Romans and later, during the medieval period, by monks (in England by the Cistercians, in particular). On several occasions, the Domesday Book of 1086 mentions old pear trees being used as boundary markers.

There have been a variety of domesticated pears since the Romans, but identification can be tricky as names changed all the time. England’s best known and still available early pear is the WARDEN, which was first mentioned by the English poet and theologian, Alexander Neckam, in the thirteenth century. A warden is basically a firm-textured cooking pear that keeps well over the winter, a property highly appreciated in times when food preservation was limited.

In 1530, Cardinal Wolsey is reputed to have been eating roasted wardens at Sheffield Manor at the moment when he was first seized with his fatal illness. One of the earliest entries relating to the pear in an English herbal can be admired in ‘The Grete Herball‘ which was published by Peter Treveris in 1526.

Pear, P. Treveris

Harris, a fruiterer to Henry VIII, introduced pears from France and the low countries in 1533 for the orchard at Teynham (Kent). In 1548, William Turner lists the wild pear and its various names. He also mentions a revival of interest in orchard management as part of his Herbal of 1568.

In 1580, Harrison said that “pirrie’ (pear cider) was made from pears in Sussex, Kent and Worcestershire. The pear’s importance was recognized by the incorporation in Worcester’s city arms. The image below shows the three pears sable, included in the coat of arms of the city on the direction of Queen Elizabeth I, when she visited Worcester in 1575.

Worcester’s 3 Pears Sable

The Elizabethan herbalist, John Gerard, showed in his Herbal of 1597, that the number of pear varieties had increased since the beginning of the century. He illustrated eight pears: the Jenneting; the Pear Royall; the Quince Pear; the Katherine; the Saint James; the Burgomet; the Bishops and the Winter Pear. He lists several wild hedge pears and states that they taste too harsh and bitter for consumption and should be used instead for making ‘perry’ cider.

William Shakespeare does not appear to have enjoyed pears, as most of his references to them are not favourable.

‘…… as crest-fallen as a dried pear (Merry Wives of Windsor)

……I must have saffron to colour the warden pies (Winter’s Tale)

…. Your old virginity, is like one of our French withered pears’ (from “All’s Well that Ends Well”).

Pears came in different sizes, tastes, textures and colours. In his Five Hundreth Pointes of Good Husbandrie (1573), English poet and farmer, Thomas Tusser, is one of the first to mention the different colours. General storage advice was given in the Second Book, Entreating the Ordering of Orchards (1577) by Conrad Heresbach. The pears should be stored in sand, flocks (scraps of wool), covered with wheat or chaff, or by dipping the stalks in boiling pitch and then hanging the pears up. Keeping the pears in freshly boiled wine was another option.

The earliest record of a garden design incorporating an orchard of Warden trees dates to the late sixteenth-century. it was commissioned by devout Catholic, Sir Thomas Tresham, at his lodge at Lyveden in Northamptonshire. Lawson’s New Orchard and Garden (1597), advised that “hard winter fruit and wardens” were not fit to be gathered until Michaelmas (29 September).

Pears were a popular gift to the nobility by commoners, as recorded on the 15 December 1534, when Thomas Cromwell received Wardens from Sir Henry Penago. On 2 April 1539, the accounts show an entry of 12d given to a poor woman for bringing Wardens. Tudors were not yet convinced that eating pears raw was a good thing, due to their ‘cold and wet’ properties, but they did recognize their health benefits eaten cooked with the addition of sugar and spices. Boiled with honey in wine made them ‘agreeable and wholesome’.

Pears are often depicted in Renaissance religious paintings and frequently feature in Flemish flower and fruit paintings of the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries. The pear gives rise to metaphor – mostly sexual in nature – and invited comparison to the shape of the womb.

A picture of Madonnna and child
Madonna with pear, Hoefnagel’s pear and Jan Steel’s painting

The health benefits of the (cooked) pear and Wardens were acknowledged by the Tudor physician, Andrew Boorde, who said in his Dyetary of Health, published in 1542, that they were nutritious roasted, stewed or baked and comforted the stomach – especially if enjoyed eaten with other preserved fruits. A view shared by Christopher Langton in his Introduction to Physicke (1545); William Bullein in his Book of Simples (1562) and Thomas Cogan’s The Haven of Health (1584).  John Harrington’s message of 1607 is clear, ‘Raw pears a poison, baked a medicine’.

And, on that note, we will follow their advice and make full use of this delicious fine fruit and prepare a dish which frequently featured at the tables of the nobility as part of their banquet. This recipe is also so easy to replicate you can’t go wrong. The aroma and taste are divine and will not disappoint even the fussiest eater.


To make Wardens in Conserve from A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye, a recipe collection gathered by Matthew Parker, Master of Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, published in 1545/57/75.

The ingredients for Tudor pears in conserve

This recipe is one of a variety that existed for this pear based ‘sweetmeat’.  The earliest we know of in England dates to 1390, under the name of ‘Peers in Confyt’. It is believed that at Henry IV’s wedding feast in 1403, pears in syrup were served together with venison, quails and sturgeon.

Modernised version:


Hard pears – one per person

Red sweet wine (for Romney, which was a Greek wine popular between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries) – around 250 to 500ml for 4 pears

Clear honey – 100-200ml

Sugar (quite a lot)

Cinnamon (to taste)

Ginger (to taste)


  • Boil the wine with the honey.
  • Wash and peel pears but do not remove the stalk or cut the pears.
  • Place the pears into the wine, cover and allow them to simmer gently until soft (around 20-40 minutes).
  • Mix in the spices and sugar and stir over a low heat to dissolve then allow it to boil up for a few minutes to produce a ‘syrup’ type consistency.  Add more sugar for thickness, if required.
  • Turn and check frequently.
  • Remove the pears from the wine, place in dishes and cover with the syrup.
  • Serve hot or cold. Decorate with borage flowers, rose petals or cinnamon and then enjoy your posh banqueting dessert – fit for a Tudor king or queen!

Video of How to Make Tudor Pears in Conserve…

If you wish to listen to Brigitte talking about pears in Tudor times and watch her making the ‘Pears in Conserve’ recipe, click on the image below.

Tudor pears in a pot covered in conserve
Click on the image above to watch Brigitte’s video

Thomas Dawson’s recipe alternative: (1597)

You may also bake the pears without liquid in a dish in the oven. Then remove, allow to cool slightly and peel. Use juice created during the baking process to create a syrup with sugar, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and some wine. Note: Pears were advised to be reserved until after the main meal, to ‘ease the stomach’ acting as a digestif.

Sources used and recommended for further reading:

  • Cultivated Fruits of Britain: Their Origin and History, by F.A. Roach
  • The Herball, by John Gerard, 1597
  • The Grete Herball, by Peter Treveris, 1526
  • The Names of Herbes, by William Turner, 1548
  • The Booke of Simples, by W. Bullein, 1562
  • The Haven of Helth, by T. Cogan, 1584
  • Four Bookes of Husbandry, by C. Heresbach, 1577
  • The Englishman’s’ Doctor, by J. Harrington,  1607
  • Five Hundred Points of Husbandry, by T. Tusser, 1573/1812
  • Food and Health in Early Modern Europe by David Gentilcore
  • A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye, 1545/57/75
  • The Original Warden Pear by Margaret Roberts

Each month, our Tudor recipe is contributed by Brigitte Webster. Brigitte runs the ‘Tudor and 17th Century Experience‘. She turned her passion for early English history into a business and opened a living history guesthouse, where people step back in time and totally immerse themselves in Tudor history by sleeping in Tudor beds, eating and drinking authentic, Tudor recipes. She also provides her guests with Tudor entertainment. She loves re-creating Tudor food and gardens and researching Tudor furniture.

The tragic and untimely death of Jane Seymour 483 years ago today devastated Henry VIII. Although Jane died at Hampton Court Palace, as we shall hear in this week’s guest blog from Sylvia Barbara Soberton, Henry retreated to grieve at nearby Esher Place to mourn his loss. Now you can learn more about this narrow window in time as part of Sylvia’s virtual book tour to celebrate the launch of her new book: The Medical Downfall of the Tudors: Sex, Reproduction and Succession.

The Death of Jane Seymour

Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife, died on 24 October 1537 following complications from childbirth that arose after her long and arduous labour. Only two weeks before, Jane had given birth to Henry VIII’s longed-for male heir, Prince Edward, who would become Edward VI. Jane’s death was a painful moment in Henry’s life: after two marriages that ended in heartbreak and scandal, he finally had a wife who gave him the son he had craved since his accession in 1509. And yet Jane died shortly after their son’s birth. Many people wonder, if Jane was Henry’s true love, was he at her deathbed? In this article, I’m going to answer that question.

A portrait of Queen Jane Seymour

Jane Seymour established her birthing chamber at the newly refurbished Hampton Court Palace, breaking with the tradition of royal children being born at Greenwich. She took to her chamber on 27 September while the King left for Esher Place, a few miles from Hampton Court, to enjoy hunting there. His presence at Esher is confirmed on 30 September.[1] On 10 October 1537, the Queen went into labour that dragged for longer than anticipated, and on 11 October a solemn procession went through London “to pray for the Queen that was then in labour of child”.[2] Finally, at two o’clock in the morning of 12 October 1537, Jane succeeded where her predecessors had failed and gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Three days later Prince Edward, named after the saint on whose feast day he was born, was baptised in the royal chapel at Hampton Court, with the nobility and the King’s daughters present for the occasion. 

Yet soon after the christening, the Queen’s health deteriorated. Day by day she grew increasingly weak until, on 23 October 1537, she had “a natural lax” after which it looked like she was on the road to full recovery.[3] This “natural lax” was not “heavy bleeding”, as suggested by Edward VI’s biographer.[4] “Lax”, in the medical context of the era, meant diarrhoea. But Jane’s condition worsened at night, and in the morning her confessor administered the extreme unction. She died on 24 October 1537 at Hampton Court Palace, aged about twenty-nine.

Was Henry VIII at Jane’s deathbed? On 24 October, shortly before Jane’s death, Sir John Russell wrote to Thomas Cromwell informing him of the King’s whereabouts:

“The King was determined, as this day, to have removed to Esher; and because the Queen was very sick this night, and this day, he tarried; but tomorrow, God willing, he intended to be there. If she amends, he will go; but if she amends not, he told me, this day, ‘he could not find it in his heart’; for, I assure you, she hath been in great danger yesternight and this day. Thanked be God, she is somewhat amended; and if she escapes this night, the physicians be in good hope that she be past all danger.”[5]

Sadly, Jane didn’t escape death’s clutches. It appears that Henry was at Hampton Court when Jane breathed her last; whether he was at her deathbed remains possible but unlikely, considering his inherent dread of sickness and death. It may be that Jane’s premature death reawakened unpleasant memories of the death of Henry’s beloved mother, Elizabeth of York, who died in similar circumstances thirty-four years earlier. Hampton Court was now the place where Jane Seymour died and Henry didn’t want to stay there. Where did he go? A document in the Herald’s College recorded that following Jane’s death, the King “retired to a solitary place to pass his sorrows”.[6] Chronicler Edward Hall wrote that Henry departed to Westminster Palace “where he mourned and kept himself close and secret a great while”.[7] However, as we will see, this is not correct because on the day of Jane’s death Henry returned to Esher Place.  

The King Mourns at Esher Place

The Gatehouse of Esher Place

Before the end of October, Henry met with his councillors there and, according to Cromwell, was convinced to remarry. The King apparently “took pleasure” at Esher, and Cromwell implied that Henry could request it as a gift from Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester. Esher was the property of Gardiner’s see, and the bishop ceded the estate to the King, albeit reluctantly and not without regret.[8] Gardiner wrote plainly to Cromwell that he didn’t want to part with Esher, but Cromwell chided the bishop, saying that the King’s sojourn there wasn’t merely for fun and games; it was a place “where there is a grief”, implying that the King closeted himself away from court at Esher to mourn Jane Seymour’s death.[9]

Esher Place is a Grade-II listed country house since 1953 used as a college by the trade union Unite in Esher, Surrey. In the fifteenth century, William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor, tore down the original building dating to the thirteenth century to make way for a large and luxurious brick residence. The so-called Waynflete’s Tower still stands today. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey owned Esher Place and withdrew there following the disastrous Blackfriars trial in 1529 when he failed to secure the annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Katharine of Aragon. He penned a series of letters to the King and Thomas Cromwell “from Asher”, as Esher Place was then spelt, from October 1529 to February 1530.[10] Following Wolsey’s disgrace, Esher transferred to Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, and then in 1537, it became Henry VIII’s property. When Henry VIII’s elder daughter became Queen, she gave Esher back to Gardiner, who became her Lord Chancellor. Queen Elizabeth I granted Esher to her Norfolk kinsman William Howard, Baron Howard of Effingham, and he, in turn, granted it to Sir Francis Drake’s cousin Richard Drake.

Jane Seymour was buried on 12 November 1537 at St George’s Chapel at Windsor with great pomp and solemnity, with her ladies-in-waiting and household officers present. The King’s presence is recorded at Windsor on 12 November. In a joint letter to Cromwell written from Windsor, John Russell and Thomas Hennege informed Cromwell that they had received his letter “and shown it to the King”.[11] It is evident from their letter that the King didn’t attend Jane’s funeral but was present at Windsor Castle for that occasion. Russell and Hennege informed Cromwell that “your lordship’s suit is that the lords, after the business done at Windsor, may repair hither to see his Grace’s health.”[12] It is an interesting insight into the King’s frame of mind during this period and Thomas Cromwell’s ability to read his moods. Jane’s death came unexpectedly at a time that should have been filled with celebrations of the birth of the heir to the throne. Instead, it was a time of mourning. The King was in need of consolation from his subjects.

Now Buy the Book!

Book cover showing Henry VIII and other Tudor monarchs

If you want to buy a copy of Sylvia’s book, check out this link to Amazon (UK), or Amazon (US) search on your local Amazon site.


[1] Letters and Papers, Volume 12 Part 2, n. 802.

[2] Wriothesley’s Chronicle, Volume 1, p. 65.

[3] State Papers, Volume 1, p. 572.

[4] Jennifer Loach, Edward VI, p. 7.

[5] Agnes Strickland, Elisabeth Strickland, Lives of the Queens of England, from the Norman Conquest, Volume 2, p. 285.

[6] Letters and Papers, Volume 12 Part 2, n. 1060.

[7] Edward Hall, Hall’s Chronicle, p. 825.

[8] Roger Merriman, Life and Letters of Thomas Cromwell, Volume 2, p. 98.

[9] Ibid.

[10] State Papers, Volume 1: Correspondence Between the King and Cardinal Wolsey, pp. 347-361.

[11] Letters and Papers, Volume 12 Part 2, n. 1063.

[12] Ibid.