1541 ProgressOn the 30th June 1541, Henry VIII and his fifth wife, Queen Catherine Howard, set off from London on their royal progress to the North, aiming to return to Hampton Court Palace by “All Hallowtide”.

It was the norm for Henry VIII to go on royal progress in the summer months. London could be unbearable between May and October, with the heat causing the open sewers to smell even more, and it could also be dangerous, with outbreaks of plague and sweating sickness. A royal progress was also an opportunity for the king to show himself, and his wife, off to their subjects, to display his kingship. While Henry VIII owned many properties, he tended to stay with courtiers who could bankrupt themselves trying to impress him.

The furthest north Henry VIII had previously travelled was Boston in Lincolnshire, but the 1541 progress took him all the way to York. As well as getting the king out of smelly London, this progress had two other main purposes:

  1. The meeting of Henry and his nephew, James V of Scotland, which was due to take place in September in York.
  2. According to historian Tim Thornton, “to emphasise the extent of his defeat of the Pilgrims [from the Pilgrimage of Grace] and the Percy interest, and to humiliate utterly all but the most clearly loyal elements”.

Historian J J Scarisbrick saw the royal progress as an army of occupation and an opportunity for Henry to build pressure on the Scots and rally support in the North, and Lacey Baldwin-Smith saw it as a theatrical invasion, intimidation and the display of a spectacular image of Henry. A G Dickens writes of the domestic context of the progress, its implication for possible threats of rebellion and their ruthless suppression. Whereas Hoyle and Ramsdale see it as part of Henry’s diplomacy towards Scotland and France. Whatever its aim, it did nothing regarding diplomacy as James V never turned up to the meeting in York, but it did show Henry VIII’s authority to the north and was an opportunity for him to humiliate his subjects, with displays of submission from them.

The royal court travelled on progress from 30th June to the end of October, and it was a huge undertaking. Marillac, the French ambassador, wrote of how the “company” was made up of “4,000 or 5,000 horse, whereas ordinarily he takes only 1,000” and that 200 tents were being carried. The itinerary included Enfield, St Albans, Dunstable, Ampthill, Northampton, Grimsthorpe Lincoln, Gainsborough, Pontefract, Hull and York, and many other places. Of course, it was on this progress that Henry VIII’s wife of one year had secret assignations with Thomas Culpeper, a gentleman of the King’s privy chamber, meeting him at Lincoln, Hatfield, Pontefract and York.

The royal party reached York on 16th September and although Henry VIII stayed in York until 27th September, James V did not turn up. They then progressed home, reaching Windsor on 26th October and Hampton Court Palace by 30th October. It was on 2nd November 1541 that Henry VIII was informed of his wife’s past sexual relationships – oh dear!

Sources and Further Reading

This article is based on a video talk I did for the Tudor Society which members can view at https://www.tudorsociety.com/henry-viiis-1541-royal-progress-video/. Natalie Grueninger also did a talk on Tudor progresses for the Society – click here.

  • Thornton, Tim (2009) “Henry VIII’s Progress Through Yorkshire in 1541 and its Implications for Northern Identities”, Northern History, Volume 46, Number 2, September 2009.
  • Baldwin Smith, Lacey (2009) Catherine Howard, Amberley Publishing.
  • Lewycky, Nadine, “The City of York in the time of Henry VIII”, read at http://www.york.ac.uk/ipup/projects/york/bigcityread/city.html
  • Hall, Edward. Hall’s Chronicle, p842.
  • Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 16, August, September and October for Privy Council meetings and letters from Marillac and Chapuys.
  • Account of King Henry the Eighth’s Entry Into Lincoln, in 1541 by Frederick Madden, available at Google Books.
  • An account of King Henry the Eighth’s Progress in Lincolnshire by Joseph Hunter.

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3 thoughts on “30 June 1541 – Henry VIII’s Northern Progress begins”
  1. Was any reason ever given for why James never turned up for the meeting? I love this era of history, and I have searched – I’m not much of an academic, to be truthful – but I have never found anything explaining why James missed meeting with Henry.

    While it was true that Scotland and England were NOT on good terms, it would seem that Margaret, Henry’s sister and James’s mother could have smoothed things between them.

  2. Although they were uncle and nephew they were both heads of two nations which had been at loggerheads for centuries, I think James simply felt he could not trust him, blood kin though he was, decades later it was his decision that Mary Queen of Scots advisors used as a reason not to flee into England after she had lost her crown, as they to felt they could not trust Queen Elizabeth and her advisors, James was more cautious than his daughter he probably thought he would be captured and that’s why he called the meeting of, Mary as history knows with typical female sentimentality chose to trust her cousin and she became a captive.

  3. The progress of 1541 I see as totally different to the working holidays of the former years when he moved from palace to palace, house to house, staying with courtiers, showing the public face of the monarch, maybe mixing pleasure with local business, hunting, sorting out local problems. The progress north was to say I the King am back in charge of my rebellious subjects, I am here to take your submission and homage and to offer my favour to the penitent and to reward those who remained loyal. Henry had promised Aske that he would come north to settle things and to have Jane Seymour crowned there. Of course we can read nothing into that promise, Henry was playing for time while he got ready to trap and destroy the rebels, but Henry was keeping his promise to come north, even if his motives were quite difficult to those presented in 1537. The progress saw Henry visit Lincoln and call the people the most villainous and unruly in England, receiving four large bags of gold to buy pardon in York, two different types of people in Pontefract, one from the people who stood against the crown, another of loyal supporters being received by the King in great theatre and the final show at York was a failure due to the King of Scotland not turning up. Yes the usual round of showing off, parties, extravaganza, visits to favourite courtiers, hunts, dancing, but it was also a show of force, taking a large army north. He also wanted to ensure that the reforms and new laws were being enforced as he wished by the gentry in the Midlands and Catholic North. The places visited included many of the worst offenders during the rebellions, some of these people had been involved in smaller recent rebellions which forced Henry to take action to supress and to replace the local administration in those areas. The Duke of Suffolk had been installed in Lincolnshire as the King’s Lieutenant there and his presence there, his wife was from here and he owned her lands, he had brought the place under the royal control firmly; it was his job to entertain Henry and Katherine Howard both on the way north and home and to arrange for the entertainment for the entire progress. The last reason for the progress was to show off the young and beautiful new Queen Katherine, who Henry thought a lot of, to win over the people through her grace and charm.

    Henry and Katherine seemed to make a great show and successful impression with the people on the way, were well received and entertained and apart from the failure of the arranged visit to meet his nephew, James, the progress was an overall success. The meeting with James was well planned, the entire court was there, a magnificent present had been made, a beautiful jewelled, golden egg, but the King did not show. Now clearly Henry had come with a show of force, to put pressure on James as there was tension over the border, James and Henry had postured for years, so James either got spooked or chose to humiliate and snub his uncle. Either way Henry was not pleased and war did ensue just over a year later.

    Katherine Howard clearly had a great time on progress but she also carried out her duties with dignity and charm. Princess Mary was also on the Progress and made a very great impression by the people, among whom she was very popular. Although Katherine used this as an opportunity to meet with Culpeper and Dereham the jury is out as to whether or not sexual intercourse took place or whether it was foolish communication. Either way she should not have been meeting any man and it was not long before her behaviour drew the wrong attention.

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