By Hannah Silverman
For a man who had six wives, it’s probably a little unsurprising that Henry VIII got around.
I’m being cheeky, obviously. But as one of England’s most iconic and revolutionary rulers, references to Henry VIII are all over this country and I’m sure we’ve all ticked the many obvious boxes, even if by accident. There are the magnificent historic residences of the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace, the selfie with the stars moment at Madame Tussauds and the Tudor family album at the National Portrait Gallery. Each are good fun and quality cultural experiences.
But I wanted more, and perhaps you do too. I asked leading British historian Richard Jones, who runs the very excellent London Walking Tours, how to follow Henry’s footsteps off the beaten track. Impress your friends with these little known finds.
Here is our list of the little known Henry VIII landmarks of London.
1. Gatehouse St Bartholomew’s Hospital, West Smithfield, EC1A 7BE – While there are several footprints referencing where Henry VIII walked, this is the only outdoor statue dedicated to the monarch in a public place in London. Although it dates from 1702 and, therefore, was erected long after his death in 1547, the gatehouse features a statue to commemorate the former King. It was here that after dissolving the Monastery of St Bartholomew, Henry was persuaded to grant the adjoining Hospital to the City of London. A nice way to say thank you, I think.
2. Queen Elizabeth’s Oak, Greenwich Park, SE10 8XJ – Although the tree itself died in the 19th Century, it managed to remain standing for another 150 years until a heavy rainstorm in 1991 brought it tumbling to the ground. However, the tree is still there. What’s so special about this tree? Glad you asked… it was named after Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I, and according to legend it was here that he danced around the tree with her mother and his second wife Anne Boleyn. There’s a plaque and everything to prove its significance, too.
3. Chelsea Old Church, Chelsea, SW3 5LT – It’s claimed that Henry VIII married his third wife, Jane Seymour, here in 1543, just a few hours after Anne Boleyn had been beheaded. The church has undergone several restorations but its believed there has probably been a church on this site ever since Christianity came to England. Beautiful church, don’t you think?
4. Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, SW3 5RH – Just a few minutes walk from Chelsea Old Church you’ll find a tunnel that runs between numbers 23 and 24. A blue plaque on the wall informs us that King Henry VIII’s Manor House stood here until 1753 when it was demolished following the death of its last occupant, Sir Hans Sloane. Henry was quite the regular in Chelsea, and his once favourable confidant Sir Thomas More was also a resident in the neighbourhood. So technically, his life was partially made in Chelsea (boom, tish!)
5. Richmond Palace, Richmond, TW9 – Not a great deal survives of Richmond Palace today but the Gatehouse, sporting the coat of arms of Henry VII, who died at the palace in 1509, is a beauty. Henry VIII lived here, too, and it was here that in 1510 his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, gave birth to their short-lived son, Henry, who, sadly, died a month later.
6. King Henry’s Mound, Richmond Park, Richmond, TW10 5HS – Legend maintains that King Henry VIII stood on the summit of this mound on 19 May, 1536 awaiting a rocket to be fired from the Tower of London to signal Anne Boleyn’s execution. This meant he could now marry Lady Jane Seymore (in Chelsea Old Church as we both now know!). Although the story is probably untrue, the views from the mound are spectacular and a little poetic licence certainly adds to the experience. (Please not the postcode is for the park, not the mound itself).
7. The Blackfriar Pub, Blackfriars, EC4V 4EG – Exploring the lovely old streets between Blackfriars Station and St Paul’s Cathedral, you encounter remnants of the Dominican Priory or, as they were known, the Blackfriars. The priory was a hugely significant foundation and it was here in 1529 that the divorce hearing of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon was heard. We know what happened next…
8. Eltham Palace, Greenwich, SE9 5QE – Most people associate Henry VIII with the palaces of Hampton Court or the Tower of London, but Eltham Palace was one of the most important in his life. This is where the then-Prince Henry grew up and where, in 1499, he was introduced to the Scholar Erasmus. The young Prince certainly impressed Erasmus who described him as possessing “dignity of mind combined with a remarkable courtesy”.
9. Barber Surgeons Hall, London, EC2Y 5BL – Although rarely open to the public, if you’re lucky enough to get inside you’ll find a Holbein of Henry VIII, painted in 1542. This portrait shows Henry seated on a throne clad in State robes and the Order of the Garter and holding the Sword of State. He is depicted presenting a Charter to the Barber-Surgeons.
10. Banqueting House, Whitehall, London, SW1A 2ER – To be fair, it’s not the exact structure that Henry VIII would have walked through, but the Banqueting House is the only reminder of the former King’s famous Whitehall Palace. The Palace originally belonged to Cardinal Wolsey but after he fell out of favour, Henry VIII retained the building and made it one of his most central palaces. These days the history of the Banqueting House focuses on the Stuarts, but the very fact that they chose to use it for their celebrations is an extension of it’s prominence under Henry’s reign. Travellers seem to bypass this gem of an attraction, but I recommend it if you want to follow Henry’s steps all across London.
More? To uncover more secrets of London check out Richard’s London Walking Tours. From Henry VIII to Jack the Ripper, this historian and author definitely knows where to find the treasures of London’s past.
You can also follow him on Twitter, like I do at @MagicWalks.
Have we missed a little-known Henry VIII site because it’s that little-known? Please comment below and share with us.