Henry VIII – Defender of the Realm

Henry VIII’s England was constantly under threat of invasion from the powers in Europe. During his reign, Henry built England’s defences to withstand any such attack. He was the father of the Royal Navy; inheriting only five serviceable ships, by the time of his death England had over 70 warships at sea. Henry ordered the building of castles and forts along the coast line from the Humber estuary to the Pembroke pensinsular in Wales. A great many of these survive today telling tales of their use during WWII and some were still used by the military until the 1960s.

This historic tour explores mighty fortress England as Henry VIII defended his Realm against allcomers.

Care has been taken whilst constructing this fully escorted tour so that the journey times between towns and attractions should be no more than an hour and a half.

All the hotels are specially chosen for their historic importance and character. They are mostly old Coaching Inns that have retained their historic character with low oak beams, uneven floors and some still have their big fireplaces. Most have significant feature rooms such as four poster beds which can be booked as an option. All rooms have en-suite facilities.

Costs include all transport during the tour, and entrance fees to heritage sites, attractions and activities. Bed and breakfast at the hotels, all evening meals and a lunch on the first day are also included.

Please note that centuries old castles and houses were not built with the disabled in mind. Some have many steps and restricted access points. Some of the places at which we stay do not have lifts. Any one with mobility issues should therefore be aware of these considerations when booking a tour. We can provide an honest assessment of all of the places we visit and hotels we use.

Day One

To begin the tour we meet at a delightful old Coaching Inn in a picturesque town not too far from the two main London Airports Heathrow and Gatwick.

We travel to visit Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, perhaps the most infamous woman in English history. It was she who changed the course of history, causing the split with the Roman Catholic Church by refusing to be the mistress of Henry VIII, only his wife.

From 1900 to 1960: Hever Castle was owned by the Astor family and is now owned by a Trust dedicated to preserving the historic castle and grounds. Jousting tournaments take place on most weekends during the summer.

Back to the coaching Inn for the night. There is sufficient time to walk around the town in the early evening and enjoy the setting of the village green with some traditional old English pubs and lots of antique shops.

Day Two

We travel to the South coast where the tour will visit Dover Castle, Deal Castle and Walmer Castle.

Dover Castle

Dover castle, set on the famous white cliffs, is one of the premier castles for the defence of the Realm and dates back to Roman times. Henry VIII stayed here regularly when supervising the construction of the coastal defences or when he was travelling to and from France. Here you will have some free time to also explore the other unique features of the castle which was used by military right up until the 1960’s. Imagine life as a medieval soldier under siege as you explore the atmospheric medieval underground tunnels, see one of Europe’s best-preserved Roman lighthouses and walk the extensive battlements. There is also a WWII underground hospital and tunnel complex where the Dunkerque evacuation of 330,000 British and French troops from Occupied France in 1940 was planned and carried out.

Deal Castle

Deal castle, built in a hurry by Henry as invasion fears were getting stronger in 1540. Deal’s Tudor heart beats loudly, with huge bastions and cannons ready to repel any invaders. It was here that Anne of Cleves first set foot on English soil and where she dined before setting of to marry the King

Walmer Castle

Walmer Castle, a mile away from Deal and also clover leafed designed construction, was built by Henry VIII as the third part of the defences of this stretch of coastline

Walmer Castle became the official residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in 1708. The Duke of Wellington enjoyed much of his 23 years of office. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, William Pitt were also Lord Wardens of the Cinque Ports amongst others, and they have all left their mark on this elegant residence.

After the castles on the coast we travel to another picturesque village to stay in an old Coaching Inn built in 1602 situated in Kent . This Inn has a four poster feature bedroom that can be booked as an extra.

Day Three

We travel to Penshurst Place and Lewes, the County Town of East Sussex,

At Penshurst and group numbers permitting we spend a very practical and exciting morning with the interactive “Hands on History” group. They will present a demonstration of what it was like in Tudor times with authentic weapons, armour, clothing and food preparation. You can explore experience and enjoy the lifestyles, skills and activities of the Tudors.

Penshurst is also important in the Tudor story, it was part of the divorce settlement for Anne of Cleves. Many period flims have been made here and there are currently some costumes from The Other Boleyn Girl on display.

We then travel to Lewes to Anne of Cleves House, also a divorce settlement for Henry VIII’s fourth Wife in 1541. Set in the narrow roads of the County Town, the house also has charm and character of the period and you can even dress up in Tudor costume whilst you wander round the house and garden.

Anne of Cleves House

Anne of Cleves House is a 15th century timber-framed Wealden hall-house that formed part of Anne’s divorce settlement from Henry VIII in 1541. The house contains wide-ranging collections of Sussex interest, including Sussex pottery, and the bedroom and kitchen are furnished to reflect an earlier period. There is also a stone table with a strange tale to tell, said to be used by the three knights who murdered Thomas a Becket in 1170. Lewes Priory ruins are close by, the Priory suffered under the Dissolution and had a very large church, larger than Chichester Cathedral which we will see later

There will be time to stroll around this historic county town with its own brewery, Crown Court (where you can sit in the public gallery) and some wonderful old bookshops. Lewes has a monument to the 17 Protestant martyrs who were burnt at the stake during 5 years of Queen Mary’s reign after Henry VIII’s death.

We stay in Lewes at a Tudor Coaching Inn. Once again this Inn has four poster feature bedrooms that can be booked as an option. Here, Thomas Paine debated and wrote the “Rights of Man” and “Common sense” on which the US Constitution is based.

Day Four

We travel to Portsmouth, Hampshire. the Home of the Royal Navy. Henry VIII is regarded as the father of the Royal Navy bulding many mighty ships including the Mary Rose

Southsea Castle is the exact place where Henry stood as the Mary Rose foundered in the Solent. Stand in his footsteps and think of the scene that greeted his horrified eyes.

Included in the Tour is a visit to the Spinnaker Tower, an observation platform built in 2005 which is 170m (530ft) high. You can see for miles around the Solent, Portsmouth harbour and the surrounding countryside. You can see and learn more about the entire defence fortifications of the City and port built by Henry VIII.

Spinnaker Tower, Hampshire – A different view every day

The Spinnaker Tower is taller than the London Eye, Blackpool Tower and Big Ben and has already established itself as a national icon for Britain.

View Deck 1 boasts Europe’s largest glass floor, where visitors of all ages can dare to ‘walk on air’! View Deck 2 has self-contained multimedia ‘Time Telescope’ stations showing the history of the harbour and View Deck 3 – The Crow’s Nest – is open to the elements, enabling visitors to feel the wind in their hair.

We enter the Royal Navy Dockyard to see the Mary Rose. Henry VIII’s Flagship built 1509 that sunk in the Solent in 1545 with the loss of about 800 lives. Raised in 1982 it rests inside a specially built environment to preserve it.

The museum holds more treasures taken from the ship from cannons right down to small personal objects such as lice combs.Also in The Dockyard is HMS Victory, Nelson’s Flagship at the battle of Trafalgar. Also available in the Dockyard is HMS Warrior the First Iron Clad part steam ship and sail built in 1860. This ship was state of the art and technology at the time but was made obsolete three years later by the USS Monitor during the American Civil War.

After we come back down from the Spinnaker tower we will retreat to the famous Still & West pub where you can watch the harbour life and partake of traditional English fare.

We stay the night in a grand hotel in Portsmouth, in view of local landmarks and Southsea Common.

Day Five

We travel to Hampton Court palace, arguably one of the most famous palaces in the world. Henry confiscated the Palace from Cardinal Wolsey in 1529 when the Cardinal failed to get the divorce Henry wanted from his first wife Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn. The Palace is vast and has been added to over the centuries. Many notable features include the maze, gardens, a Tudor real tennis court and the Chapel Royal used for Prayer for over 450 years. At 400 years the oldest known grapevine in the world is situated here, and still producing grapes every year.

After we leave Hampton Court we travel to Windsor Castle to see the largest and oldest occupied castle in Europe and still home to the present Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II.

St Georges chapel Windsor is the last resting place of 10 royal Sovereigns including Henry VIII and his favourite wife Jane Seymour. If you go to evensong at 5.15 every day you will be sitting in the chancel right next to Henry’s last resting place

We stay in a superb hotel on the river Thames very near to the castle; the hotel has feature bedrooms that can be booked as an option. There will be plenty of time to stroll around the Historic part of Windsor or take the long walk in Windsor Great Park.

Day Six

The tour finishes after breakfast and transport is arranged from the hotel to the central London railway station terminals. The Changing of the Guard occurs at 11.00am every other day during the Spring and every day during the summer except Sundays in Windsor and should you wish to see this spectacle, special arrangements can be made for transfers at midday.

Special itinerary

Extra days can be added to the tour if you want to see some of the other Tudor sites either taken from our other tours portfolio or other Tudor sites. Extended itineraries can be arranged to suit your particular requirements or any special interests. Closed Alumni groups can be catered for. For large alumni groups we have the opportunity to have exclusive use of the accommodation at Hever Castle itself, even sitting down to dinner in the Castle dining room where Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn dined. Please contact us for further information regarding special itineraries.


This tour is operated by Tudor History Tours sold by Special Group Tours with permission


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