The Henry VIII was huge – literally! – since his time the popularity of his family and their courtiers has not only endured but re-surged in recent years. Between the best-selling novel “The Other Boleyn Girl” (as well as a plethora of historical fiction filling bookshelves) and the Showtime hit “The Tudors” (bringing sexy back to the 16th century), the compelling lives of kings, queens and all the rest have captivated the popular imagination, though it’s no fairy tale. Take a few days in London and step back into the world of Henry VII, Henry VIII and his six wives, Edward VI, Mary I and arguably the most famous and influential of them all: Elizabeth I.
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The Tower of London
Any trip to London would be incomplete without a visit to the Tower, but fans of Tudor history will know that its significance cannot be overstated and it is without a doubt one of the most visited Tudor London attractions. What was once a cherished royal palace in the country’s capitol city became, in Henry VIII’s time, a royal dungeon and execution ground, where two of his wives were beheaded and numerous political enemies were held and sometimes tortured or killed. The Tower is so much more than that, of course; it houses the Crown Jewels, the Armoury in the White Tower and includes fascinating tours led by Yeoman Warders (popularly known as Beefeaters). Get to the Tower as early as possible, because this is an international attraction with the crowds to match.
The place where all the English monarchs, save two, have been crowned since Edward the Confessor built the church, before dying eight days after its consecration in 1065. Henry VII (Henry Bolingbroke or the Duke of Richmond, to you “Richard III” scholars), Mary I (“Bloody Mary”) and of course Elizabeth I are all buried in Westminster, as well as Elizabeth’s passionate cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, who was beheaded on Elizabeth’s order in 1587. Elizabeth of York, Henry VIII’s mother, and Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife – his “Flanders mare” and his longest-lived spouse – are also entombed here.
There are numerous opportunities to take to the river, and it’s a fine way to spend an evening. The Thames was virtually a highway in Tudor times, with important goods and even more important people being ferried up and down, to their riverside homes and back to the palaces. As you sail along where kings and queens have done for centuries, close your eyes for a moment and imagine yourself surrounded by the opulence of the royal court taking to the river for a pageant or fireworks display.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theater
Today’s Globe is a reconstruction of the Elizabethan theater, though it lies only 230 meters from the original site. Using available evidence from the first incarnation of the Globe, the new construction has been built as faithfully as possible. Though detractors are quick to criticize the historical accuracy, for the atmosphere and the experience alone it is worthwhile to feel as if you’ve stepped back into the time of Shakespeare and Elizabeth I. All the world’s a stage, after all.
Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace was one of Henry VIII’s favorite residences and here he and his court indulged themselves in parties, feasts and general revelry. It was built by the great Cardinal Wolsey, who handed it over to his sovereign in one stroke to keep the royal temper happy. The ghost of Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s doomed fifth wife, is said to haunt the palace, shrieking as if she is being hauled off to her apartments under house arrest. Tour the gardens and the famous Hampton Court maze for a real treat.
This article was written by contributing writer Adriana Beckett