You can thank The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory for this post. My strange fascination with Henry VIII all began after reading this book back in high school. And when I lived in London last year, I couldn’t help but check out as many places as possible that had anything to do with this infamous king. His ego was unparalleled, and his decisions resulted from a mixture of lust and testosterone–I mean, he created The Church of England just so he could “legally” divorce his saint of a wife for a younger woman (who he would later behead just so he could marry yet another woman). You may have heard the jingle about his six wives: divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived. It’s crazy to think that all this actually went down and that hundreds of years later we can see the artifacts and visit the castles that remain as proof.
- Hampton Court Palace: perhaps the most important place you can visit on your hunt for Henry VIII. It belonged to Thomas Wolsey (Henry’s chief minister), who had no choice but to “gift” the palace to the king once the he decided he wanted it–or his life would be ruined. Being king means you can have anything (and anyone) you want, and when Henry saw this palace, he had to have it for himself. In these walls, Anne Boleyn romanced her way to the very top, wreaking havoc and scandal along the way (while Henry’s first wife Catherine of Aragon sat in her room for years refusing to leave). You get to stand in the Great Hall, where all the entertaining and flirting occurred (you can even sit at the head of the table in the chairs the king and queen sat in!). In this room you also see the redecorating Anne did once becoming Queen. For each of his wives, Henry devoted a room in the palace to their marriage. It made for a very interesting tour and made me wonder how these women felt seeing remnants of his past marriages throughout their home. They probably didn’t care–they were the ultimate gold diggers (why else would you marry a man who had divorced and beheaded previous wives? Because he’s the King of England, that’s why). Being in the palace where so much scandalous history occurred was an experience that is hard to put into words. It’s a place worth visiting whether you’re a tourist or a history buff in-the-making.
- The Tower of London: The Tower has a lot more to offer than just Henry VIII history (the Crown Jewels for example). That being said, it houses some very important pieces to see if you are at all intrigued by Henry’s legacy. It is the place where Anne Boleyn was locked up and subsequently beheaded for her crime (a made up crime in my opinion because Henry was desiring a different woman). You can walk through the very room in the tower that held her prisoner and see the scratches on the walls from prisoners before and after her time. You see the spot within the Tower walls where the beheading occurred and can also view the executioner’s ax. You then can see the Chapel in which she and others that were executed are buried. In addition you will find the king’s collection of armor (and therefore see how fat he became over the years). Visiting the Tower of London satisfied my need to experience more of Henry’s world.
If I had to pick one photo to describe Henry VIII, this would be it. Who would ever need armor this big for that part of their body? It is living proof of his huge ego. He was obviously trying to make up for something–perhaps the fact that he could not produce a healthy male heir to the throne (despite trying with 6 different wives).
- Cambridge University: The King’s College Chapel at Cambridge was sadly under construction when I visited. It houses the choir screen engraved with Henry and Anne’s initials, and the meaning of its carvings are an item of debate among scholars. I’m so sad I couldn’t see it with my own eyes as further proof of their scandalous and history-changing marriage.
- Other artifacts are housed in the British Library, the V&A Museum, Oxford University, St. James Palace, Hever Castle and more.